Green Bay Packers  

 

Takeaway from Packers' Super Bowl title is just that: takeaways

The reasons why the Packers might repeat as Super Bowl champs are legitimate.

A slew of key injured players -- safety Morgan Burnett, tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant among others -- return in good health. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is poised to only get better with another year of aggressive play calling from coach Mike McCarthy.

Peeling back the layers of empirical data might supply the real answer, though. The Packers could be poised to defend their crown because they're among the best at generating takeaways.

"It's a way of life around here," said defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who had a crucial interception against the Bears in last season's NFC Championship Game.

Playoff turnover differential for Super Bowl champs
Team Turnover ratio Ranking
2010 Packers +6 1st in playoffs
2009 Saints +7 1st in playoffs
2008 Steelers +6 2nd in playoffs
2007 Giants +5 1st in playoffs

Recent history shows that teams in the Super Bowl are among the league leaders in turnovers and turnover differential. It also shows that teams typically fall off a ledge the following season, or their takeaways uncharacteristically spiked in their year of success.

The Saints, who open the season against the Packers Thursday, had 41 takeaways in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl. Last season, that total dropped to 34. More drastic was the dip in interceptions. They had 26 in '09; nine -- the amount safety Darren Sharper had in 2009 -- last season.

This could certainly happen with the Packers, but things aren't trending in that direction.

Over the past two seasons, the Packers have generated 81 takeaways. There has been no dip, only sustained disruption. Intercepting passes and forcing and recovering fumbles is what they do. In fact, in the Super Bowl season, Green Bay actually had 39 takeaways -- three fewer than in 2009.

"It has to do more with winning and losing games," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of turnovers. "I kept the stats and if you win the takeaway-giveaway percentage, your chance of winning the game goes way up. We've developed the philosophy of protecting it on offense and getting it in our hands on defense."

The Packers' philosophy regarding takeaways is multitiered. They stress forcing takeaways, but so does every team. They also practice ball security on offense and dislodging the ball on defense, but so does every team. Green Bay acquires players with ball skills, which every team doesn't do.

"The more guys you put on the field with ball skills and playmaking ability, your chances for something good to happen go up," Capers said. "There are only so many opportunities that you're going to get."

The Packers also have a merit system that has created a competition where forcing takeaways is a badge of honor -- even in practice.

"We get a takeaway in practice we show it on film the next day in the meeting -- several times," Capers said.

Cornerback Tramon Williams, who led Green Bay with six of its 24 interceptions last season, said the positive reinforcement works. Players feed off the praise knowing that even in half-speed drills, if a turnover is forced, something good is coming out of it in the meeting room or from the coaches' evaluation.

Cornerback Charles Woodson also sets the tone to much of the process, Capers said. Woodson is crafty not only in pass coverage but also is adept at stonewalling the player with the ball in his hands and wrenching it out. In the past two seasons, he has nine forced fumbles to go with his 11 interceptions. Those are the type of forced fumble totals that pass rushers generate when they blindside quarterbacks.

"We've got one of the best in the business as far as tackling and stripping," Capers said of Woodson. "Woodson has a real knack for this. When he does it we make a point of it to show it to the younger guys and they respect it because he's done it for a long time."

It goes even deeper. Green Bay has a whopping 54 interceptions the past two seasons. Defenders don't just break up passes. When they are in the vicinity, they snatch the ball.

"People are always saying that DBs play DB because we're not really good receivers. On this team we feel like we can catch the ball like receivers that's why we attack the ball like receivers," Williams said.

It can't be overlooked that the pressure the Packers put on quarterbacks helps create opportunities on the back end. Green Bay has 84 sacks the past two seasons and several more hurries. Capers said the high interception totals come in part from technique that's coached. In coverage, the Packers try to minimize the circumstances when defenders' backs are turned to the quarterback. That way, they can track the play better and get in position to disrupt.

"We try to keep as much vision to the football as we can," Capers said.

If the trend of takeaways continues, the Packers might also be keeping their eyes on the prize -- again.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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