The Packers’ Key to Winning Sunday


Sam Shields (37) (center) celebrates an interception. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers failed to force a single turnover in their season opener loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Even worse, the Packers offense turned the ball over twice. Once on an Eddie Lacy fumble and another on a Jermichael Finley bobble that turned into an Eric Reid interception.

Both turnovers proved costly in the game. One completely killed a Packers’ drive at midfield and the other led to seven points for the 49ers.

When the Packers played the Niners in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, they also lost the turnover battle 2-1 in that game. Winning the turnover battle has been something Coach McCarthy has emphasized since day one of being in Green Bay.

The Packers have ranked near the top of the league from 2009-11 in forcing turnovers (38 in ’11, 32 in ’10, and 40 in ’09). However, last year they dropped significantly in this category, only forcing 23 (18 INTs and 5 FR).

Tramon Williams. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Packers have always been one of the better teams protecting the ball with Aaron Rodgers under center, but forcing turnovers have played a significant role in the Packers’ success the past few years.

From 2009 to 2012 the Packers have averaged a +1.86 turnover ratio per win. Compare this to the -.13 turnover ratio per loss in this time and I think it paints a pretty clear picture that winning the turnover ratio is important.

In fact, in the 47 regular season wins the Packers have from the past four seasons, their defense averaged 2.57 forced turnovers per game. This is far better than the .7 forced turnovers they average per loss from 2009-12.

This is pretty simple logic. When the Packers take the ball away on defense their chances at winning greatly increases.

OK, simple enough. But how does this affect this week’s home opener against the Washington Redskins?

Coincidently, the Redskins also lost the turnover battle in their Monday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. They coughed up the ball three times to the Eagles’ defense, including two interceptions from Robert Griffin III in his first start back from major reconstructive knee surgery.

It will be important for both the Packers and Redskins to protect the ball and play smart football on Sunday. I believe whichever team comes out on top of the turnover battle will win.

But here’s the good thing. Green Bay has a significant advantage in this category.

Rashad Jennings fumbles the football as Morgan Burnett and linebacker Brad Jones watch for the ball. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

From 2009 to 2012, the Packers have forced a whopping 78 turnovers at Lambeau Field. This is the most by any NFL team in their home stadium during this time, and is an average of 2.43 turnovers per home game.

The Packers have also impressively forced at least two turnovers in 23 of their last 32 home games. Reference the turnover averages the Packers have when they win I mentioned earlier. When the Green Bay defense forces two or more turnovers in a game, their chances of winning go up exponentially.

The Packers’ defense simply forces turnovers at home, which bodes well for this Sunday’s game against Washington. Their 2.43 average per home game is significantly better than their 1.7 average per away game over the past four seasons.

The Green Bay offense has also been pretty good at protecting the ball at home. Over the past four seasons, they have given away less than one (.86) turnover per home game. This makes the Packers home turnover ratio an impressive +1.57 from 2009 to 2012. One of the top home field turnover ratios in the league over the past four seasons.

One more thing to consider when talking about turnovers and their relationship to Packers’ victories. In the past three seasons, the Packers have not lost a game when they force and recover a fumble. So you know what that means if Alfred Morris coughs up the ball after a Clay Matthews hit during the game on Sunday?

Morgan Burnett (42) intercepts a pass. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

After failing to force a single turnover in the season opener, I look for the Packers defense to step up this week and take the ball away from the Washington offense in front of the Green Bay home crowd.

Hey, after all, maybe it’s all those thousands of cheering fans that give the Packers defenders an extra boost to make a game-changing play.

So if you ask me what I think will be the key to winning on Sunday when the Packers square off against the Redskins for their home opener?

Win the turnover battle!

If the Packers defense can force at least two turnovers in the game, and the Packers offense can capitalize off these opportunities, then the deficit will be too great for RG III and the Redskins’ offense to overcome.

The Packers will miss their 2012 team leader in interceptions, Casey Hayward, but the possible return of safety Morgan Burnett should help their chances in getting the upper hand in the turnover battle on Sunday.