(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins stumbled to a 3-13 season in 2013, and while you could point to many reasons for the decline from their 2012 campaign, one stat that stands out is their turnover differential of minus-8, the seventh worst in the NFL.

“I always talk about if you’re plus-one, plus-two, plus-three, what your winning percentage is,” Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said of turnover margin. “It’s, other than the score, it’s the second-most tell on wins and losses, is turnover margin.”

Last season, as you would expect: the higher the turnover the margin, the better the chance a team had of winning the game.

Just two teams with a negative turnover differential made the 2013 NFL playoffs: The San Diego Chargers (minus-4) and the Green Bay Packers (minus-3), which goes to show that winning the turnover battle is one of the keys to success in the NFL.

Washington was mediocre at takeaways last season, forcing a turnover on 2.4 percent of plays (16 interceptions and nine forced fumbles) but turned the ball over 33 times — including seven against Atlanta last December. And before you suggest those numbers inflated the total, making the team appear worse than they were, consider they never won a game in which they turned the ball over two or more times in a game (0-8). Either way, it’s a long way from the Washington teams that did an excellent job of protecting the football.

During the 2013 campaign, Washington turned the ball over at the mix you would expect from an average NFL team: 28 on passing plays (19 interception, nine fumbles) and five rushing fumbles. But passing to Pierre Garcon proved to be most troublesome.

Of the eight interceptions thrown his way:

  • Four were on passes less than nine yards
  • Five were on first down
  • Five were in the second half
  • All were when the team trailed
  • All but one occurred with the team down by a touchdown or more
Source: Pro Football Focus
Pierre Garcon, 2013 Regular Season
(Source: Pro Football Focus)

Some of this could be mitigated by the addition of DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia committed just two interceptions when they targeted DJax as a receiver last season.

But the passing game isn’t the only culprit: running back Alfred Morris committed five fumbles last season, which placed him in a four-way tie for league’s worst along with Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and Ben Tate. However, Morris had two of his in the red zone and three on first down last season.

Whenever a team goes 3-13 there are often many players and coaches to point fingers at, but it is not overstating it to say that if Washington wants to return to respectability, they must do a better job at protecting the football.