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Turnover Ratio Has Helped Define '09 Team


Mike McCarthy is known for saying on a regular basis that as a coach, you get what you emphasize.

With a ball-security/strip drill in the early stages of every practice - be it OTAs, training camp, or the regular season - the Packers certainly emphasize taking care of the ball on offense and taking it away on defense, and they're becoming known as a team that wins for those very reasons.

The Packers enter the 2009 regular-season finale with an impressive plus-22 turnover ratio, tops in the league. Their 37 takeaways rank tied for second with Philadelphia, behind only New Orleans' 39, while their 15 giveaways are a league-low, one fewer than San Diego.

With Philadelphia at plus-15 and New Orleans at plus-14, the Packers hold a comfortable lead in the turnover ratio standings as they try to lead the NFL in that category for the first time since 2002, when they tied for the top spot at plus-17.

Obviously it takes success with turnovers on both sides of the ball to be as far on the plus side as the Packers are, so here's a quick look at what has gone into the team's success on offense and defense.


Last year the Packers tied the franchise record for fewest giveaways in a 16-game season with just 21, matching the number from 1995.

But this year, with 15 heading into the regular-season finale, the Packers have a chance to set a new franchise-low for all seasons. The current mark is 19 (10 fumbles, nine interceptions) in 1972, a 14-game season.

For the key ingredient here, look no further than quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He threw just 13 interceptions in 536 attempts last season (2.4 percent), his first as an NFL starter, and he's lowered that to just seven picks in 515 throws (1.4 percent) this year.

Rodgers' numbers here are really no surprise. Going back to his junior-college days at Butte (four interceptions in one season) and subsequently in the Pac-10 at Cal (13 in two years), he has stated repeatedly that he dislikes nothing more than throwing the ball to the other team.

"The guy that handles the ball every play for us is very disciplined and hasn't been reckless at all with the ball," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He doesn't throw the ball up for grabs a whole lot, if ever.

"Usually in a pass play, if they've got two guys and you've got one around where you want to throw it, you probably ought to go somewhere else with the ball. That sounds simplistic. But watch a lot of the interceptions around the National Football League, and you're going to find that quarterbacks are throwing the ball to a place where they've got more than you've got."

Rodgers also protects the ball well in the pocket, with only four lost fumbles this year despite being sacked a league-high 50 times.

In addition, no one else on the team has more than one lost fumble, as receivers Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson have one apiece, tight end Jermichael Finley has one, and running back Ryan Grant has one.

Amazingly, none of those lost fumbles has come on any of the 345 handoffs to running backs this season. Grant, whose lone fumble this year came after a pass reception in Week 2, has a career-long streak of 280 carries without a fumble, the second-longest active streak in the league.

The longest? It belongs to teammate and backup Ahman Green, who never fumbled in two seasons of part-time duty in Houston and is now at 381 consecutive rushes without a fumble.

"If we're going to go where we want to go, we have to certainly continue to do that," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "I think guys understand the fundamentals of it, how important that is.

"They know how important it is to the team. I think that's the No. 1 thing that jumps into their mind, a sense of letting the team down when you put the ball on the ground, because you're putting the defense in a bad position, you're putting our team in general in a bad position. It's more about the team than anything else."

It's also about not being the pariah in the film room on Monday mornings, with your gaffe being the one the coaches analyze and break down for all your teammates to see.

"Absolutely," Philbin said. "The first thing we're going to show them on a Monday after the game is here's where we were on our giveaways. We do it every Monday. So I think there's some peer pressure involved.

"The biggest thing is it's provided dividends. It's helped our team win some games when we've held onto the ball. These guys are smart guys, they can figure that out. And I think there's a, 'Boy, I don't want to be that guy' mentality in the meeting room, which is positive."


Unlike the offense, the defense isn't on the verge of a potential franchise record. Its 37 takeaways pales in comparison to the top mark of 57 in 1950.

But it is tied for second in the NFL this year, and as the Packers have made their second-half run to a playoff berth, it's no coincidence that the only game they've lost in their last seven was the only game the defense did not get a takeaway - at Pittsburgh.

"The guys understand that's an important part of the game, and it certainly will be from this point on, and it always is," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You could see early on in preseason - I think we had 13 takeaways in the first three games - you could see we had a team with the ability to do that."

Capers is no stranger to turnover-prone defenses. His first two defenses as coordinator in Pittsburgh in 1992 and '93 posted 43 and 38 takeaways, respectively. They forced a ridiculous 71 fumbles over those two seasons, recovering 35 of them.

Capers pointed to several factors that can contribute to a defense's penchant for takeaways. One is stopping the run, which puts the offense in difficult down-and-distance situations and opens up the defensive playbook to bring pressure and create problems. The Packers are No. 1 in the league in that category this year.

{sportsad300}Another is having players with not only exceptional instincts and ball skills but also the dedication to study film and be prepared for all of an opponent's tendencies, which helps put players in position to make the key plays.

One of the most impressive things about this Green Bay defense is the sheer number of players who have been involved in turnover plays.

Nine different players have interceptions in the team's total of 27, led by Charles Woodson with eight and Nick Collins with six. Six different players have a forced fumble within the team's 11, led by Woodson's four and Cullen Jenkins' three. And six different players have a fumble recovery among the team's 10, led by Clay Matthews' three, Johnny Jolly's two and Collins' two (one on special teams).

Also, 14 different defenders have at least one sack this season. And though not all of those relate directly to turnovers, it still speaks to the unpredictability of the defensive scheme and who might be making the big play.

"That's the fun thing to see because everybody knows they're going to have an opportunity," Capers said. "You like to see those plays get spread around, because guys know it can come at any point in time.

"Defensive guys take a lot of pride in that. And our offense has done a great job of protecting the ball. If you can get a combination of protecting the ball on offense and taking it away on defense, ... I don't know in my 24 years as an assistant or a head coach that I've ever been plus-22."

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