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Packers' Ball Security To Be Tested By Ravens


Baltimore S Ed Reed, shown here against Indianapolis, has three interceptions in 2009, including one he returned for a touchdown.

There's been no team protecting the football better in the NFL this year than the Green Bay Packers, who have a league-low 10 turnovers through 11 games.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens aren't where they've been statistically in takeaways in 2009, ranking in the middle of the pack with 17. But anyone who faces the Ravens is well aware that their defense led the NFL in turnovers a year ago, and they thrive on making those game-changing plays.

Turnovers play an important role in any matchup, of course, but come Monday night at Lambeau Field, it will be key for the Packers to continue their ball-security success and not let the Ravens revisit their ball-hawking ways.

"It's just another task," Packers running back Ryan Grant said. "When you play a type of defense like that, that is very sound and (has) guys that have played at a high level for a long time, you have to be very fundamentally sound. I think that's big on our part. We have to make sure our technique and our fundamentals are intact."

So far in 2009, they have been. The Packers have been downright miserly when it comes to giving the ball away, and that's the way Head Coach Mike McCarthy and his staff like it.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown just five interceptions -- three in one game -- and the Packers have lost only five fumbles (four on offense, one on special teams). None of those turnovers has come on a running play, either, as Green Bay's backs have carried the ball 257 times without a fumble, including a career-best 218-carry streak from Grant dating back to last year.

Most important, the Packers have been turnover-free in six of their 11 games this season, and it's no coincidence that they're 5-1 in those contests.

But this is the Ravens coming to town on Monday night, a team that rode a turnover-producing defense all the way to the AFC Championship Game a year ago.

Baltimore led the NFL in 2008 with 34 takeaways (26 interceptions, 8 fumbles) and scored 123 points off of those turnovers, the second-highest total in the NFL behind Green Bay's 124. They added eight more turnovers in two playoff wins before falling to AFC North rival Pittsburgh in the conference title game.

It's no secret the linchpins of the Ravens' big-play unit are linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. Both have put together Hall of Fame careers by getting their hands on the football and making big hits, not necessarily in that order.

Lewis has 28 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles in his 14-year career, while Reed has 46 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and six defensive scores in eight seasons. His interception total is the most in the league over that span.

Reed is second on this year's team with three interceptions, to fellow safety Dawan Landry's four, and both have returned interceptions for touchdowns in 2009. Because of his veteran savvy and distinguished track record, which includes another five interceptions and one more touchdown in the postseason, it's Reed that teams worry about the most.

"He's got great ball skills," Rodgers said. "You don't want to throw him the ball, obviously. I don't like throwing interceptions in the first place. But he covers a lot of ground. Very smart, very athletic.

"He can go up and make plays on the ball, and he's not looking to knock it down. He's looking to make a pick and then get some yards and lateral it to a buddy if he can (before) he gets tackled. He's a very talented guy in the back end for them."

The onus is just as much on Green Bay's receivers as it is on Rodgers to not let Reed dictate how the game goes. Donald Driver called him "sneaky back there," while Greg Jennings said receivers have to view Reed as legitimate competition for any ball that's thrown in his general direction.

"What Ed Reed does in that backfield, you have to go get the ball, period," Jennings said. "You cannot let him go get the ball, because if you do, he will go get it. He has the mindset of a receiver once that ball is in the air, and he can catch just as good as any receiver in the game."

{sportsad300}Receivers have to be cognizant of Reed's penchant to lay a big hit as well, which can just as easily cause a turnover if anyone lets his guard down.

"He does both," Jennings said. "He's a highlight reel waiting to happen. We'll play on the high side of him trying to get the interception and trying to stop him from doing that, first and foremost. I'll take the hit. I can't let him get the pick."

As usual, the Ravens have a handful of players posting takeaways this year. In addition to Landry, five other players have an interception for Baltimore this season, including rookie linebacker Paul Kruger, whose pick and 26-yard return set up the game-winning field goal in overtime to beat Pittsburgh last week.

That play, which kept Baltimore above .500 at 6-5 and in the hunt for an AFC playoff spot, is all the evidence anyone needs to show that even in a sub-par year turnover-wise, the Ravens' defense can still flip a game's fortunes at any moment. And it still starts with Lewis and Reed, who have combined for five of the Ravens' nine forced fumbles in 2009.

"If you're throwing the ball downfield, you have to know where Ed Reed is," Rodgers said. "In the run game, you have to know where '52' (i.e., Lewis) is as well.

"They're guys we need to account for every play and be aware of. They're talented players. But they have to play us too. We're definitely going to stick to our scheme and see if we can make some plays."

And continue hanging onto the ball in the process.

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