Benny Sieu/USA TODAY

Turnovers Power Packers’ Turnaround

Just like the previous seven seasons, the Packers have dominated the turnover table on offense and defense during the five-game winning streak.

On Nov. 20, the Green Bay Packers lost at the Washington Redskins 42-24. It was Green Bay’s fourth consecutive loss. The season was on the brink of disaster, due in part to a minus-6 deficit on turnovers.

“The biggest hole in our football team is our turnover ratio. I’ve been talking about it all year,” McCarthy said a day later. “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 is 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.”

Turnovers are the “A-No.1” reason why the Packers have turned their season around. They head into Sunday night’s winner-takes-all NFC North showdown at Detroit sitting at plus-6 on the turnover ledger – a 12-turnover turnaround.

During Green Bay’s five-game winning streak, the Packers have just one giveaway – a fumbled snap near the goal line by quarterback Aaron Rodgers against Houston. Rodgers, otherwise, has been in a Rodgers-esque groove. He’s gone six consecutive games without throwing an interception, a streak of 206 consecutive passes dating to late in the loss at Tennessee. That’s the third-longest in Packers history, trailing Bart Starr’s run of 294 consecutive passes in 1964-65 and Rodgers’ 212 consecutive passes in 2014.

“I think that goes to being the great player, MVP-type player,” McCarthy said. “You see things that he does at a consistent high level pretty much all the time. I mean, he has a 1.2 interception percentage. History will tell you over the last 25 years, if you’re below 1.6, 1.7, that’s a guy making good decisions and putting the ball in the right place. Because you’re going to have some balls that bounce off your receivers’ hands and maybe you get tipped and intercepted, maybe make a bad decision once in a while. You keep that below 1.6, 1.7, that tells you a lot about your quarterback, and he’s always done (well) in that area. He’s 1.2 right now. That’s a big part of his game.”

That’s always been a big part of Rodgers’ game. His career interception percentage of 1.56 is the best in NFL history. Oakland’s David Carr is next at 1.79 percent. If that seems close, then how about this for perspective: If Rodgers were to throw an interception on each of his next 10 pass attempts, he’d still be ahead of Carr. How unlikely is that? Rodgers hasn’t thrown 10 interceptions in a full season since tossing 11 in 2010.

Because of Rodgers’ brilliance and the defense’s ballhawking skills, Green Bay had dominated the turnover table entering this season. From 2009 through 2015 – the first seven years of Dom Capers’ tenure as defensive coordinator – Green Bay was plus-81 on turnovers. Only New England (plus-104) was better, and Green Bay’s tally was at least twice as good as every team other than New England, San Francisco (plus-59) and Seattle (plus-41).

The defense has rounded into form, at least from a takeaways perspective, during the five-game winning streak. After forcing 10 turnovers in the first 10 games, the Packers have forced 14 in the last five. Clay Matthews' sack-strip on Saturday was a potential 10- or 14-point swing just before halftime vs. Minnesota.

The “execution” is what’s better, McCarthy said.

“It’s a two-step process when it comes to taking the football away, and we were in position,” he said. “I thought takeaway opportunities were about where they needed to be – you always want more opportunities – but it’s the execution of those opportunities. You spend so much time working the awareness, the instincts, the footwork, because you have to get in position to make those plays. I’m not a big ‘the ball bounced our way’ kind of guy. I’m not sitting here waiting for the damn ball to bounce our way. We’ve got to get ourselves in position and that’s why we train. The instincts, the awareness and the footwork, I think our guys have always done a very good job. It’s an emphasis, it’s part of our daily training, but our execution has been much better. And that starts up front. Because at the end of the day, the quarterback has the ball every play. You look at the statistics – the sack/fumbles and things like that, that’s where the majority of takeaways come from (and) the ability to get the quarterback off the spot and maybe throw under duress and give our guys in the back end an opportunity to break on the ball. We’ve done a much better job of that through the month of December.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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