Packers, 49ers are Kings of Turnover Margin

Last season, the 49ers led the NFL in turnover margin while Green Bay ranked second. They tied for the league lead in takeaways, though they took very different paths to the top of that list. The quarterbacks and coaches talked Wednesday about a stat that should determine Sunday's outcome.

Since Mike McCarthy took over as Green Bay Packers coach in 2006, turnovers have meant everything.

When the Packers have lost the turnover battle, they've gone 6-20 — a woeful .231 winning percentage. When they've won the turnover battle, they've gone 48-6 — a sizzling .889 winning percentage.

It's not just the winning percentages that jump off the computer screen. It's that the Packers have won the turnover battle in 54 of McCarthy's 106 games. That's 56.3 percent of the time compared to losing the battle 24.5 percent of the time and tying in the other 16.7 percent of games.

Turnovers are always of utmost importance but will be under the microscope when the Packers host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Last season, the 49ers were plus-28 in turnovers, the second-best mark in the NFL since 1970. The Packers were second at plus-24. They tied for No. 1 with 38 takeaways. San Francisco was No. 1 with 10 giveaways, with Green Bay No. 2 with 14.

Not only were the Packers and 49ers the top teams, but they were the top teams by a considerable margin. Only four teams finished in double-digits in the positive. No. 3 New England was plus-17 and No. 4 Detroit was plus-11. Combined, their plus-28 merely equaled the 49ers.

"The turnover ratio is often the deciding factor," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We looked at a lot of research and obviously if you look at the turnover ratio in general, I think it's about 80 percent win/loss. But as far as opening games go over the past few years, it's been closer to 90 percent. We have to take care of the football, they're trying to take it away, they do a good job of not giving it away, and the team that probably takes care of the football better is going to win."

It starts at quarterback. Rodgers' career interception percentage of 1.80 is the best in NFL history. Neil O'Donnell is second at 2.11 percent. Rodgers could start the season with six consecutive interceptions and still be ahead of O'Donnell. Last season, Rodgers threw six interceptions in 502 attempts, tying Bart Starr's franchise-record mark and ranking second in the NFL behind ... San Francisco's Alex Smith, whose five interceptions in 445 attempts equated to a 1.12 interception percentage.

"It's something all quarterbacks like to take a lot of pride in," Smith said during a conference call on Wednesday. "There's that risk-reward and you want to throw touchdowns and you want to make plays, but you've got to be smart about it. It's something every single play you battle. No question, I think it's really understanding situational football and seeing the bigger picture. There's times, a completion on third down, even though you're checking the ball down and you don't get it, punting's OK there. All of those situations change as the game goes on and are dictated by the score and momentum and things like that. It's something as a quarterback, the longer you play, the better you get a feel for it."

Neither team put the ball on the ground last season. San Francisco tied for the league lead with five lost fumbles while the Packers were one off the pace with six.

Green Bay's gamble on Cedric Benson will be put to the immediate test. Benson has fumbled 12 times in the last two seasons, tops in the league. The 49ers' defense will be like sharks that sense blood in the water. San Francisco tied for the league lead with 15 fumble recoveries. Patrick Willis forced four fumbles and three others forced three.

"It's clubbing, punching, ripping the ball out," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said during his conference call.

The Packers tied for 26th with seven fumble recoveries but led the NFL by a mile with 31 interceptions (San Francisco and New England tied for second with 23). Charles Woodson tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, and Tramon Williams and Sam Shields were in a large group tied for 10th with four.

For Green Bay, the preseason is a concern. The Packers turned it over 10 times, including two interceptions and a lost fumble by Rodgers and a lost fumble by Randall Cobb.

"We definitely addressed our self-scout statistics throughout the preseason and we talk about taking care of the football every single day," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Statistically, coming out of the preseason we weren't where we needed to be. It's a focus for us daily."

For San Francisco, the concern is whether those turnover numbers can be replicated. Of the top 10 teams in turnover margin in 2010, only Green Bay, New England and Atlanta were in the top 10 in 2011. Over the last three seasons, only Green Bay and New England were in the top 10 every year. And Green Bay is the only team to be in the top 10 in turnover margin the last four seasons.

"At the end of the day, it's always about the players," McCarthy said. "Let's not get too far from that. It's about getting good players, training them and making sure they have an opportunity to reach their potential. Scheme is definitely part of it. It's important to put the players in the best position to be successful, make sure you utilize their skills."

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

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