The Packers defense is sorely overdue for a turnover.
That isn’t said often, if ever, about a Green Bay unit that has thrived on turnovers in the Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers era.
The Packers are regularly at or near the top of the league in takeaways, but they find themselves in a shockingly rare drought heading into Sunday’s Week 5 matchup in Indianapolis.
The Packers have gone back-to-back games without a single turnover. Not only has that not happened since Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009, but it hasn’t happened since McCarthy became head coach in 2006. The last time the Packers went consecutive games without a turnover was in 2005, when it happened twice.
In fact, under neither Capers nor McCarthy has Green Bay been turnover-less twice in any three-game stretch, let alone three times in four games, which is how the Packers have begun 2012. The defense intercepted Bears QB Jay Cutler four times in Week 2. That’s been it. So far.
“We need to do a better job,” McCarthy said this week, as he discussed a major point of emphasis from the team’s “self-scout” of the first quarter of the season. “We aren’t getting the ball out. We don’t have the ball on the ground enough.”
To be fair, the Packers have lost three significant opportunities for turnovers due to circumstances mostly beyond their control.
In Seattle in Week 3, rookie safety Jerron McMillian intercepted a tipped pass in the fourth quarter, but the play was nullified by a highly questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Erik Walden. Moments later, of course, on the final play against the Seahawks, most of the free world believes safety M.D. Jennings had an interception, but it’ll never show up on a stat sheet.
Then last week, the Packers believed linebacker Dezman Moses forced and recovered a fumble on a fourth-quarter Darren Sproles kickoff return, but Sproles had been incorrectly ruled down and the Packers had no replay challenges remaining.
Still, the players accustomed to racking up the takeaways aren’t making any excuses.
“That’s on us, especially the fact that the coaches emphasize that so much, the turnover ratio,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said of the current turnover drought. “We’re obviously not doing a good enough job in that area. We’re not where we want to be.”
A fourth missed opportunity was entirely the Packers’ fault, and more than anything it was a reflection of how starved the players are for a turnover.
In the fourth quarter against the Saints, a short Drew Brees pass intended for Marques Colston was deflected up into the air by linebacker D.J. Smith. As the ball fluttered around, practically begging to be picked off, defensive backs Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams collided as they both went after it (pictured), and the ball fell incomplete.
“We’ve had some chances the last couple games, but for whatever reason we couldn’t pull them in,” Raji said. “That’s part of the game. I guess we have to do a better job concentrating. I don’t know. We’re in position.”
That’s the good sign in all of this. They’re in position and the opportunities have been there. This week, the target is a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Colts offense has six turnovers in three games, including four Luck interceptions. Last year, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder turned it over plenty as rookies against Green Bay’s defense, but Seattle’s Russell Wilson escaped such miscues (sort of) this season.
Rookie defensive lineman Jerel Worthy insists the players aren’t getting frustrated, but they are talking about it in the meeting room and on the practice field. Considering this defense’s history and recent circumstances, tangible results seem inevitable.
“Anytime you get two or three guys around the ball, somebody has to be stripping at the ball,” Worthy said. “The guys up front, the front seven, we have to be precise, putting guys in tough situations to cough the ball up. We have some of the best DBs in the league at creating turnovers.
“We just have to keep working at it. Eventually balls are going to bounce our way.”
For a list of all Packers-Colts preview headlines, click here.