It’s a classic case of “something’s gotta give.”
Last season, no two defenses generated more turnovers than the Packers and the 49ers, and no two offenses turned the ball over less than the Packers and the 49ers.
Turnovers often decide NFL games. That’s nothing new. But when the success of two opponents is so predicated on winning the turnover battle, how will one gain an edge on the other on Sunday at Lambeau Field?
“We’ll have to see,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “It’s going to be a long, four-quarter, hard-fought game.”
The two defenses went about their turnover exploits a little differently in 2011. They both ended up with 38 takeaways, but the vast majority of Green Bay’s came via a league-best 31 interceptions. No secondary got its hands on the ball more.
For the 49ers, their 23 interceptions were nothing to scoff at, but their 15 fumble recoveries tied for the league high. The Niners actually forced 19 fumbles with their solid-tackling, hard-hitting style, a trait the Packers have seen in their film study.
“A lot of their fumbles come off of hitting the quarterback and stripping the ball from him,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “Our duty is to make sure that we’re finishing plays. Stay engaged with our guys, don’t let them get off and shed and go hit the ball carrier or get a late hit on the quarterback. Finishing is going to be big for us this week.”
It won’t be easy to get the ball away from either offense, though. The Packers lost only six fumbles in the regular season last year, the Niners five.
Rodgers, a steward of ball security who has fumbled only eight times (losing just one) over the last two regular seasons combined, acknowledged that he’ll be on high alert not only in the pocket but especially when he scrambles. He added that he’s more likely to get down quickly against this defense, once he takes off to run.
“They close fast,” Rodgers said. “As a quarterback who likes to move around, that’s definitely on my mind.”
Rodgers threw just six interceptions in 502 pass attempts, or 1.2 percent of the time. The only quarterback in the league with a lower percentage is San Francisco’s Alex Smith, with five interceptions in 445 attempts (1.1 percent).
“He didn’t get enough credit for the job he did,” Rodgers said of Smith, both of whom were drafted in 2005 and remain friends off the field. “That’s very difficult to do.”
Last year, it was difficult to beat either of these teams until they got lax with the ball. The Packers were 15-1 until they turned the ball over four times in the divisional playoff loss to the Giants. A week later, the 14-3 Niners fumbled four times (losing two, both on punt returns) in the NFC Championship defeat, also to the Giants.
Mike McCarthy made it clear throughout the preseason that he wasn’t happy with his team’s lack of ball security. The Packers turned the ball over 10 times in the first three games before finally playing turnover-free in last Thursday’s finale.
Granted, that was preseason, when the starters aren’t playing more than a quarter or half of the game, but coming off last year’s playoff loss, McCarthy isn’t about to brush it off.
“Statistically, we weren’t where we needed to be coming out of the preseason,” McCarthy said. “So it’s a focus for us, daily.”
This Sunday, especially.
“We have to take care of the football, they’re trying to take it away,” Rodgers said. “They do a good job of not giving it away. The team that takes care of the football better is probably going to win.”
Injury update: B.J. Raji (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and “looked good,” McCarthy said. Fellow defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (calf) also was limited and proclaimed he’ll be “ready to go.”
Running back James Starks (toe) remains out, though McCarthy said he is running again.
Cornerback Davon House (shoulder) was a limited participant in practice for the first time since he got hurt in the preseason opener in San Diego on Aug. 9. McCarthy said the team was “cautious” about how much he did and which drills he participated in, but it appears he’s on his way back. How long before he’ll be ready remains an open question.
“I really have to take it day to day,” House said. “Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll take another big step.”
House admitted it won’t be fun to play this season with a shoulder harness, but it’s better than the alternative, after he missed most of his rookie season due to injuries.
“I don’t want to, but I’m going to have to,” House said of playing with the sling. “I really don’t want to sit out another year like I did last year. I want to contribute and help this team. I feel like I can improve the defense if I’m out there, so we’ll see what I can do.”
Fellow corner Tramon Williams played last season with a harness after injuring his shoulder in Week 1, and he already has warned House that it will frustrate him.
“He told me every game he played with a sling, he wanted to take it off, but it’s something that’s going to help your shoulder,” House said. “I don’t want to have that shoulder pop out and me (end up) being down for the year.” Related links