Turnovers Will Be At Premium vs. Rams

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Nick Barnett comes up with a fumble recovery against the Eagles.

Despite the Packers' struggles giving up the big play, the defense has made a few big plays, too, and there's no denying that the turnovers the defense has produced have had a significant impact on the team's chances to win thus far in 2006.

Three straight turnovers on the Saints' first three possessions helped produce a 13-0 lead in Week 2. An interception returned for a touchdown proved to be the difference in a seven-point win over the Lions in Week 3. And two fumble recoveries near the goal-line helped Green Bay hold the halftime lead at Philadelphia last Monday.

But those turnovers may be harder to come by this week.

The St. Louis Rams have committed just three turnovers through four games, one of the lower totals in the league. Quarterback Marc Bulger has not thrown an interception in 141 pass attempts, and the offense has lost only three of five fumbles.

It's the surest sign of any that the 2006 Rams under first-year head coach Scott Linehan aren't the same Rams of years past. With a wide-open offense in previous years, the Rams in essence accepted turnovers as part of their high-risk, high-reward style.

"We used to keep winging it and throwing it, and maybe turn it over but keep winging it," Bulger said. "We've switched to more ball control."

Thus far, it's hard to argue with the results. Before breaking out with 41 points against Detroit last week, the Rams struggled to capitalize on many of their scoring opportunities, kicking 11 field goals and scoring just two touchdowns in their first three games.

But one of the reasons they were still able to win two of those three games was they limited their turnovers.

St. Louis is plus-10 in turnover margin this year during its 3-1 start, a huge departure from last season when the Rams committed 37 turnovers and were minus-10 in going 6-10.

"It's being smart, protecting the ball as much as you can, being sound in your protections when throwing it," Linehan said. "In general, that's what we're trying to get done."

But Linehan added it's a "misnomer" to consider their offense conservative, and Bulger agrees. He's completed 17 passes of 20 yards or more so far this season.

"We're still aggressive, we're still in the top three in the league in explosive passes, so we're still taking our shots," Bulger said. "But there's definitely more of an emphasis on protecting the football, and every week it's one of our goals to win the turnover battle."

That's the goal of every team, but it's difficult to balance trying to make big plays without taking excessive risks. As Bulger makes the transition from the old Rams to the new Rams, his experience is helping the offense find that balance.

"He's played in a wide-open offense, (and now) he's playing more game management," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a bright young man, so we're going to have to be sharp. He's not turning the ball over, and I think he's doing a good job running their new offense."

Disrupting Bulger somehow will be key for the Packers on Sunday. Whether the Packers can cause any turnovers could go a long way in determining Bulger's effectiveness, and the game's outcome.

"It's always a challenge, but it's something you always have to keep as a conscious effort to try to get that ball out regardless of what the past history of the team is," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "We're going to go at it as hard as we ever have."

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