After converting on just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) third-down opportunities in back-to-back overtime losses to Washington and Miami, the offense took a step forward in that area on Sunday night in the 28-24 win over Minnesota when it was successful on 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) chances against the Vikings. It was the second time this year that the offense converted at a 50 percent clip or better.
But the Packers still had some issues with taking care of the ball as quarterback Aaron Rodgers was intercepted twice by Minnesota. It was the fifth time in seven games this season that Green Bay had at least two giveaways, compared to a 2009 season that saw the offense register six games with two-plus turnovers all season. Rodgers has thrown nine interceptions through seven games, compared to seven all of last season.
“We’re still not where we need to be as far as total plays, but we’re giving the ball away too much, and that’s been our issue all year,” McCarthy said. “When we take care of the football and we’re productive on third down, good things happen for our offense. It creates better point production, the ball gets spread around, everybody is happy. Third down was an improvement (vs. Minnesota), but the two giveaways were a big part of it.”
The Packers have turned the ball over 13 times this season, which ties them for 11th most in the league. Of those 13, 11 have come from the offense, with wide receiver Jordy Nelson fumbling twice on kickoff returns against Detroit in Week 4. Last year, Green Bay set a franchise record with a league-low 16 giveaways, 15 of them on offense, a pace that offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said is what the Packers strive for.
“One a game is probably reasonable, so one every 65 or so plays,” Philbin said. "(Turnovers are) going to happen probably. We would love to say it is never (going to happen). Last year we had 15 offensive ones in 16 games, so that’s pretty good. But that’s last year. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
That work starts this Sunday against a 5-1 N.Y. Jets team that ranks No. 1 in the league with a plus-10 turnover margin this year. That includes 14 takeaways from their defense (nine fumble recoveries and five interceptions), and four giveaways by their offense, tied for fewest in the league. The nine fumble recoveries are tied for the NFL lead.
In New York’s three home games this year at New Meadowlands Stadium, which opened this season, the defense has forced nine turnovers. The Jets are 4-1 this season when they win the takeaway battle, and 12-1 under head coach Rex Ryan over the past two seasons. They have forced at least one turnover in 16 of their last 17 regular-season games, and the Jets are 12-2 in games under Ryan when they force two-plus turnovers.
“They are a good tackling team, their pursuit is good,” Philbin said. “They have a good pressure package obviously. Sometimes they can force you into a bad decision. They got (New England QB) Tom Brady (in Week 2) once from the backside.
“They do a good job. Sometimes they free a guy up in a pressure and the quarterback doesn’t see him, they hit him in the back and the ball comes out, or if you can force him into a bad decision throwing the ball. So it’s kind of a multitude of things.”
As impressive as the statistics are for the Jets when they are forcing takeaways, the numbers are equally notable for the Packers when they are taking care of the ball. Since McCarthy took over in 2006, Green Bay has a 27-10 (.730) mark when it turns the ball over once or not at all, including a 16-3 (.842) record when there are no giveaways.
In 71 regular-season games under McCarthy, the Packers are 31-6 (.838) when they have the edge in turnover margin, compared to a 6-17 (.261) mark when they lose the takeaway battle, including a 3-12 record (.200) on the road.
Green Bay has showed steady improvement each season under McCarthy when it comes to giveaways, turning the ball over 33 times in ’06, 24 times in ’07, 21 times in ’08, and then a franchise-low 16 times last season.
“It’s kind of a whole host of things that have contributed (this season),” Philbin said. “The interceptions have been the most disturbing part that we have had. We’ve just got to clean it up. The timing on the screen (Rodgers to running back Dimitri Nance) the other day wasn’t what it should have been, the speed of the quarterback, the speed of the back, that wasn’t in sync obviously.
“But it’s been frustrating. It’s not what we’re used to. Since Mike has been here, every single year, his first year we were at a certain level, second less, third less, fourth less, and we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re not used to this progression.”
The Packers have seen their points per game (28.8 in 2009 to 23.9 this season) and yards per game (379.1 to 350.0) take a dip this year in the first seven contests. The turnovers have a direct impact on that, most noticeably with the reduced number of snaps the offense is getting.
Last season, Green Bay ran an average of 65.1 per game, good for No. 7 in the league. Through Week 7 this year, the Packers are averaging a full seven plays less per game, and that average of 58.1 per game ranks No. 27 in the NFL. That decreased play count is made even more frustrating when you look at the Packers’ average of 6.02 yards per play, good for No. 3 in the league.
“We felt like we should be able to score, last year we were 28 and change,” Philbin said. “We’re a 28- to 30-point offense, we hope, but it’s hard to do that (with turnovers).
“We had 10 possessions last week, and one was a kneel down at the end of the game. So that’s nine times you are getting the ball. We have given two of them away, so now you’re down to seven. That’s cutting it kind of thin.”
The turnovers not only limit the number of opportunities and put a strain on the defense, but the less tangible effect that they have on the rhythm and confidence of the offense cannot be underestimated either.
“It’s definitely demoralizing,” Philbin said. “There is never a good time for one. You’re killing yourself when you are on the 13-yard line last week like we were. You are just hitting yourself in the head. If you turn it over on your own side of the field, you’re just killing your teammates because you’ve got to send them on the field with a short field.
“So there is never a good time for one. It’s one of those things we have to keep hammering at, we’ve got to keep working at. We know where we want to be. We feel like we know how to do a good job protecting the ball. We’ve just got to do it.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 28