Since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006, Green Bay has finished in the top 10 in the turnover-differential category every year but the ’06 campaign, when they ranked tied for No. 17 with an even ratio. The top performance came in ’09 when the Packers led the league at plus-24, a season that included No. 1 rankings in both takeaways (40) and giveaways (16).
Starting with the second half of the Minnesota contest last month, the Packers have posted 10 takeaways without a single giveaway as they have shot up the league rankings from tied for No. 19 to tied for No. 4.
“I think it’s clearly evident, just from a statistical standpoint, that our identity is where it needs to be and is definitely headed in the right direction,” McCarthy said. “You just take the turnover ratio. It is something that we invest a lot of time into. We invest a lot of time into our practice structure, in our meetings, and we feel we have the athletes that are trained, particularly in their ball skills, and it’s something that we try to heighten time and time again.
“Just our turnover ratio now being plus-6, our football team needs to be double-digits plus, 10 and above. That is a goal that I personally have set and we have been able to do that the last two years. When it is all said and done, I think that is where we need to be and we’re headed in that direction.”
McCarthy has often talked about getting results from what you emphasize, and the Packers have certainly reaped the benefits of that focus on ball security. Since ’06, the Packers rank No. 2 in the NFL with a plus-41 turnover ratio behind only Indianapolis (plus-42). The effect of that production has been evident as well, with Green Bay posting a 33-6 record (.846) when it wins the takeaway battle compared to just a 6-17 mark (.261) when it comes out on the minus side in turnovers over that span.
This season the Packers got off to a slower start forcing turnovers, with just nine takeaways in the first six games plus the first half of the Minnesota contest. But starting with three second-half interceptions of Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, they have more than doubled that number with four takeaways at the N.Y. Jets and three more in Week 9 against Dallas.
“I think takeaways are probably a lot like sacks,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Sometimes they come in bunches and you might go a few games and it just doesn’t work out with the matchups or whatever.
“But I think the more comfortable guys get, a lot of those things happen from the timing where guys realize how long they have to cover. If we’re rushing five people, hopefully that ball has to be thrown on a rhythm, and it affects your ability to keep vision on the quarterback break, anticipate, all those things. I think we have made some progress here the last couple games in terms of that, the impact-type plays that affect the game.”
The Minnesota team that the Packers will be seeing for the second time in a month has provided its opponents with chances to make those momentum-changing plays this season. After finishing tied for No. 8 in the league with a plus-6 turnover ratio last season, the Vikings enter the game dead last in the NFL rankings with a minus-11 ratio. Minnesota has given the ball away 23 times in nine games compared to 18 all of 2009, with Favre posting a league-high 16 interceptions as well as five lost fumbles, as the team has seen its scoring average dip from 29.4 in 2009 (No. 2) to 18.8 this season (No. 26).
Green Bay’s offense has also done its part when it comes to taking care of the ball after it started the year off with some uncharacteristic performances. The Packers gave the ball away 11 times in the first six games and then twice more in the first half against Minnesota. Since then, the offense has looked more like last year’s record-setting squad, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers entering Sunday’s game with a streak of 81 pass attempts without an interception.
“You know how important we think ball security is,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Obviously our defense is playing very well, and we can’t put our defense in a bad spot by turning the ball over.
“Our kicking game has been better, our defense has been better, and I think we’ll be a tough team to beat if we can hold onto the football.”
Linebacker Desmond Bishop (hip) was added to the injury report on Friday, but is probable for Sunday.
Wide receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps), fullback Korey Hall (back) and defensive end/nose tackle Ryan Pickett (ankle) are questionable. Driver and Pickett were limited in Friday’s practice for the third straight day, while Hall didn’t participate after being limited on Thursday.
McCarthy said how Driver and Pickett come out of Friday’s practice on Saturday will go a long way toward determining their availability for the game.
Linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), tight end Andrew Quarless (shoulder), center Scott Wells (arch) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are all probable.
Matthews has been limited because of the injury during practice heading into each of the last two games, but his production hasn’t been affected.
“There has been a little general soreness and pain, so they are being cautious about it and what not,” Matthews said. “I feel fine. I’ll be fine for the game. It’s one of those things, I think the more practice on it the worse it is going to get. We’re just being smart about it.
“Obviously I have to do a little more due diligence on my part in the film room with only getting jog-through reps. But I feel good about where I am at, the same preparation I did for the Cowboys game. There shouldn’t be any problems.”
For Minnesota, safety Eric Frampton (hamstring) is out. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian (groin), guard Anthony Herrera (elbow) and center John Sullivan (calf) are questionable.
Favre, cornerback Asher Allen (concussion), cornerback Chris Cook (knee), wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are probable.
Additional coverage – Nov. 19