In Mike McCarthy’s mind, turnovers are the biggest problem afflicting the slumping Green Bay Packers.
“The biggest hole in our football team is our turnover ratio,” McCarthy said on Monday, a day after his Packers lost at Washington 42-24 for their third consecutive loss. “I’ve been talking about it all year. We’re not taking care of the football, we’re not taking the football way. Until that changes, we’re going to be fighting uphill. That’s A-No. 1. We can’t control the health of the football team but we need to get the turnover ratio turned because that is not cutting it.”
That problem, however, might be the most impossible to fix because Green Bay’s injury-plagued defensive roster seems incapable of making those game-changing plays.
With Sam Shields missing all but the opening game due to a concussion, Damarious Randall having missed six of 10 games with a groin injury that required surgery and Quinten Rollins missing three games with a groin injury and struggling through his second season, the Packers have gotten little production from their projected top three cornerbacks. Randall has the only interception among the cornerback corps. The Packers’ cornerbacks are tied for 28th in interceptions, with only two teams having zero.
That’s an incredible number and ranking in light of this even more incredible number and ranking: From 2009 through 2015 – the first seven seasons with Dom Capers as defensive coordinator and Joe Whitt as cornerbacks coach – the Packers had 83 regular-season interceptions from their cornerbacks. That’s a whopping 16 more than any other cornerback group in the league over that span.
Some of that margin was built upon the ballhawking shoulders of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. However, even last year, the Packers’ corners finished third with 11 interceptions. Losing Shields was huge. Over the past six seasons, he was tied for second in the NFL behind only Richard Sherman with 23 interceptions (including playoffs). Randall and Rollins combined for five last year while starting a total of 13 games.
This year, that production has vanished due to an assault of injuries. Shields, Randall and Rollins have played in a combined 12 of a possible 30 games.
Part of it is a glaring lack of athleticism. Shields ran a 40-yard dash of 4.30 seconds at Miami’s pro day before the 2010 draft and Randall ran in 4.46 seconds at the 2015 Scouting Combine. Even Demetri Goodson, who was seldom used on defense and suffered a gruesome injury against the Redskins, ran in 4.52 at the 2014 Combine. The three main cornerbacks for most of the season? Rollins ran in 4.57 at the 2015 Combine, Micah Hyde ran in 4.56 at the 2013 Combine and LaDarius Gunter ran in 4.69 at the 2015 Combine – making him the slowest corner in that draft.
“Speed is speed,” as special teams coordinator Ron Zook pointed out on Monday, and the Packers just don’t have speed at cornerback. And that goes a long way toward explaining why the Redskins had five completions of at least 25 yards, including gains of 70, 53 and 44 yards. The Packers are simply overmatched on the perimeter and they’ve faced a spate of quarterbacks with the talent to take advantage. Paired with a vanishing pass rush, the Packers’ pass defense has been horrendous. They’ve allowed an opponent passer rating of 126.1 the last three weeks – by far the worst in the league.
“A lot of it has to do with the teams you’re going against (and) how much you can disrupt their quarterback because a big part of our philosophy is to try to stop the run and get them in predictable situations, disrupt the quarterback,” Capers said. “We didn’t pressure much but the one pressure that we did use there in the next-to-last series, they blocked it up and threw over the top. So, you put more stress on your coverage when you do that. We like to mix and match and try to keep the quarterback to where he doesn’t get into a groove. I think the quarterback pressures, the sacks, the hurries, all of that, the indecision, leads to more takeaways.”
Regardless, the Packers will press forward who they’ve got because, well, it’s who they’ve got. That means the same focus on takeaways that led to such success over previous seasons, even if the personnel isn’t nearly the same.
“You get what you emphasize, you practice it,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, practice time this time of year, you’re getting into late November/December, so we’re spending more time on the video. It’s part of my team presentation now with video in the Wednesday team meeting. We’ll keep coaching it, keep emphasizing it. We’ve done it. We can do it, we’ve got video of us doing it, we practice it. We have to get it to show up Monday night against the Eagles.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.