Packers Surge Behind Turnovers

Green Bay is a whopping plus-12 in the last 14 quarters and faces another top turnover team on Sunday against Atlanta. Why have the Packers been so good on both sides of the ball after an uncharacteric slow start? We have the story straight from the coaches.

The Green Bay Packers are turning over a familiar leaf.

The Packers, who led the NFL in both giveaways (16) and takeaways (40) last year and are consistently one of the best teams at taking care of the football on offense and taking it away on defense, are up to their usual tricks.

Since the Packers finished the first half of the home game against Minnesota minus-2 in turnovers, they're a stunning plus-12 over the last 14 quarters. The offense hasn't had a giveaway since Aaron Rodgers' two first-half interceptions against the Vikings and the defense had three takeaways in the second half against the Vikings, three against the Jets, four against Dallas and two more against Minnesota on Sunday.

Thanks to that remarkable stretch, the Packers rank fifth in the NFL with a turnover ratio of plus-8. Sunday's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, is tied for second at plus-10. With those numbers, it's little wonder that this Week 12 game could wind up determining which city the NFC's road to the Super Bowl will run through in January.

On Friday, coach Mike McCarthy spoke of his goal to finish the season at least plus-10 in turnovers. So, being plus-12 in the last three-and-a-half games is an easy explanation for why the Packers have won four consecutive games.

"As far as setting goals for turnover ratio, plus-10 is where -- you want to be above that," McCarthy said on Monday. "I think history would show it's very favorable to a football team as far as accomplishing the ability to play in the playoffs and so forth. We're doing what we're supposed to be doing the last month of the season, particularly on offense, taking care of the football. We did not do that in the first month of the season. And the defense has really been consistent taking the football away. Time and time again, I've talked about it. We train it. It's important. We clearly feel it's a building block. It's part of our team identity, and we really need to continue to do that. It really factors in winning football games."


Woodson with the strip.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
History, not surprisingly, shows that turnovers are the NFL's paramount stat. This year, there are 13 teams who are at least plus-3 in turnovers. Among them, only Cleveland (3-7; plus -6) is below .500. Last season, of the top 10 teams in turnovers, seven qualified for the playoffs, and only Arizona reached the postseason without a positive turnover ratio. In 2008, of the top seven teams in turnovers, only Green Bay (plus-7) failed to reach the dance, and only Minnesota and Atlanta qualified without a positive turnover ratio.

Offensively for the Packers this year, the head-scratcher was the early-season play of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers threw just seven interceptions last season and led the NFL with an interception rate of 1.29 percent. By halftime of the Week 7 game against Minnesota, Rodgers' season total was up to nine. Flash forward to the end of Sunday's Week 10 romp at Minnesota, and Rodgers is on a streak of 112 passes without an interception.

"I don't think you can say there was more of a focus because we focus on it as a team a lot," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. "I think last year was a great year as far as the lack of turnovers, especially by him. We set a record for the Packers with the least amount of turnovers. You'd always like to improve on that record but it's not always going to be the case. We're starting to get back to where we want to be with the turnover ratio."

With a pass-first offense, it certainly starts with Rodgers – whether it's his decision-making and accuracy or the pass protection limiting unnecessary hits and rushed throws. But the running game hasn't killed the team in the wake of a season-ending injury to Ryan Grant, who didn't lose a fumble on 282 carries last season. None of the Packers' running backs have lost a fumble this season on a combined 212 carries.

Incredibly, Green Bay's three-game streak without a giveaway is its first since 1963.

"I think it's hopefully a reflection of the fundamentals, the emphasis that we place on that at all times," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "The quarterback has a lot to do with that. He hasn't thrown the ball where they have more guys than we do. He's certainly got confidence in his arm and can fit a ball into a tight window, but he hasn't been overly aggressive when it's not there. I think that's a big part of it. Guys have caught the ball well. We haven't had a lot of dropped passes the last couple weeks – tipped passes, as you've seen (tend to be intercepted). Our running backs have held onto the football. That's the top priority for them. Fortunately, we've been able to get through a few games without turning the ball over."

Defensively, it starts with an improving run defense that has forced more passing situations over the last four games. The Packers rank fourth in the NFL with 29 sacks, and that pressure plays into the hands of a defense that features the league's best big-play secondary. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Packers' 67 interceptions lead the league by eight over the Buccaneers. Green Bay and Atlanta are tied for second in the NFL with 15 interceptions. A whopping 10 Packers defenders have at least one interception, led by Tramon Williams' four.

"I think we've got a group of guys with good ball skills," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "To me, you're always looking to try to get the 11 guys with the best ball skills out there because when you have opportunities, you've got to convert them. Most of them, we have converted. Now, you can get a combination to where you can pressure the quarterback enough to where you disrupt him and then you've got guys out there that can take the ball away. It's a good combination. We've been able to get more pressure on the quarterback this year than we did early last year. The second half of the season, we got better pressure. Consequently, it creates more opportunities."

And those turnovers have created an opportunity for the Packers to make a statement that they're the best team in the NFC on Sunday at Atlanta. The Falcons rank third in the league with just 10 giveaways.

"We're 7-3 and that's the facts," coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday's game. "We're a good football team, we always knew we were a good football team, but we have seven wins, three losses. We have an opportunity coming up here in Atlanta. We've got our foot on the gas, hands on the wheel we're looking straight ahead. So, that's what you have to do in November. This is the best time of year for football, November football is critical because it gets you into December when it counts."


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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