Analysis: Is Green a fumbler?

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. One flaw in that philosophy is Ahman Green is neither old nor a dog.

The pivotal play in Sunday's game against Chicago was Green's disastrous fumble before halftime. By now you know the cost of Green's miscue. Instead of a potential 10-7 halftime lead, the Packers trailed 14-3 at intermission en route to a stunning 21-10 upset loss.

On the critical fumble, Green was carrying the ball in his left arm — as he always does — on a running play to the right. This goes against what running backs are taught way back in flag football and Pop Warner. The correct way to carry the football is with the ball cradled in the arm nearest the sideline. Since the pursuit is generally coming from the middle of the field, that generally puts the ball out of harm's way. Carrying the ball in that manner comes with two other benefits. First, if the ball is jarred loose, it's closer to the sideline, which could prevent an opponent's recovery. Second, it allows the runner to stiff-arm defenders out of the way.

Green's left-arm reliance is hardly a secret. Just ask Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who darted through the offensive line and cleanly stripped the ball from Green.

"He carries the ball in his left hand and I just happened to hit the ball," Urlacher said.

Had Green been using the proper fundamentals, the ball would have been in his right arm and out of Urlacher's reach. While Packers coach Mike Sherman credited Urlacher with putting a big hit on Green, a review of the play — or even a look at the photo associated with this story — shows otherwise.

So Green's poor fundamentals make him a fumbler, correct? Well, yes and no.

As the Packers proudly pointed out in their preseason packet to reporters, Green boasts the best career fumble ratio in team history. Better than even Hall of Famer Jim Taylor, who last season while praising Green's skills was critical of Green's fumbling woes.

"When you start to get in traffic you just squeeze and squeeze more and more," Taylor said last year. "That certainly makes you very conscious of holding that football. Putting that football on the ground and losing possession is just a no-no.

"It's the worst that a running back can do is to lose possession of the ball and turn it over to the opponents and this is something I really stressed and was a part of my personality as a running back."

For his career, Taylor fumbled the ball once every 63.9 touches compared to Green's career figure of once every 60.6 touches. Based, however, solely on the players' years in Green Bay — Green started his career in Seattle while Taylor ended his in New Orleans — Green has a slightly better ratio.

Comparing eras, however, is like comparing Ray Nitschke to Nick Barnett. Both played middle linebacker, but that's where the similarities end. Today's defenses place a heavier emphasis on stripping the ball, and players on both sides of the ball are bigger and stronger.

The best way to judge Green is with his contemporaries, and that's where he falls short.

Packerreport.com looked at the top 10 rushing leaders from last season, and then computed their fumbling ratio over the past two seasons. Of those 10, Green ranked just eighth in ball security by coughing up the ball once every 68.0 touches. That figure ranked ahead of, interestingly enough, NFL rushing champion Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens (a fumble every 47.4 touches) and the retired Ricky Williams (a fumble every 62.3 touches).

The best in the business over the past two seasons is Kansas City's Priest Holmes, with a jaw-dropping two fumbles in 777 touches for a fumble ratio of once every 388.5 touches. Next on the list is San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, who puts the ball on the turf once every 172.8 touches.

The rest of the list: New Orleans' Deuce McAllister (once every 79.2 touches), Washington's Clinton Portis (79.3) Carolina's Stephen Davis (80.3 touches), Jacksonville's Fred Taylor (81.0) and Seattle Shaun Alexander (103.1)

For a historical perspective, all-time NFL rushing lead Emmitt Smith has fumbled the ball once every 81.4 times in his career. Green's idol and arguably the greatest back to ever play the game, Walter Payton, fumbled once every 49.7 touches in his illustrious career.


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