The Green Bay Packers are 2-3 and looking like anything but the NFC's top team, as they were predicted to be before the season.
The coaches' explanations for their teams' plights, by and large, are the same.
"The thing that we've done well as a football team these first five weeks is we've protected the ball pretty damn good and we've found a way to take it away," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday morning. "I think from a turnover standpoint, that's something we've been doing pretty positive as a football team."
The Texans rank fourth in the NFL with a turnover margin at plus-8. Houston and Oakland are tied with a league-low three giveaways and Houston's tied for fifth with 11 takeaways.
Contrast that to the Packers, who are minus-1 this season after being a NFL-best plus-58 the past three seasons. In Dom Capers' first three seasons as defensive coordinator, the Packers forced a league-leading 110 turnovers. Last year, they tied San Francisco for the league lead with 38 takeaways and easily led the way with a franchise-record 31 interceptions. This season, only seven teams have fewer takeaways than Green Bay's five, and the Packers are the only team in the league to have not recovered an opponent's fumble.
"That part, I think, will come, because I've always said turnovers come in bunches," Capers said on Monday. "We certainly had our chances – legitimate chances – for four or five in this game, which would have totally changed the game around."
The Packers blew chances for three takeaways in the span of five plays in one series against the Colts, with Nick Perry's forced fumble taken away by his illegal hit, Clay Matthews' forced fumble being kicked and dribbled out of bounds and Tramon Williams losing an interception when Charles Woodson ran into him. The Perry fumble was recovered by D.J. Smith at the Colts' 17-yard line. Figuring that drive nets at least a field goal, the Packers could have extended their second-quarter lead to 17-0, at worst. Williams had another chance for an interception midway through the fourth quarter but had to settle for an outstanding pass breakup in the back of the end zone on a drive in which the Colts kicked a field goal to take a 22-21 lead.
"I don't know, man," Williams said about the lack of takeaways. "It happens sometimes. We feel that every game we go into, we're going to get quite a few. It hasn't been like that quite yet – one game – but we still feel that way. We got our hands on a lot of balls today but just didn't quite bring them in like we should have. Moving on, we're going to bring in some of those balls."
Last season, the takeaways were the saving grace for a porous defense. This year, the defense needs the takeaways to help an offense that has shown practically no ability to create big plays through the air. The Packers' long pass play is 49 yards – only eight teams' long gain through the air has been shorter. The Packers have 13 passing plays of 20-plus yards – only seven teams have fewer. Finally, the Packers have just one passing play of 40-plus yards – only two teams have fewer.
Even the offense isn't playing up to its usual lofty ball-security standards. After setting a franchise record with 14 giveaways last season, the Packers have turned over the ball six times in five games. That's not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but it still puts them on pace for about 20. With four interceptions, Aaron Rodgers has almost matched last year's total of six.
"We're not playing as an offensive group the way we want to play," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "You could probably say that about most everyone on the offense. It is a team game. When we start playing consistently well as an offense, everyone's performance will be better."
On the other sideline, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown two interceptions this season and three in his last nine starts. Star running back Arian Foster, who put the ball on the ground six times last season, hasn't coughed it up in 142 touches this season. Defensively, the Texans have forced nine fumbles (to the Packers' two) and recovered four.
"It's a big difference because, as we all know, turnovers have such a deciding factor on the games," Capers said. "When you're getting them, you're stealing two or three opportunities. You're talking about a game (against Indianapolis) where there were 15 possessions. If you can get three or four takeaways and you get that down to 12 or 11 possessions, it makes a big difference."