Mon, 30 Nov 2020

Positive signs are there heading into showdown with Buccaneers Mike Spofford

GREEN BAY - They have three. They've all been important. They've had opportunities for more. There's a belief that they're coming.

Takeaways that is.

"I'm confident just because of the way we've been attacking the football," Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said if more turnovers are on the way. "I think we're much improved from a year ago, and that was a big point of emphasis for us."

When Pettine mentions improvement, he's not talking about the statistics, which have the Packers far off their pace of 25 takeaways from 2019. Only three through four games is not satisfactory.

But he sees the players being aware of the ball, such as a second defender punching at it when the first tackler has the play stopped. He's seen opponents momentarily juggle the ball only to get it back without it hitting the ground.

Other more obvious chances recently haven't gone Green Bay's way, whether it was the Saints fumbling on a kickoff return or Drew Brees coughing it up on a sack.

Atlanta QB Matt Ryan also threw poorly into traffic in the Packers' last game, when both linebacker Krys Barnes and safety Darnell Savage had a shot at the interception, but the deflected ball became a completion instead.

So that's where the confidence comes from, the feeling that it's only a matter of time.

"Yeah, for sure," safety Adrian Amos said. "You just gotta keep at it, keep after the ball, make the plays when they present themselves to us.

"As we know, they come in bunches. So we gotta get a spark, get it going and that's the plan moving forward."

It may seem odd to talk about cranking it up in the turnover department when getting ready to face Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady, but here's the thing:

Brady has thrown two pick-sixes this season through five games, and four interceptions overall. He's also fumbled the ball four times, though he's only lost one. The Buccaneers have two other lost fumbles as well.

So maybe this is the week to get a critical takeaway or two. The three the Packers have so far in 2020 have all been highly impactful.

Jaire Alexander's interception in Week 1 against the Vikings set up a touchdown right before halftime. Chandon Sullivan's pick-six in Week 2 vs. Detroit pushed the Packers' lead to three scores. Za'Darius Smith's forced fumble at midfield in New Orleans turned the tide in the fourth quarter of a tie game.

So the value of just one can't be overstated, though there's a fine line - especially against a future Hall of Fame QB - between looking for turnover opportunities and chasing them or trying to force the issue.

"We have to be sound," Amos said. "We can give him nothing easy because that's what he does. He takes advantage of you messing up."

The Packers have had some tackling issues the past couple of games, so they have to be careful. There's nothing wrong with being plus-3 in turnover margin for the season (with the offense having none), which puts the team on pace to reach a double-digit margin for the year.

That'll do. But the defense wants to do more, and the belief is it can. It's right on the verge.

"We just stay on the guys, 'Hey, stay on it. Just keep doing it,'" Pettine said. "We've developed some really good habits, and that'll come.

"It is a little frustrating that we've only had three, and we've had chances for more, but fortunately for us our offense has done such a good job of protecting the ball that it hasn't been that big of a factor. But we've got to get that going and start taking the ball away."

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