Turnovers Tell the Tale for Packers, Bears

While Green Bay is 21-3 when it doesn't turn it over under Mike McCarthy, the Bears lead the NFL in takeaways under Lovie Smith. Through two weeks of this season, one team has clearly taken better care of the football, a fact that might be pivotal on Sunday.

The Green Bay Packers lost the turnover battle 2-1 in their loss at Chicago in Week 3 last season. They lost the game, too.

The Packers and Bears finished in a 2-2 deadlock in turnovers in the Week 17 game at Lambeau Field. The Packers won.

The Packers won the turnover battle 3-2 in their win at Chicago in the NFC Championship Game. They won the game, too.

Turnovers — specifically, giveaways — have been the defining stat during coach Mike McCarthy's tenure in Green Bay. When the Packers don't turn over the ball, they're 21-3.

While few teams hang onto the ball as well as McCarthy's Packers, few teams take it away like Lovie Smith's Bears. Since he took over in 2004, the Bears lead the NFL with 239 takeaways, including a second-ranked 101 fumble recoveries and a third-ranked 138 interceptions.

The Packers have one giveaway this season — none by the offense, with the only turnover coming on Randall Cobb's fumble on a kickoff return last week. Aaron Rodgers is one of four full-time starting quarterbacks who have not thrown an interception. Ryan Grant is working on a 314-carries streak without a fumble. James Starks hasn't fumbled on any of his 140 career touches.

"Our guys have done a good job," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told Packer Report on Thursday. "The ball hasn't been on the ground very much. Sometimes, you're lucky that the ball might get on the ground and you might recover it, but we haven't put the ball on the ground a whole lot."

It's early, but the Packers are tied for third in the league at plus-4 in turnovers. That's nothing new, with Green Bay a whopping plus-49 during McCarthy's five-plus years on the job. Only New England, which also is plus-4 this season, is better, with a margin of plus-63.

The Bears are plus-2 this season, though there's been some good fortune involved. Chicago is tied for fourth in the league with six fumbles but only has lost one.

Turnovers, of course, are only half the story. It's the result of the turnovers that tell the full story.

While the Packers struggled to capitalize on the Panthers' four giveaways last week — cashing in with only three field goals — they lead the NFL with 392 points off of takeaways since the start of the 2008 season. During the playoffs last year, the Packers led the league with 48 points off of takeaways.

On their only turnover this season, the Packers stiffened and held the Panthers to a field goal on Cobb's fumble.

The Bears have turned their four takeaways into two touchdowns — including Brian Urlacher's fumble return. Both of their giveaways have resulted in touchdowns — including an interception return by Kroy Biermann.

In seven career starts against the Bears, Rodgers boasts a 5-2 record, with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. In five starts against the Packers since joining the Bears in 2009, Cutler's record is 1-4, with four touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 2009, he doomed the Bears in the opener with four interceptions, including one by Al Harris in the final moments. Late in the season, his interception to Nick Collins set up the Packers with the winning touchdown. In the 2010 finale, Cutler was picked off by Collins with the Bears driving toward the tying touchdown.

Rodgers has been impeccable this season, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a second-ranked passer rating of 126.4.

The Packers will need him to be on top of his game on Sunday.

"Our quarterback's had good discipline as far as not throwing the ball into coverage and forcing the football to a guy that's not open," Philbin said. "That's been a positive. And we haven't had a lot of free guys coming loose and hitting the quarterback in the back of the head or hitting a runner from the side that we don't see. All those things contribute to zero giveaways. That's going to be a huge part of the game again."

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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.

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