So the Green Bay Packers make sure to have a specific purpose or theme if and when they present any statistics in team meetings that they want the players to keep in mind, and there was one in particular that was emphasized heading into Super Bowl XLV.
Mike Eayrs, the team’s director of research and development, studied the past 10 Super Bowls and discovered an almost startling correlation that was presented to the team before it began the three days of practice in Green Bay during the “off week” prior to traveling to Dallas.
Earys’ research looked specifically at converting turnovers into points in the Super Bowl, and how that factored into a team’s success. What he found was in the previous 10 Super Bowls, the winning team scored an average of 11.8 points off of turnovers, while the losing team averaged just 2.2. So over the past decade, the winning team in the Super Bowl outscored its opponent by an average of 9.6 points off of turnovers.
Not so coincidentally, the average margin of victory in those past 10 Super Bowls was 9.3 points.
The numbers were too similar to ignore, and for a team that has made winning the turnover battle, and turning takeaways into points, part of its foundation in recent years, the message to the team was clear – stay true to this identity in the Super Bowl, and it should translate into a championship.
Well, it’s part of the permanent record now that the Packers scored 21 points off of three Steelers turnovers in the Super Bowl, while the Steelers scored none, because the Packers never turned the ball over. The scores were 3-0 in turnovers, and 21-0 in points off of them.
“All the credit goes to those players who were out there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after the game. “They got it done when they had to get it done. We had three takeaways, and all three of those takeaways ended up with points on the board.”
By dominating that facet of the game, the Packers were able to post a six-point win despite being outrushed two-and-a-half-to-one (126 yards to 50), outgained by nearly 50 yards (387-338), and out-sacked three-to-one. Pittsburgh also possessed the ball nearly seven minutes longer (33:25 to 26:35).
But from the moment safety Nick Collins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s underthrown pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter – the first seven of the 21 points off turnovers in the game – the Packers were on their way.
(It’s worth noting that teams that return an interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl are undefeated, now 11-0 after this year.)
The other two Pittsburgh turnovers were converted into points by the offense. Cornerback Jarrett Bush’s interception with 4:28 left in the second quarter was followed by a four-play, 53-yard drive for a touchdown, a 21-yard pass to receiver Greg Jennings.
Then Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, forced by a combo hit from defensive end Ryan Pickett and linebacker Clay Matthews, and recovered by linebacker Desmond Bishop, led to an eight-play, 55-yard drive for a score, an 8-yard toss to Jennings.
The 21-0 margin in points off turnovers boosted the Packers’ postseason advantage in that category to 48-14 over four games. After actually coming out behind in the stat in the Wild Card round at Philadelphia (7-0), the Packers topped Atlanta 20-7 and Chicago 7-0.
Interestingly, the playoff game in Philadelphia was the only time all season the Packers lost in points off turnovers and still won the game. Green Bay came out behind in the category only four times in the regular season, but lost all four games, all on the road – at Chicago (3-0), at Washington (3-0), at Atlanta (7-0) and at New England (7-0).
That’s a clear indication of just how close the Packers’ playoff run was to ending in Philadelphia before it really started. In fact, the Packers didn’t get a single takeaway against the Eagles until Tramon Williams picked off Michael Vick in the end zone in the final minute to seal the win.
But from there, the Packers owned the stat, much like they have over the past few seasons.
In recent years, the Packers have been one of the most prolific teams in the league at converting turnovers into points. In 2008, they led the league with 124 points off of turnovers, and in 2009, they tied for the top spot with 141 in the regular season.
The point total and ranking dropped slightly in 2010, with 111 points in the regular season, good for fifth. But more important, the Packers increased the margin over their opponents in this category, from 49 in 2008 to 57 in 2009 (including playoffs) to 106 in 2010 (plus-72 in the regular season, plus-34 in the postseason).
It only begs the question what might have happened last year had the Packers not been bitten by the turnover bug in the Wild Card playoff loss at Arizona – or as Head Coach Mike McCarthy said many times, “lost their identity.” In 2009, the team’s margin in points off turnovers in the regular season was plus-71, nearly identical to the plus-72 in 2010.
But in that playoff game, two early turnovers led to two Arizona touchdowns, and the game was decided in overtime on a fumble returned for a score. The Packers lost to the Cardinals in points off turnovers, 21-7, and their season ended much sooner than they had hoped.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen in Philadelphia this year, and the Packers were able to get back to their dominant ways in that category the rest of the postseason, especially in the Super Bowl. The statistics said they needed to, and they knew it.