Defensive Improvement Takes Away Takeaways
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Defensive Improvement Takes Away Takeaways

Entering this season, no team in the NFL had forced as many turnovers as Green Bay. With only so much time available on the practice field, the Packers' penchant for forcing turnovers has slipped through their grasp this season.

A few weeks ago, Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers talked about how the team had made tackling a priority.

"As a coach, if you believe there's a deficiency, then you need to emphasize it in any way that you can because my experience tells me that you normally get what you emphasize," Capers said. "If you want to be a takeaway team, you emphasize takeaways. If you want to be a good tackling team, you emphasize tackling. If you want to stop the run, you emphasize stopping the run. Now, there's only so many things you can emphasize."

It was an instructive comment. A few gaffes against the Vikings notwithstanding, the Packers are tackling better and allowing fewer big plays than a year ago.

However, the defense also is making fewer big plays.

From 2009 through 2011 — Capers' first three years on the job — the Packers led the NFL by forcing 110 turnovers. In 2009 and 2011, they led the league in interceptions.

This season, however, the well has dried up.

Green Bay is tied for 15th with 18 takeaways. It's tied for sixth in interceptions with 14 — though that's a far cry from the 31 recorded last season. Only four teams have recovered fewer opponent fumbles than Green Bay's four.

Is the lack of takeaways a byproduct of the necessary focus on last year's fatal defensive flaws?

"A lot of times last year, we were having a hard time getting pressure on the quarterback but we came up with a lot of takeaways," Capers said on Monday, a day after his unit forced two turnovers in a 23-14 victory over Minnesota. "This year, we've gotten an awful lot more pressure on the quarterback but we haven't gotten as many takeaways. Hopefully, we find that that happy medium. I really don't care either way. It's whatever it takes to win the game, to tell you the truth."

Injuries have played a role. The Packers lost hard-hitting Desmond Bishop, an excellent blitzer, in the preseason. Charles Woodson, who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2009 and 2011 and has forced 12 fumbles during Capers' tenure, has missed the last five games with a broken collarbone. Clay Matthews, far and away the team's best pass rusher and with a combined nine interceptions and forced fumbles the past two seasons, has missed the last three games with an injured hamstring.

Some of it's playing smarter. The Packers' secondary took a few too many gambles en route to last year's interception total. Tramon Williams, in particular, has tightened his game.

Last year, according to data from ProFootballFocus.com, Williams allowed a league-worst 1,034 receiving yards, was second-to-last with 341 yards allowed after the catch and third-to-last with 17.0 yards allowed per reception.

Asked to match up against the opponent's No. 1 receiver most weeks, Williams is having a solid season even though he's got two interceptions compared to 19 over the previous four seasons. He's allowed the 14th-most yards (561), the 24th-highest per-catch average (13.0) and 41st-most YAC (150). His questionable unnecessary-roughness penalty against the Vikings was his first penalty of the season.

Then it's just a matter of making plays. Early in last week's game against the Giants, Casey Hayward dropped an interception that, at worst, would have set up the Packers near the red zone and might have been returned for a touchdown. Later in that game, Morgan Burnett and Davon House had the ball go through their hands on a long pass. On the possession after the Packers' 11-minute scoring drive on Sunday, Williams couldn't haul in an interception on a perfectly defensed pass to Michael Jenkins.

At least Burnett hauled in his two interceptions against Minnesota. Those plays took at least six points off the board in a tightly contested game dripping with playoff intrigue.

"You have to take advantage of them when you have the chance, when you get your hands on them," Capers said. "So, they normally come in bunches. I've said that in the past. You know, a couple weeks ago we had four against the Lions. So, you have to find some way to get three or four of those takeaway games in there and increase them. But I think because we've had guys who can go get the ball — we're a combination of pressure and coverage team — normally we'd be able at the end of the year to be good in that area. It affects the game more than anything else."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.