Dropping the ball on turnovers

Turnovers usually are the difference between winning and losing, but the Packers blew a plus-7 ratio in 2008 en route to a 6-10 record. We take a historical look to show just how badly the Packers defied the odds last year.

Their 6-10 record notwithstanding, the Packers did a few things very well last season. One of them was forcing turnovers — specifically, interceptions — though it didn't do them a lot of good.

Turnovers generally are the top indicator of success or failure in the NFL. Throw out games in which teams finished even in turnovers, and since 2002, the winner of the turnover battle has won the game 81.4 percent of the time.

The Packers scoffed at that notion. They won the turnover battle eight times but finished only 5-3 in those games. Far, far worse than that, the Packers went plus-3 in two games — Minnesota and Houston — but lost them both. They hadn't done that even once since 1999, a 14-13 setback to Chicago in which the Packers lost on a blocked field goal at the end of the game.

For the season, the Packers finished with a turnover ratio of plus-7, yet they endured 10 defeats. How badly did they defy the odds in that regard?

The Miami Dolphins led the NFL in turnover ratio at plus-17. They finished 11-5.

The Tennessee Titans were next at plus-14. They went 13-3.

The Baltimore Ravens finished third at plus-13. They went 11-5.

The Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants tied four fourth at plus-9. Both teams finished 12-4.

After sixth-ranked Green Bay were the Carolina Panthers, who posted a plus-6 ratio. They went 12-4.

Historically over the course of a season, every additional turnover forced or avoided has meant the equivalent of .207 wins tacked on to an 8-8 record. In the Packers' case, that should have resulted in 9.45 wins. Philadelphia earned the NFC's final playoff berth with a 9-6-1 record — basically 9.5 wins.

All six AFC playoff teams posted positive turnover ratios and finished in the top 11 in the league in that category with a combined plus-61. While the Packers recorded the best turnover ratio among non-playoff teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons defied the odds in the other direction, posting ratios of minus-6 and minus-3, respectively, yet qualifying for the NFC postseason party.

What's the point, other than to dump salt on an old wound? Many observers — including this one — believe the Packers are bound to be better this season. Not only did the Packers defy the odds by losing games while winning turnover battles, they posted a plus-34 scoring margin last season — the largest figure for a team that lost at least 10 games in the 29-year history of the 16-game schedule.

That shows the Packers aren't a bunch of no-talent hacks. With Aaron Rodgers another year wiser, a proven defensive coordinator (Dom Capers) and two first-round picks added to the defense, a soft schedule (on paper), better health (cross your fingers) and a little luck in close games (maybe), the Packers have the ingredients to turn their record around.

But can the Packers duplicate their success in the turnover column as they learn Capers' new scheme? The system is a proven turnover machine but whether the defense will be ready and has the right players to make it work is the million-dollar question. Beyond that, can Charles Woodson and Nick Collins even combine for seven interceptions, much less post seven apiece? And can the Packers rank fifth in the NFL in scoring again if the defense doesn't chip in seven touchdowns and the special teams two?

Those are some big obstacles, which is what makes last season so painful to consider, even six months after it ended. Sure, the Packers couldn't stop the run on defense, run the ball consistently on offense or play special teams. But teams that take the ball away on defense and protect it on offense should win.

Oh, well. At least the Packers followed the norm in one regard. They lost the turnover battle in five games. They lost each time.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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