Even though the Packers’ defense has generated just three takeaways through the first two games – well off the pace of the last two seasons – the offense has cashed in with a touchdown each time. Green Bay’s 21 points off turnovers ranks second in the league to Indianapolis’ 24 despite the fact that 19 teams have more than the Packers’ three takeaways.
The team’s ranking is in line with the last two years, when the Packers led the league in points off turnovers in 2008 (124 points) and tied for the top spot in 2009 with New Orleans (141).
Most important, Green Bay’s takeaways and subsequent scores so far this season have been at significant junctures in games. To recap:
--In Week 1, the Packers led Philadelphia 13-3 on the opening series of the third quarter when it was announced Michael Vick would be the Eagles’ quarterback for the remainder of the game. But before Vick could start to generate the explosive plays that came later in that second half, cornerback Charles Woodson punched the ball out of running back Eldra Buckley’s hands after a 10-yard reception that would have given the Eagles a first down in threatening position at the Green Bay 38-yard line.
Instead, fellow corner Tramon Williams recovered the loose ball, and the Packers went 62 yards in 10 plays the other direction, capped by John Kuhn’s 3-yard TD run, for a 20-3 advantage that proved too big to overcome.
--In Week 2, the Bills were in a similar situation at the start of the second half. Trailing 13-7, they were nearing midfield and very much in the game when a blitz from Woodson and linebacker A.J. Hawk forced a bad throw by Trent Edwards that bounced off receiver Steve Johnson’s hands and into the diving arms of linebacker Brandon Chillar at the Buffalo 39.
The Packers needed just seven plays to capitalize, and Donald Driver’s 7-yard TD catch re-established a two-score lead.
--Then in the opening moments of the fourth quarter against Buffalo, the Packers were in command at 27-7 when the Bills crossed midfield. A quick score would have pulled the Bills within two touchdowns with plenty of time left, but rookie safety Morgan Burnett laid a big hit on receiver Roscoe Parrish and stole the ball for an interception.
Five snaps later, James Jones hauled in a 30-yard TD pass and the game was over at 34-7.
Turnovers are generally one of three types. Some happen when an offense is knocking on the door and they take away a sure score. Others occur with an offense backed up deep in its own end, setting up a sure score for the opponent. Those are momentum-swingers almost instantly.
Finally, there are those that happen within the middle 30 yards of the field – between the 35-yard lines – that are really neither of the first two types. Whether they factor substantially in the flow of a game can be determined by what a team’s offense does immediately following the defense’s takeaway.
All three of the Packers’ takeaways this season have been of the third variety, near the middle of the field, but they have mattered most because the offense has converted all of them into touchdowns.
“Momentum is big,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “We all know when a defense gets a turnover, it’s big thing momentum-wise, and to be able to capitalize on it, it’s kind of a double-whammy for the opposition. So it’s something we certainly want to take advantage of, and for the most part our guys have done that.”
The points off turnovers help explain how the Packers, who have not had a defensive or special teams touchdown to this point – rank third in the league in scoring with an offense that’s right now middle of the pack (tied for 15th) in total yards.
The Packers would like to see their yardage ranking increase, of course, and they expect it to. They’ve been a top 10 offense in each of Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s four previous seasons.
But more than anything the game is about scoring points, and if the offense is making the most of the best opportunities the defense gives it, that’ll work for now.
“If you look at our production from a yardage standpoint these two games, you’re not going to be all that impressed,” Philbin said. “But we shouldn’t apologize for good field position. Our special teams has helped us a couple times, our defense has helped us a couple times. That’s all part of being on a team, and we’ve taken advantage of a number of those, which is good.”