Interception Deficiency

Four days ago, we told you about the Packers' troubles forcing fumbles. Today, we look at the shocking lack of interceptions for the 2013 squad — in line for a franchise record of the wrong kind. Can anyone say Eli Manning to the rescue?

The 2013 Green Bay Packers are setting an anemic pace when it comes to intercepting the football.

With just three passes picked off over the first nine games, the Packers will have to get busy to avoid being on the wrong end of the record book.

The lowest regular season total that a Packers team has ever posted (with statistics going back to 1933) was eight in 2004.

For a defensive unit that prides itself on takeaways and has the interception numbers to prove it during the Mike McCarthy era, what gives?

"You can't really say what's the reason why. The only thing you can do is do your job," said safety Morgan Burnett, who has gone 12 consecutive games (including the playoffs) without an interception. "I mean, those interceptions are going to come as long as you're playing with the right technique, doing your job, because when they come, they come in bunches. So, you can't hang your hat on trying to get interceptions. If you're in the right position, they'll come."

Packers defensive backs have gotten their hands on at least a couple balls the past two games, yet have come up empty. The most frustrating missed chance may have been on Sunday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, when Burnett and cornerback Tramon Williams converged on a deep pass intended for DeSean Jackson and collided, popping the ball into the air and into the hands of Jackson for a walk-in 55-yard touchdown. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles hung up two other deep passes — one that went to Riley Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown — that Packers' defenders had trouble locating.


Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

"I think it was clearly playing the ball," said McCarthy of the Eagles' long touchdowns. "When I referred earlier to the critical plays in the game, I definitely feel those plays, when you look at the ball in the air, you're expecting that ball to go your way, and it didn't. Both of those long throws … when the ball is in the air that long, as a defensive back, you're licking your chops. When the ball gets up and down, that's when it's a bigger challenge."

For years, takeaways — namely interceptions — have been the Packers' crutch on defense. Last season, the Packers picked off 18 passes, which was eighth in the league, but during McCarthy's tenure they have finished first in the league in 2011 and 2009, second in 2010, and third in 2008 and 2006. Their average number of interceptions during that span was 23.9 per season.

"The guys who are out there playing have made plays for us in the past," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "If the opportunities continue to come, I think that we'll make them. I just believe that. I think the more you're in position, if you have that in you, you'll find a way to come up with them."

Despite an increase the past two games, Packers defensive backs have seen their opportunities — be it because of poor coverage or opposing quarterbacks not giving them a chance — dip this season, according to Davon House.

"I would say last year we had way more opportunities," said the Packers' third-year cornerback. "This year, I had four opportunities and I only caught one. Tramon hasn't had many opportunities. Sam (Shields) has had maybe two or three and caught one. Last year and years before, we had way more opportunities. But the season ain't over yet so they come in bunches."

Not helping matters is that last year's team leader, Casey Hayward (six interceptions), has been limited to just three games with a hamstring injury he re-aggravated against the Eagles. Perennial pick master Charles Woodson's departure plays a factor, too (38 interceptions from 2006 through 2012). Shields has been the team's top cover man at cornerback, but as a group, the Packers' defense grades out as the eighth-worst in the league in pass defense according to measures used by ProFootballFocus.com. It has just 36 passes defended (according to official NFL statistics), which is the third-lowest number in the league. Opponents are throwing an average of 33.7 passes per game against the Packers vs. 35.5 in 2012 and a league-leading 39.8 in 2011.

Could the Packers get some help this Sunday from their opponent?

Perhaps.

The New York Giants' Eli Manning leads the league with 16 interceptions.

"When he's playing good, he's great. If you get some pressure on him, he's capable of throwing the ball away," said Packers rookie defensive back Micah Hyde, who has yet to record a pick in 101 pass coverage snaps (18 targets). "Everybody knows what you get out of Eli Manning. If he's managing the game and if he's on the ball, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. If you get some pressure in his face, he'll throw you the ball."

Manning threw four interceptions in a Dec. 26, 2010, regular season game against the Packers, which basically amounted to a playoff game for both teams. The Packers won and went on to win the Super Bowl. The Giants lost and missed out on the playoffs. But in five other career games (including two playoff games) against the Packers, Manning has thrown just three interceptions against 10 touchdown passes.

"Whatever I've seen from him (on video this year), I expect to see the total opposite (on Sunday)," said House. "I expect the best. I expect the Super Bowl Eli Manning. I think last year they weren't the best team at the time we played them and he had a good game against us then."

The NFL record for fewest interceptions by a team in one season is three, set by the Houston Oilers in the strike-shortened 1982 season (nine games). The 16-game record for futility (five) is owned by the 2005 Oakland Raiders.

"You just got to keep playing, keep competing. You can't get caught up in numbers," said Burnett. "You don't think too much about it. Of course as a DB you want to get turnovers but at the same time you want to do your job to the best of your ability.

"The key word that we say everyday is just be ‘patient,'" added Hyde. "Because when they come they're going to come. It always happens that way. As a DB, even if it's in practice, you get your first one then after that they come flying at you."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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