Looking back at the Green Bay Packers' stat sheet for the 2009 season, a few items just jump off the page. In some cases they are negative stats the Packers DO NOT want to see again. In other cases, they are positive stats the Packers would LOVE to repeat.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at a few of these eye-openers and discussing what they could mean for the Packers in 2010.
Stat No. 1—Interceptions
The Packers led the entire NFL in 2009 with 30 interceptions. In addition, they gained 477 yards and scored three touchdowns on interception returns, with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson notching all three.
After the 2009 preseason, I wrote that the Packers defense would be one that would live and die by the turnover. It seemed to me at the time that opposing teams would be able to move the ball against the Packers’ defense, so they would need the big plays to counter that. Either that or their red zone defense would have to be of the shutdown type, which as I recently wrote about, did not happen in 2009.
Overall, the defense exceeded my expectations with regards to yardage given up, but part of that was due to the wonderful field position opponents were handed by some very poor punting and kick return coverage. Face it, opposing teams were not forced to go the length of the field to score very often. (I’ll examine this closer in another installment of this series.)
The other factor to consider was the level of the opponent. Against the lesser offenses (Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore), they racked up some impressive yardage relinquished numbers, only to go in the full opposite direction against Minny, Pittsburgh, and Arizona. On average, there were enough weak offenses on the schedule to offset the shootouts and keep the Packers as the second-ranked defense in terms of yards gained.
So despite the seemingly impressive defensive statistics, this would still be a team that would live and die by the turnover—especially in the big games. The turnovers, more specifically the interceptions, did happen. And not surprisingly, much success followed.
However, there were only four games in 2009 where the Packers did not record an interception, and not coincidentally, they were all losses. (Minnesota, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Arizona in the playoffs).
As has been discussed ad nauseum, it was these top-tier quarterbacks under little pressure that picked apart the Packers. Had the Packers been able to pick off at least one pass in any of those games, it could have been a difference-maker in the final result.
But living and dying by the turnover is not the type of defense you want to take into the playoffs. One off day or a hot opposing quarterback and your season is over. Better to have a defense able to get a big stop from time to time, an obvious bone of contention in that playoff loss.
So while it would be fantastic if the Packers led the NFL in interceptions again in 2010, I would gladly accept a few steps down from that position in exchange for a defense that can make a BIG stop or get a BIG sack late in a BIG game against a BIG-time quarterback. Yes, that would be BIG…
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Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.