If the New Orleans Saints don't turn around their turnover differential, interim coach Aaron Kromer knows they have nowhere to go but down.
They bucked history in a big way last year, going 13-3 despite committing three more turnovers (19) than they forced (16). The three other teams that won 13 or more games in the regular season finished at or close to the top of the league in turnover margin --San Francisco (plus-28), Green Bay (plus-24) and New England (plus-17).
That's the nearly universal norm. In the last 10 years, 25 teams have gone 13-3 or better. All but the 2011 Saints had a positive turnover ratio.
The problem was all defense. The Saints finished 31st in the league with 16 forced turnovers (nine interceptions, seven fumbles). That number was eight fewer than any other team that won 13 or more games since 2002.
It was not for a lack of trying.
“We preach every week that the number one stat in football is turnovers,” Kromer said. “We constantly work on trying to get the ball out and also making sure that we secure it on offense.”
In 2009, New Orleans caused 39 turnovers on its way to the Super Bowl.
The Saints were minus-two in turnovers this preseason, but like almost every exhibition stat, it is a meaningless number with backups playing most of the time.
Kromer will start keeping track for real on Sunday when the Saints open against the Redskins in the Superdome. Washington ranked near the bottom of the league last year at minus-14 in turnover differential, but rookie QB Robert Griffin III has replaced the mistake-prone Rex Grossman, who coughed up the ball 25 times (20 interceptions, five fumbles).
The Saints will try to make sure Griffin is just as generous.
“In early-season games, turnovers are going to determine games a lot more than as the season goes on,” Kromer said. “Guys aren't used to getting hit as hard or playing as fast coming off the preseason.”
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLNO.