Keys to the game: Turnovers are paramount

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a reputation. <p> No, not that reputation.

Yes, Coughlin is a coach straight from sports' Stone Age. He's not a player's coach. He's not buddy-buddy with the players. Coughlin is a disciplinarian, one of a dying breed in professional sports.

The reputation we're talking about in this instance, however, is how Coughlin's teams traditionally are among the leaders in the one statistic that trumps all others: turnover ratio.

As reported by The Green Bay News-Chronicle, teams coached by Coughlin hold onto the ball better than any coach in NFL history. In 131 regular-season games, Coughlin-coached teams have turned over the ball 189 times. That's 1.44 per game, slightly ahead of the 1.46 turnovers per game by Steve Mariucci-coached teams.

So what the Giants , who visit Green Bay at noon Sunday, are accomplishing this season shouldn't come as a surprise, even in light of how slippery-fingered the Giants were a year ago under the fired Jim Fassel.

Last year, the Giants posted a league-worst turnover ratio of minus-16. Their 38 turnovers tied for a dubious second. By contrast, the Giants are a whopping plus-8 through three games, which leads the league. They have turned over the ball a league-low two times, with no interceptions and a pair of lost fumbles.

By contrast, a coaching change that was supposed to work wonders for the Packers has little to show for it. New defensive coordinator Bob Slowik's aggressive, blitzing style was supposed to create more big plays. Instead, after forcing 32 turnovers last season, the Packers have forced just four through three games.

"Takeaways," Slowik said, "are a strange thing. Sometimes, they come in bunches. Sometimes, you get in dry spells. Sometimes, no matter how much you emphasize it, it just doesn't happen right away."

If the dry spell continues, the Packers will be in for another dogfight. If the Packers can force them in the bunches, they will take a big step toward evening their record at 2-2. The Packers' defensive goal each week is to force three turnovers. When the Packers accomplish that mission, they are 25-1 under head coach Mike Sherman.

Here are the rest of this week's five keys to victory.

2. Vintage Warner or last year's Warner?

Quarterback Kurt Warner is in his first season in New York after a historic career in St. Louis. While with the Rams, Warner won one Super Bowl, reached another, earned two league MVP awards and was the league's all-time highest-rated passer.

It all came unraveled in his last two seasons, however. He started just one game last year, Week 1 at the Giants, and it was nothing short of a disaster. Warner was sacked six times and fumbled six times as the Rams were crushed in their opener. Warner didn't see the field again until mopping up in the season finale.

Warner, however, seems to have regained some of the magic in the first three games. He has completed 64.8 percent of his passes with one touchdown. More importantly, he has not throw an interception.

"Kurt takes good care of the ball, is very good in the huddle and is very much aware of what we want him to do," Coughlin said. "His accuracy has always been a primary reason we've liked him, and he does a good job of reading coverages and getting the ball to the open receiver."

Noted Slowik: "He looks like the old Kurt Warner. He's a guy who's playing with confidence and getting the ball out."

Odds are Slowik will go after Warner just as he's gone after every other quarterback this season. In his last couple of years in St. Louis, Warner often crumbled under a heavy pass rush. If Warner gets rattled, the turnover valve could be turned on. If the Giants can protect, however, Warner has plenty of tools at his disposal.

3. Tiki torch

Giants running back Tiki Barber is one of the best in the league. He ranks ninth in the NFL with 273 rushing yards and has a league-best 5.5 yards per carry. He also is a threat out of the backfield, ranking second behind teammate Amani Toomer in team history in receptions.

The last time the Packers faced a team that wanted to run the football, Chicago's Thomas Jones gashed them for 184 yards and was nearly unstoppable in the second half. If the Packers are going to sell out to pressure Warner, then Barber will have room to roam. With a 72-yard touchdown to his credit, Barber is certainly a big-play threat.

4. There's no place like home

Green Bay used to be a house of horrors for the opposition. But the nicer and bigger Lambeau Field gets, the worse the team plays. The Packers are just 6-5 in their last 11 at Lambeau, including the home opener against Chicago and dating to the January 2003 playoff loss to Atlanta.

The Giants are excited to visit the historic stadium but will not be in awe.

"I've never played there. I was with Green Bay (1994 training camp), but never actually played in Lambeau Field," Warner said. "It'll be awesome, there's so much history there. A great place to play and it would be a great place to win. But history tells us what a tough place it is to win, especially against a team like the Packers with their backs to the wall, to some degree. We know they have a better team than that and for that reason it'll be a big game for us to show what we're all about."

A fast start will be key for the Packers to get the crowd going and get some good vibes after losing the last two games.

5. Tauscher vs. Strahan

In the last meeting between the two teams, Green Bay's Earl Dotson dominated Michael Strahan until Brett Favre gave up the infamous sack to give Strahan the single-season sack record.

That's ancient history, though. Strahan is the Giants' best defensive player, and if the Packers want to mount a successful passing game, they'll need to keep Strahan under wraps. That will fall mostly on right tackle Mark Tauscher.

"(Strahan) is as good as it gets," Tauscher said. "It's exciting because you want to see what you're made of, too."

Said Sherman: "Strahan's a future Hall of Famer, but Mark Tauscher is one of those guys who always rises to the challenge. You look at Strahan and look at Tauscher and say, ‘How's that going to work out?' But, I'm very confident in ‘Tausch.' I've got my money on ‘Tausch.'"

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