The Green Bay Packers defense finding ways to generate more takeaways is one big thing that could help Matt LaFleur’s team get back into the win column.
The Packers will enter Week 8 with five takeaways (four interceptions and a fumble recovery) which ranks 28th in the NFL. Due to the recent litany of interceptions that Jordan Love has thrown, Green Bay is minus-two on the season in turnover differential as a team.
“I do think there’s another level there in terms of our ability,” said LaFleur on Monday. “We have to find a way to generate some more takeaways. We’ve got to create those turnovers.”
Turnovers are a volatile stat. Starting well – or poorly – does not mean that trend will continue. Last season is a prime example of this, with Green Bay ranking in the bottom half to bottom third of the NFL in takeaways for much of the year, but a strong finish to the season, which included 12 turnovers during their four-game winning streak from Weeks 14 to 17, resulted in the Packers finishing in the top-10 in total takeaways.
Winning the turnover battle is always important. In fact, LaFleur’s weekly goal for the team is to win that battle 2-0. The Packers entered the season 33-3 under LaFleur when having won the turnover battle. This year, they are 1-1 but have had a positive turnover differential in only two of their first six games. They are 1-3 in games where they have more giveaways than takeaways.
For a young and struggling offense, having a positive turnover differential is an absolute must–this is a non-negotiable. Takeaways lead to extra possessions for the offense and oftentimes improved field position. On the flip side, giving the opponent an extra possession – or sometimes two – or not winning the field position battle is just too much for this offense to overcome right now.
“That’ll help,” added LaFleur in regards to getting more takeaways, “especially when you’re having some struggles or inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, to set up field position, to have a short field, and so we’ve got to find a way to generate some of those takeaways.”
In four games this season, the Packers defense has held the opponent to under 20 points, which, according to LaFleur, he expects to win those games. However, even in those performances, it’s not as if the defense has been dominant by any means. Opponents are still moving the ball quite easily on the ground. The pass rush has been inconsistent, and the secondary hasn’t had the opportunity to make a lot of plays on the ball.
Opposing offenses have been able to move the ball quite easily between the 20-yard lines, but credit to the Packers for keeping them out of the end zone, as they rank seventh in red zone defense. But when a stop has been required at the end of the half or end of the game, they’ve often been unable to come up with that elusive big-time play.
“There’s been a lot of good things,” said LaFleur of the defense’s performance. “Obviously, keeping people out of the end zone is critical. I’ve said this a million times now: if we hold people to under 20 points, I expect us to win the game, and we’ve been able to do that more than on one occasion. I do think there’s a lot of good there.”
Schematically, the Packers defenders challenging the receivers more often could put them in a better position to make plays on the passes that come their way. During that late season run in 2022, we saw Joe Barry playing a lot more cover-2 and cover-6 than what he had previously been utilizing. Also, stopping the run and being more effective at getting after the quarterback will help create more turnover opportunities as well.
Outside of Rashan Gary, the Green Bay pass rush has been lackluster this season. The Packers rank 15th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate metric and 17th in total pressures. This is a league-average unit that would be worse off without Gary. Creating pressures lead to getting the quarterback off his spot, hurried throws, and being out of rhythm–all of which can result in an inaccurate pass and potential turnover.
However, in order to have that pass rush opportunity, as a defense, you have to eat your vegetables on early downs and stop the run. When an offense is in short down-and-distance situations, the defense has to defend both the run and the pass in that scenario, taking away the aggressiveness that a pass rush may have and it forces the secondary to defend a greater variety of routes.
Right now it feels like the defense is doing just enough to keep its head above water. They just aren’t playing well enough considering how heavily they need to be relied upon with the offensive struggles. But finding a way to generate more turnovers could be a quick fix that leads to fewer possessions that the defense has to be on the field, along with more scoring chances for the offense.
“All in all, the efforts been there,” said LaFleur. “Just looking back on the tape, we missed too many tackles yesterday. But it’s certainly not for a lack of effort. Guys are flying around.”