Turnovers Sink Offense's Gains

Because of their carelessness with the ball, Green Bay's scoring average is down 4.9 points per game. So, while the average play is gaining more yardage, the offense is getting a lot fewer snaps.

It's Football 101: Don't turn the ball over.

Last year's Green Bay Packers did that better than any team in franchise history with just 16 giveaways. Aaron Rodgers threw seven interceptions — with a league-leading 1.3 interception percentage — and Ryan Grant didn't turn over the ball on any of his 282 carries.

This year's Packers have 13 giveaways, putting them on pace for 30. Rodgers already has nine interceptions.

It's a short leap to link the increased giveaways to the decreased scoring, with the Packers' output down from 28.8 points per game last year to 23.9 points per game this season.

"We're a 28- to 30-point offense, we'd hope, but it's hard to do that (with turnovers)," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Thursday. "We had 10 possessions last week and one was a kneel-down at the end of the game. So, that's nine times we get the ball. If you give two of them away, now you're down to seven. You're cutting it kind of thin. You're cutting down on your opportunities."

Looking further inside the numbers, last year's offense hogged the ball for an NFL-high and franchise-record 33 minutes and 3 seconds per game. This year, the Packers rank 17th at 30:06 per game. Last year, the Packers ran 65.1 plays per game. This year, it's only 58.1. The decreased number of snaps has masked the unit's better per-play production. Green Bay ranks third in the league this season in yards per play at 6.0, compared to ninth last year at 5.8.

By contrast to the Packers' minus-1 turnover ratio, this week's opponent, the New York Jets, are a lofty plus-10 in turnovers, the best margin in the league. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has thrown just two interceptions, including none in his first five games. Their running backs have lost just one fumble (Shonn Greene). Because they've been so good with the ball, they've run 381 plays in six games compared to 407 plays in seven games by the Packers. Common sense says that the more plays you run, the better the chances of making a big play or simply wearing down the opposing defense.

The Packers' problems are perplexing. Rodgers is an experienced quarterback who entered this season on pace to have the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback in NFL history. He had been so good that Greg Jennings was only half kidding when he said Rodgers could go the whole season without throwing an interception. The pass protection is infinitely better than the first half of last season, so it's not like Rodgers is blindly chucking the ball or losing the ball on blind-side hits. Neither Brandon Jackson nor John Kuhn have lost a fumble while replacing Grant.

"It's not what we're used to," Philbin said. "Since (Mike McCarthy has) been here, every single year we've gone down. We've got our work cut out for us. We're not used to this progression."

During McCarthy's first season, his team had 33 turnovers. That fell to 24 in 2007, 21 in 2008 and last year's 16. That's preposterously low, but one a game is "probably reasonable," Philbin said.

It's no secret that the biggest win-loss indicator is turnovers. McCarthy's teams are 11-7 with one giveaway and 16-3 with none. Green Bay is 31-6 when it wins the turnover battle under McCarthy.

For the Packers to salvage this season, the turnover trend is something that must absolutely be reversed. The defense is running out of healthy bodies. The offense, even without Grant and Jermichael Finley, is the unit that can improve its production by simply getting out of its own way. The onus falls on Rodgers, whose two interceptions last week took anywhere from six to 14 points off the board. Their well-chronicled late-game woes probably would be a non-story if not for two turnovers at Chicago and two more at Washington.

"Kind of a whole host of things have contributed (to the turnovers), and interceptions have been the most disturbing part that we've had." Philbin said.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories