"What's obvious is our record," McCarthy said on Monday, when the team reconvened from its week off to begin prep for Sunday's game against Detroit. "The reason why, you look at the components where all three phases work together. The first thing is our turnover ratio. We've got to do a better job taking care of the football. I thought our defense really made a big step in the area of takeaways in the Cincinnati game. Turnover ratio is No. 1. We're doing a lot of good things as far as big play production, extending plays, things like that. There's balance on offense. Defensively, pass defense is something that we've looked at. And special teams, our return game is something that we've looked at. With that, I don't think it's anything earth shattering. We need to get better doing the little things and that will be a big focus this week as we prepare for Detroit."
Going in depth on each ...
If there's one reason to believe the Packers will get things turned around, it's turnovers. Green Bay is an uncharacteristic minus-2 on the season. Since the start of the 2009 season, corresponding with Dom Capers' debut as defensive coordinator, the Packers are plus-63 in turnovers. That's second-best to New England's plus-80 and far ahead of San Francisco's third-ranked plus-41.
What's the real outlier is the giveaway column. Green Bay has turned over the ball seven times, or 2.33 per game. Only six teams have more turnovers, a pretty shocking number considering the Packers have played just three games and almost everyone else has played four. Since 2009, the Packers' 75 giveaways are the second-fewest in the league, with New England leading the way with 69. For the Packers, that's 1.12 giveaways per game. They're coming off of the three best seasons in franchise history (14 in 2011 and 16 in 2009 and 2012).
BALANCE ON OFFENSE
The Packers worked hard on their running game during training camp. Their longest periods of every practice were focused on the run game. Still, given the woeful track record of a team that ranked 20th, 27th and 24th in rushing yards and 22nd, 26th and 25th in yards per carry in 2012, 2011 and 2010, respectively, their 139-yard performance against Washington seemed a bit like fool's gold.
Fine, that was nice. Do it again.
So, they did. For an encore, the Packers gashed the Bengals for 182 rushing yards. It was their second-best day since 2009, surpassed only by their 202 rushing yards against Cleveland on Oct. 25, 2009, and the sixth-best in McCarthy's tenure. Not bad production considering Eddie Lacy was sidelined for all but one carry in those games with a concussion.
The Packers are having problems protecting Aaron Rodgers. A reliable running game that defenses have to worry about will make the passing game easier.
Since Capers' arrival in 2009, the Packers boast the league's second-ranked opponent passer rating at 75.5. The problem is a lot of that is based on past seasons. Colin Kaepernick had a rating of 129.4; his season rating is 81.0. Robert Griffin III had a rating of 104.2 — albeit inflated with a lot of garbage numbers — compared to a season rating of 85.5. Andy Dalton had a rating of 105.5; his season rating is 83.3. Combined, the Packers have allowed a rating of 113.7. Griffin is right in the middle of the league rankings, or 28.8 points worse than what the Packers have allowed.
"I think this group can get better," Capers said last week. "We really haven't had our group together."
This is a disgrace, and chances are simply plugging in a different returner or returners is not going to be the salvation.
In a stat that's shocking only when put into context, Green Bay is last in the NFL in kickoff returns. Its 12.1-yard average is barely half of the league average of 23.9 yards per runback. The Jets are 31st at a lofty 16.9 yards per return. Only Green Bay, the Jets and Buffalo are at less than 20.0 yards per run back.
Really, the bigger issue is the disparity between Green Bay's kickoff unit and its kickoff return unit. The Packers are allowing 25.6 yards per kickoff return. That's a lot of lost field position.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.