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Packers looking to reverse two troubling trends

Fewer giveaways, stouter run defense are key objectives heading to London

Packers vs. Giants at Lambeau Field
Packers vs. Giants at Lambeau Field

GREEN BAY – Based on how the first four games of the season have gone, the Packers' two biggest targets for improvement are rather easy to pinpoint.

On offense, it's protect the football. On defense, contain the run.

If both of those facets start trending in a better direction Sunday in London against the Giants, it'll bode well moving forward over the long haul for a 3-1 Green Bay team that's shown some rough edges.

"If I had the answer to it, I don't think we'd be in this spot," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said regarding the offense's turnovers. "We've just got to do a better job."

Protecting the ball is something they've traditionally done well under LaFleur. Over his first three seasons, the Packers never went more than two straight games with a turnover, and their regular-season high has been 13.

This year, with at least one turnover in every game, the streak is at four, and the seven total giveaways are already more than half of their worst season under LaFleur.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers already has thrown three interceptions after having four, five and four the last three years, so history would indicate his pace won't continue.

Running back Aaron Jones has one of the team's four lost fumbles, and he's only lost six his entire career – roughly one per season. He got sandwiched on a hit near the goal line in Tampa and coughed up the ball in a tough spot, which can happen to anyone, but it's still an unacceptable miscue.

The track record says it'll get better, but it won't just happen magically without the proper effort and attention.

"It's just focusing on the ball, knowing the ball is the No. 1 important thing in the game," Jones said. "That's how we go about it here – the ball, the team, the North. So just take care of it. Just be aware of it, knowing what teams are trying to do."

That's the message LaFleur is instilling, because of what the Packers have put on film. Rodgers also has lost fumbles on a sack and bad snap exchange, and rookie receiver Romeo Doubs had the ball punched out by the Patriots on the Packers' second play from scrimmage last week.

"Put too many on the ground, there's no doubt," LaFleur said. "Once you do that, the other teams that are watching you, that are studying you, they kind of smell blood in the water. They're going to go after, relentlessly after that football. We know that's going to happen. We've got to step up to the challenge."

The good news is the Packers' defense has mitigated the damage from those turnovers. Opponents have just 16 points off of the seven giveaways, and seven of those were on the interception returned for a touchdown by New England.

Otherwise, opponents have generated just three field goals from the other six turnovers. That's a big reason the Packers are the only one of 11 teams in the league with a negative turnover margin (minus-3) to have three wins.

"Luckily we've been on the other side of it and fought adversity," Jones said, "but we've got to get on the right side of it."

The Packers also need their defense to start limiting its lapses against the run, particularly with the league's leading rusher in the Giants' Saquon Barkley coming full bore this week.

Green Bay is currently ranked 22nd in the league against the run, but that's not really the story. The Packers have allowed 507 rushing yards through four games, with 204 of those – roughly 40% – coming on just four drives, back-to-back possessions against the Bears in Week 2, followed by another consecutive sequence last week vs. the Patriots.

So it's not as though stopping the run has been a constant struggle, but once things start to go awry, it's taken two drives to snap back into form.

"It's always coming down to us killing blocks, getting off blocks and just knowing how to fit the runs up, and just being physical," rookie inside linebacker Quay Walker said. "You can't stay attached to blocks."

The added challenge with Barkley this week is his elusiveness. Tackling him after getting off a block is no easy task, and he's averaging 5.5 yards per carry along with a league-best 116 rushing yards per game thus far in 2022.

"Great running back. You can tell that he's healthy now," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said of Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018 who won Offensive Rookie of the Year that season before missing 21 games due to injuries over the past three years.

"He can run with the best of them and he's got that breakout speed. I've got a lot of respect for his game. He got drafted when he got drafted for a reason."

The 6-foot, 232-pound Barkley is also tied for the Giants' team lead in pass receptions (15) for an additional 107 yards, giving him 570 yards from scrimmage – 43% of New York's entire offensive output.

"They find different ways to get him the ball. We saw him as a Wildcat quarterback. They'll throw screens to him. There's just nothing this guy can't do," LaFleur said. "He's big. He's physical.

"He's not a guy that you can ever assume that somebody's going to get him down, because we've seen him wrapped up and he does a great job of fighting through and breaking tackles, and it's going to be a total team effort in terms of getting him on the ground."

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