When the Green Bay Packers look back on their 15-1 regular season and look ahead to playing their first postseason game this weekend, an easy correlation can be made between why they have won so many games and why they have lost only once.
The MVP-worthy impact of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and being the highest-scoring team in the league notwithstanding, Green Bay can point to the power of the turnover.
The one game in which the Packers' maligned but ball-hawking defense didn't come up with a takeaway happens to be the game they lost — 19-14 at the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15 on Dec. 18.
To avoid a quick exit from the NFC bracket in which it's seeded No. 1 and has home-field advantage, Green Bay may have to count on its 32nd-ranked defense to make a special play or two in the divisional-round matchup against the New York Giants.
"All we do is we preach the turnovers," cornerback Sam Shields said Thursday. "Three or more turnovers, we're winning. We keep continuing to do that, it's going to be some good things happening."
The Packers' nearly infallible regular season included six games with at least three takeaways.
Green Bay averaged nearly two interceptions per game with a league-leading total of 31. The Packers amassed 38 takeaways, tying the San Francisco 49ers for the top spot.
The Pro Bowl outside linebacker intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown and later forced a fumble on a sack of Manning.
The latter was the only sack Green Bay had in the game and one of just three hits of Manning, who otherwise shredded a mistake-prone secondary for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
The focus for the defense going into the rematch is twofold: contain the formidable duo of running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who combined for 155 rushing yards in the wild-card rout of the Atlanta Falcons, and ramp up the pressure on Manning.
"You can't get after Eli when it's third-and-short," defensive end Ryan Pickett cautioned. "They're playing the chains. That's why we have to get 'em in long situations, and then you can bring pressure. But, other than that, you can't. That's why everything starts with stopping the run and winning first down, so we can put 'em in situations where we can put pressure on him."
If Manning's track record is any indication, forcing him into just one bad mistake could be the Packers' meal ticket to advance to the NFC Championship on Jan. 22.
The Giants are 6-0 this season and have won 11 straight games, going back to December 2009, when their Pro Bowl quarterback doesn't throw an interception. They are 4-4 this season when Manning has one pass picked and 0-3 when he's had multiple interceptions.
As further proof, consider Manning's previous two visits to Lambeau Field.
When the Giants pulled off the stunning 23-20 overtime victory in the NFC Championship four years ago, Manning didn't have a touchdown pass, but he also didn't throw an interception.
The teams' meeting in the second-to-last week of the 2010 regular season was a different story. The Packers picked off four passes from Manning, including three in the final quarter, and cruised to a 45-17 win that sparked Green Bay's six-game spurt to the Super Bowl title.
It's no coincidence the Giants are in the midst of their own late-season surge, winning four of their last five games after the narrow loss to the Packers last month. Manning threw all of two interceptions in the four wins but was picked three times in the only loss.
"I think his confidence level is definitely where it needs to be for them, and I think he's going to come here pretty confident," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "Obviously, it's our job to get pressure on him because I don't care who you are — you could be number 12 (Rodgers) — if people are constantly in your face, you're not the same quarterback."
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