Last offseason, the major emphasis on defense was forcing more fumbles. That’s because Green Bay had gone from forcing 24 fumbles in 2009, Dom Capers’ first season as defensive coordinator, to 22 in 2010, 19 in 2011 and 18 in 2012.
"It's one of those areas that we've tried to look at and place an emphasis on,” Capers said last offseason. “We need to cause more and recover more fumbles. A big part of causing and recovering fumbles in this league has to do with the opposing quarterback."
The focus on swarming to the ball and ripping it loose didn’t pay enough dividends last season. Green Bay again forced 18 fumbles, tied for 20th in the league.
Turnovers, of course, are the key statistic that separates the winners from the losers. Surprisingly, though, six of the top 10 fumble-forcing teams didn’t make the playoffs, with Jacksonville and St. Louis tying for second with 27, Oakland tying for fourth with 26, Chicago and the Giants tying for seventh with 25 and Tennessee finishing 10th with 24. Carolina (24th), Cincinnati (26th), New Orleans (tied, 28th) and San Diego (tied, 28th) reached the playoffs despite finishing among the bottom nine.
However, Seattle, which tied for fourth, and Denver, which tied for seventh, squared off in the Super Bowl. The other teams that reached the conference championship game, Seattle and New England, tied for 12th.
From Green Bay’s perspective, simply staying healthy would be a big help. Outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry tied for the team lead with three forced fumbles apiece after combining for only one in 2012. Matthews played just four games with a pair of healthy hands. Perry forced two fumbles in the first five games before sustaining a broken foot that sidelined him for five of the next six games. Of his four sacks, three of them forced fumbles.
Julius Peppers could be an asset, too. In 12 seasons, he’s forced 40 fumbles, including 10 in his four seasons with Chicago. Perhaps he could impart some knowledge on Mike Daniels and Datone Jones. Those defensive linemen combined for 10 sacks but didn’t force a fumble.
It would help if the safeties could contribute. For all of the focus on Morgan Burnett and the others not intercepting a pass, they also didn’t force a fumble. Only Green Bay, Cleveland and Indianapolis didn’t get a forced fumble from a safety. Thirty-two safeties around the league forced at least two, including former Packers star Charles Woodson, who forced three for Oakland.
Burnett forced two apiece in 2011 and 2012. Micah Hyde, who will compete for the starting job opposite Burnett, had a sack-strip against Baltimore. First-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix forced one fumble in three seasons at Alabama.
Here are league-wide numbers from Capers' five seasons as defensive coordinator.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.