Redskins’ Turnover Efforts Catch Rodgers’ Attention

After watching video of the Redskins, an astute observation by quarterback Aaron Rodgers should have the Packers’ offense on high alert this Sunday afternoon in their Wild Card playoff matchup at Washington.

For the eighth time in the past 10 years, the Green Bay Packers finished the regular season with a positive turnover ratio. In a way, they were lucky.

While Aaron Rodgers was right at his career average as a starter for interceptions this season and the defense was just two off its takeaway pace of the previous three seasons, the Packers fumbled 24 times, their most in a regular season since 2008.

For a team that constantly preaches ball security and drills it in practice each week, the most alarming development came at the running back position, where the normally reliable James Starks and Eddie Lacy had rough seasons. Starks finished tied for fourth in the league among running backs with five fumbles (on 191 touches) and Lacy fumbled four times (on 207 touches).

This Sunday in a Wild Card playoff game at Washington, the Packers will be tested. When asked Wednesday what jumps out about the Redskins defense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded, “They create a lot of plays on the football. They do a good job of rallying, holding the guys up and stripping the ball out. They’ve had a number of those over the course of the year and they’re very opportunistic in the red zone.”

Reviewing the game video from this season, the best examples of this type of play were from cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Will Blackmon, who played for the Packers from 2006 through 2009. In a game against the New England Patriots, Blackmon went more for the strip than the tackle on Julian Edelman after a catch and the Redskins came away with the ball. And against the New York Jets, Breeland snatched the ball away from Brandon Marshall while bigger teammates pursued a tackle on the 6-foot-4 receiver.

Blackmon and Breeland forced three fumbles each this season to tie for the team lead with linebacker Preston Smith. All told, the Redskins forced 22 fumbles to tie for the NFL lead with, among others, three teams that beat the Packers this season (the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals).

With defensive back DeAngelo Hall, who has always played with confidence, and safety Dashon Goldson, a big hitter, the Redskins defense is an aggressive bunch.

“They get after the passer and I think their secondary knows they have a time clock in their head of when to break on routes and the safeties do a great job of coming up making big plays, making big hits and stuff like that,” said Packers receiver James Jones. “So, they’re a great team defense. So, I think they understand how to play well off each other.”

Though Starks and Lacy have gotten more of the attention for ball-security issues, Rodgers led the team with eight fumbles this season. Breakdowns in protection have all but contributed to him fumbling four times in the last two games. Three of the fumbles went for touchdowns, including a close call held up by replay review in the regular-season finale. Captain Munnerlyn’s 55-yard return off the sack-fumble by defensive end Everson Griffen in the third quarter proved to be a pivotal play in the Vikings’ 20-13 victory to clinch the NFC North title.

Fortunately for the Packers, only nine of their 24 fumbles this season were lost to the opposing team. No receiver, tight end or return specialist, for that matter, lost a single fumble. That played a large part in the Packers finishing plus-5 n turnover ratio, tied for 10th best in the league.

“I know this is going to sound cliché, but it comes down to turnovers, taking care of the football, trying to take the ball away, and playing situational football – scoring touchdowns in the red zone, limiting them to field goals,” said fullback John Kuhn of what it takes to win a road playoff game. “It’s not a hard game. It’s the things that we preach every single day but you’ve got to do it at a higher emphasis in the playoffs.”



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


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