Can Packers defy turnover trend?

The Packers forced 33 turnovers last season. History says that feat will be tough to duplicate, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

It's no secret that turnovers generally are the difference between winning and losing.

Last season, the Green Bay Packers finished with a net of zero in turnover ratio, with 33 giveaways and 33 takeaways. The Packers finished tied for fifth in the league with takeaways, including third with 23 interceptions.

More often than not, teams that produce a large number of takeaways one season fail to replicate that feat the next.

For instance, two of the top seven teams in takeaways in 2006 (New England and Green Bay) finished among the bottom seven in 2005. Carolina went from the top seven in 2005 to the bottom seven in 2006. Only Minnesota was among the top seven in takeaways both seasons.

Denver and Minnesota finished among the top seven in takeaways in 2005 after finishing among the bottom seven in 2004. New England went from among the most takeaways in 2004 to among the fewest in 2005. Only Carolina stayed in the top seven.

The feast-or-famine turnover trend was no more evident between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. St. Louis, Kansas City, San Francisco and Minnesota finished among the top seven in takeaways in 2003 but fell to the bottom seven in 2004.

The Jets in Denver went from one of the top seven teams in takeaways in 2001 to among the seven worst in 2002.

There's no way to explain this, other than to say there's a decent amount of luck involved in forcing turnovers. Recovering a fumble, for instance, is a 50-50 proposition. Picking off a large number of passes certainly is a credit to the pass rush and play in the secondary, but deflected passes tend to bounce into defenders' hands one season but fall to the turf in others.

With the Packers' offense entering training camp with more questions than answers, the play of the defense will be critical, especially with a challenging schedule.

For Green Bay to build on its 8-8 season, the offense must cut down on its turnovers — an iffy proposition given the untested players who will be carrying the football, a young receiving corps that could mean more deflections that lead to interceptions, and Brett Favre's combined 85 interceptions the past four years — and the defense must continue forcing turnovers.

The latter will mean defying the odds.

Of course, there's no reason to assume the Packers can't defy the historical trend. Al Harris and Charles Woodson are a top tandem at cornerback, unless old age sets in quickly. Frank Walker is an upgrade at No. 3 corner. The play at safety couldn't possibly be worse. With Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's role diminished, the pass rush should be stronger. A.J. Hawk is coming off a solid rookie season but didn't make many game-changing plays. With his talent, those type of plays should come.

All signs point to the Packers putting an above-average defense on the field this season. Whether that defense will remain among the leaders in forcing turnovers, however, may be up to the football gods.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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