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Not All Fumbles Are Created Equal

Posted by Brian Tinsman on August 9, 2011 – 4:23 pm

AP Image

The Redskins announced their first official depth chart of the season earlier today, and Tim Hightower sits atop the running backs list.

This isn’t a surprise, after the Redskins swung a trade to bring him to Washington (and incumbent Ryan Torain went down with another injury).  Hightower represents an upgrade over anyone on the roster and provides durability to a position fraught with injury last season.

The only knock on him has been his propensity to put the ball on the ground, a Cardinal sin (pun intended) among running backs.

After practice today, head coach Mike Shanahan addressed what he sees when Hightower fumbles:

“A few of those have been on the handoffs,” he said.  “We hand the ball off a little bit differently and he runs quite hard. We’ll just keep on practicing it, having people try to strip the ball. Hopefully that will eliminate that problem.”

Some of his fumbles do happen on handoffs, and for those times, Shanahan is absolutely right.  But Hightower also fumbles downfield because he refuses to go down.

Hightower understandably feels like he has something to prove, and has run as hard as anyone in camp right now.  When he gets the ball stripped downfield, it’s often because he refused to go down, got stood up, and a gang of defenders wrestled the ball away.

Part of the issue is technique and knowing when to go to the ground.  Part of that is protecting the ball as securely as possible when you get stood up.  But part of that is because he flat-out refuses to go down on first contact.

And that’s the kind of running back you want.

I make no bones about the fact that I believe Hightower is the answer at running back.  I know he has some fumbling demons to exorcise, but he brings a skill set and a swagger to this offense that changes how the offense operates on every level.

Sure, his presence helps the running game, but it also helps whoever is at quarterback, receiver, and offensive line.  With all of his responsibilities, he’s able to bail out every other player on the field because he’s a complete back.

Check out the full Shanahan presser below:

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Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

23 Responses to “Not All Fumbles Are Created Equal”

  1. By nasirjones on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    Do you think Shanny shares your enthusiasm?

  2. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    Does Shanahan strike you as an enthusiastic person? 🙂

  3. By RotGut on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    If Tim holds the TO’s to under 10, I think he can be a top 10 back this year. Rome wasn’t built in a day and Shanny just needs the time to get all the pieces. Luv what we’ve done this year to improve the team. I’m a realist, but more importantly a huge fan. We lost 5 games by 3 or less last year. Give us 3 of those this year and we’re in the hunt. Hightower will pay huge dividends. Mark my words. I saw him here in Richmond and the guy is just a beast…

  4. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    I really think he will too. If there’s one thing that Shanahan and company are always good at, it’s getting the most out of average running backs. I think Hightower is better than average, which is why I have high hopes for him.

  5. By david on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    other than points, the best predictor of wins and losses is turnovers. what makes you think a fumble-prone running back who is continuing to fumble is the “answer at running back”?

  6. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    You can call apples and oranges if you want, but here’s some perspective:

    In 2010, Hightower had 5 fumbles in 174 touches, and only lost 4 of them. He averaged one lost turnover every four games.
    In 2010, Grossman had 8 turnovers in 133 touches, losing all 8. He averaged two turnovers lost per game.

    If you want to talk about turnovers that lose games, look at the man under center, not the man standing behind him. Over the course of his career, Hightower has had a touchdown to turnover ratio of about 2:1. I’ll admit that that’s not great, but I’d rather go into a season with a back that can carry the load for 16 games. For a point of reference, Rex has a touchdown to turnover ration worse than 2:3.

    Again, apples and oranges, but I feel a lot more comfortable with a back that can carry the offense. Trust in Bobby Turner to sprinkle his magical running back dust and get better ball-security in 2011.

  7. By RotGut on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    Remember Tiki Barber? I think you take the same approach with Hightower and almost overnight you’ll have a 1200/15 guy on the roster. Still say best move we made this offseason given the questions at O-line…

  8. By david on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    woah, hold on there, i hope we’re not throwing logic 101 out the window here on redskins.com. you’ve made a great argument that rex grossman is not a starting-caliber QB because of his turnover problems. but we were discussing hightower, not grossman.

    is your logic that having a turnover-prone QB makes it ok to have a turnover-prone RB? i’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there.

    turnover differential predict winning better than any other single statistic — better than total yards, time of possession, and, yes, better than total rushing yards. doesn’t make sense to get excited about a fumbler being the featured back unless: a) there is evidence he has learned to stop fumbling, or b) a new analysis shows that ‘swagger’ out-predicts turnover differential in predicting victories.

  9. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply


    My point is that I think it’s overblown. You yourself said turnover differential, which is a team statistic, not a player stat. Hightower should be held responsible when he fumbles, but he’s not responsible for the team’s differential. I was pointing out other areas on the team that are of far greater concern for cutting down on turnovers.

    If you’re looking for a perfect back in exchange for an aging defensive lineman, then you’re never going to be happy. My point is twofold though:
    1. At least at this point, (without having seen the young guys in action) Hightower is the best back on the roster, period.
    2. Turnover differential is not the be-all and end-all statistic, it’s just part of the picture. The 1987 squad had a -3 differential, and I’d say they did alright. The defense is built to force turnovers and the offense has bigger fish to fry. Give him a chance.

  10. By david on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    This awesome link tells the story of Hightower: http://wp.advancednflstats.com/playerstats.php?year=2010&pos=RB&season=reg

    Of the 55 RBs with more than 60 carries in 2010, Hightower was ranked 8th Yards Per Carry. Sounds good.

    But he was ranked 53rd in Win Probability Added, and 52nd in Win Probability Added/Game. Unless he stops fumbling, this is the running back we have … the 3rd or 4th worst in the league.

  11. By david on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    # RotGut … yes, of course I remember Tiki Barber! How lovely that would be if Hightower were the next Tiki … going from streaky third-down back to elite feature back. But Tiki is memorable because he’s the exception, not the rule. Can you name a single other running back who managed to so dramatically cut down on fumbles? I can’t, sadly.

    It’s also worth considering *how* Barber cut down on fumbling. He was very thoughtful, very strategic — he completely changed the way he carried the ball, and repped that technique over and over. I was very very discouraged to read quotes from Hightower today, in which he basically explained that he’s decided to stop thinking about fumbling because thinking about fumbling just makes it too hard to run the ball. That’s the opposite of how somebody learns to stop fumbling.

  12. By RotGut on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    David, I hear you Brother, but I’m optimistic to a fault. Just putting the similarities together…Tiki, VA product, 3rd down back, fumbling problems. Hightower, exactly the same. Just hoping the genie pops out the bottle for us for a change. We’ve had way too many disappointments in the last decade with all-world players and their over inflated egos and contracts. I love that we are both getting younger and bringing in guys with huge upsides. HTTR!!!! Bring us a winner! We deserve it

  13. By nasirjones on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    David, is your nickname Beanie? Are you still mad that you couldn’t beat out Hightower? Just kidding. You make some good points. Adrian Peterson comes to mind. Now Hightower is no Peterson, but when AP learned when to go down, he stopped fumbling.

    I took Tim’s comments more favorably. He can’t simply try not to fumble. He knows he’s gotta figure it out, or he’ll be on the bench. He is just trying to be positive.

    Let’s see the results. I mean, he’s been on the field like four times.

    I do agree with rotgut, if he can cut the fumbles in half, he can be 1500 yard guy in this system. Watch the film on this guy. One cut and go. Deceptive speed and great vision.

  14. By nasirjones on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    And Dave, he wasn’t a third down back. He was an every down back in a rotation with Beanie. He did play all third downs though, because Beanie couldn’t block anything but air.

  15. By david on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    definitely agree about hightower’s upside. he knows how to get yards (8th in the league last year in yards per carry). i guess i just wish he was doing something to actually work on the fumbling problem, like learning to hold the ball more securely (like Tiki did), or learning when to go down (like AP did). hightower was pretty clear that he’s not working on holding the ball better and he’s not working on learning when to go down. maybe the redskins should sign tiki so he can teach hightower a thing or two 🙂

  16. By Redskins24/7Milennium on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    The ’87 team was much different from this squad. First, it was a veteran team has been together a while, under the same coach(Gibbs). With the Hogs and a vastly underrated D to rely on, Gibbs could plug in different QBs and RBs and still count on relative consistency. That team could win, and win ugly when needed. Heck, all the games except SB XXII were pretty ugly. Schroeder and Williams tossed too many ints, but Barry Wilburn would balance it back with a few of his own.

    This team hasn’t been together that long, and it’s not hard to see a few RB & QB giveaways breaking its spirit, especially if the team is struggling offensively. Will Josh Wilson or Chris Barnes(as the non-Pro Bowl) CBs be able to get back those Grossy and Hightower ints/fumbles? We shall see…

  17. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    I’m not saying that the 1987 team wasn’t much different from this team, but what I’m saying is that turnovers are one stat, and they are not the only predictor of wins. If you go back and re-read this post, all fumbles are not created equal. There’s no such thing as a good one, but there are those that don’t hurt as much 🙂

  18. By david on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    “turnovers are one stat.” right, they are, they just happen to be the single stat that best predicts an individual’s effect on a game.

    but if you don’t like that stat because there are so many others, by all means check out the stat that takes ‘everything’ into account — Win Probability Added per Game. I already posted this above: http://wp.advancednflstats.com/playerstats.php?year=2010&pos=RB&season=reg

    last year hightower was 4th worst in the league in WPA/G out of 55. (keiland williams was one place better.) and hightower continue to fumble in practice, *both* during handoffs and running downfield. so he doesn’t just make the less harmful fumbles, he’s good at all of them. and hightower has explicitly said that he’s not doing anything differently to address the fumbles. ugh.

    but my real issue is not hightower’s fumble problem. it’s my hope that the opinions expressed on here, the official Redskins blog, have some basis in reality. what triggered me is you saying “I make no bones about the fact that I believe Hightower is the answer at running back”. Not ‘give him a chance’, or he has ‘upside’, but “Hightower is the answer at running back.” Statements don’t get much bolder or clearer. Despite the cool-aid we all drink and breathe, I’d like to think the opinions put forth on here have some factual basis. Seeing the 4th worst RB called “the answer” is hard to stomach, especially when the guy’s worst attribute continues in camp, and he’s made it clear he has no specific plans to do anything about it.

    In short, he’s fumbled often before, he continues to fumble in camp, he’s not doing anything differently to address the fumbling issue, he’s one of the worst RBs in the league based on the comprehensive stat WPA/G …. sorry, man, it’s hard to take someone seriously if they trumpet him as the answer at running back.

    (harder, still, to take the person seriously when his first counterpoint is to find someone on the team who fumbles more often, as if that somehow has anything to do with assessing hightower as the answer at RB.)

  19. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply


    For the record, the Redskins were tied for second best in the league last year in turnover differential (+8), and yet they were 6-10 and finished dead last in the East. Stats are great, but I watch the game. He is the answer at running back because there isn’t anyone else playing at his level on the team. If some of the younger guys out-play, that’s fine, but I haven’t seen that yet. If you want to make the case for someone else, by all means go ahead, but your stats clearly do not tell the whole story.

  20. By dchoe13 on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    @Brian Tinsman

    I like your writing style and perspectives on the team. Nothing against Matt Terl, but I just didn’t like his writing style. Keep up the good work, keep posting updates, sights/sounds, and observations for those of us who live on the other side of the country (California).


  21. By david on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    people who prioritize anecdotal exceptions over sound analysis of comprehensive data are the reason las vegas makes millions. i’m sure somewhere out there we can find a smoking, non-exercising, obese guy who lived into his 90s without heart disease. guess we should ignore all that research on smoking, exercise, and obesity.

  22. By Brian Tinsman on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply


    I thought we were talking about running backs? 🙂

  23. By nasirjones on Aug 11, 2011 | Reply

    Tim Hightower isn’t the fourth worst back in the league. Just give him a chance.

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