Turnovers eluding 2012 Packer defense : Packers Insider

Turnovers eluding 2012 Packer defense

October 2, 2012 by  
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By Thomas Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~ GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn’t as concerned about the number of yards his group is giving up as he is about its inability to get off the field.

In assessing the first quarter of the season, Capers said the missing link has been turnovers.

In losses to San Francisco and Seattle and a close shave Sunday against New Orleans, the Packers had neither an interception nor a forced fumble. Their only turnovers are the four interceptions they had of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 2.

After four games last season, the Packers had forced 11 turnovers, and over Capers’ first three seasons, they had 28 total in the first four games. Part of getting off the field is taking the ball away, which has always been a hallmark of Capers defenses.

“You only get so many opportunities, so when you get them you have to convert them,” Capers said. “I feel good about our guys’ ability to do that. I think they’ll come because based out of the three years I’ve been here, I think we’ve been the leader or one of the leaders for getting the ball taken away, and that’s a big part of the game.”

The Packers gave up 474 yards in a 28-27 victory over the Saints and allowed the Drew Brees-led offense to convert 9 of 17 third downs, including 4 of 6 in the first half. They sacked Brees just twice on 56 passing attempts and hit him only two other times.

But they also had at least two opportunities to intercept passes, including one at the start of the fourth quarter that could have turned the game completely around.

The Packers defense has been snakebitten when it comes to creating turnovers so far in 2012. They've had interceptions taken away the past two games from the refs, and they've also blown a few others with loose balls in the air.

Cornerback Charles Woodson undercut of a route by receiver Marques Colston on the first play of the second half.

Later, the Saints were at their own 9 with a 27-21 lead and just under 11 minutes left.

Brees’ throw to Colston hit linebacker D.J. Smith’s hands and popped in the air where cornerback Tramon Williams was in position to catch it. Safety Morgan Burnett also went for it and knocked it out of Williams’ hand.

“If D.J. catches that ball clean, he’s probably walking into the end zone, but that’s the way this game is,” Capers said.

The week before, safety Jerron McMillian intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, only to see it nullified when linebacker Erik Walden was called for roughing the passer. The Packers would have had the ball at the Seattle 26 with a chance to add to their 12-7 lead.

On the Seahawks’ game-winning drive, cornerback Sam Shields had a chance to make it so the replacement officials had no role in the final outcome, but on a deep pass to receiver Golden Tate, Shields jumped and had the ball go through his hands.

“As long as you continue to get around the ball,” Capers said. “We could’ve had two in Seattle. We could’ve had two to three yesterday, and we get those, we’re probably one of the leaders in the league. That’s stuff can change around in a real hurry.

“I think the key is as long as you have the elements, guys breaking to the ball and you’re getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, those things fit together. It’s going to change.”

In the meantime, Capers has to figure out how to get his players to perform better in zone coverages. Brees and his receivers seemed to know where every hole in the scheme was and in the second half got first downs on third and 17 and third and 14 on the same drive.

It’s no secret Williams, Shields and Woodson enjoy playing press coverage, but Capers believed he had to mix it up or face eliminating any element of surprise. Having two rookies and two third-year players in his often-used dime package adds to some of the zone principles being misplayed.

“I think a couple times yesterday when we played zones, we weren’t in great position,” Capers said. “Quite frankly through the first four games, we’ve played some zones extremely well. One of the reasons we had gotten off to a really good start on third downs the first three games was because we had people in a lot of third-and-long situations.

“I think you can go back and study the first three games, and maybe we lost once in a third-and-long situation. Yesterday, we lost a time or two in that, and you don’t want to do that.”

It did not help that the pass rush was close to non-existent because the Saints are very stout up the middle and used their backs and tight ends to chip on the linebackers. Combined with Brees getting the ball out in a hurry, it was a long day for Capers’ defense with the exception of a huge goal-line stand in the third quarter.

The question that remains unanswered is whether two ineffective days against Brees and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith are the norm and keeping a rookie like Russell Wilson in check or picking off the erratic Jay Cutler had less to do with the defense and more with the opponent. 

Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews (52) celebrates his sack of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler with teammates Jerel Worthy (99) and Mike Daniels (76) during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Capers is playing five rookies – linebacker Nick Perry, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, cornerback Casey Hayward and McMillian – and he’s counting on them to improve as time goes on. It’s on him and his staff to make sure they develop quickly and contribute to the defense getting better.

“As always there’s an awful lot of things to coach off this tape,” Capers said. “You’re going against one of the top quarterbacks in the league, you know it’s a challenge going in.

“And so especially with the number of young guys we have and the speed of the game and the type of matchup issues they create with (Jimmy) Graham, their tight end, and (Darren) Sproles, their running back, and a good group of receivers, there was a lot we can learn from this game.”

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