GREEN BAY - They were a bad offense last year. Not enough big plays. Or points. The Green Bay Packers stumbled and staggered in 2015, falling short of expectations.
Which is exactly how the opening five games of 2016 unfolded. Not enough big plays. Or points. Yes, this is a recording.
But there is one noticeable change from 2015. It’s not a good one. Right guard T.J. Lang, leaning against his locker, laid out the difference Sunday evening.
“We didn’t have the turnover problem last year,” he said.
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The Packers' offense has experienced no lack of frustration through the first five games. Most frustrating, Lang said, has been the constant turnovers.
There were four in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. On the season, the Packers are tied for 20th in limiting giveaways with nine — even though they’ve played one fewer game than most.
For all their troubles, the 2015 Packers didn’t cough up the football. They finished with only 17 giveaways, tied for fourth in the NFL. On Sunday, the Packers almost had a quarter of that allotment in one game.
"We’ve got to find a way to protect the ball better," Lang said, "and I think we’ll obviously have a better chance of scoring more points."
Avoiding turnovers has been the one constant since Aaron Rodgers became the Packers' starting quarterback in 2008. The Packers run through ballhandling drills each practice. Over time, the extra emphasis has shown.
Their most turnover-prone season was 2013, when Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone. That season, the Packers’ 25 turnovers tied for 15th fewest in the NFL.
In seven full seasons with Rodgers, the Packers never have fallen outside the league’s top 10 in avoiding turnovers. Four times, they finished with either the fewest or second-fewest turnovers. Their average annual turnover total during Rodgers’ tenure is 18.
In 2016, the Packers are on pace to finish with 28 turnovers. It would be their most since finishing with 33 turnovers in 2006. That was McCarthy’s first season, and the Packers finished with an 8-8 record.
“You take a strong look at them,” McCarthy said. “You look at them individually. You can go through each and every one of them — it’s the technique within that particular experience as far as your pad level, where the ball is caught, the carriage, putting it away, whether it’s the decision that plays into that. So those are the things that you focus on, and that’s why we do those drills every single days.”
Aside from sheer volume, the timing of the Packers’ turnovers has been particularly bad.
Seven came in the Packers’ two losses, with only two in their three victories. Five have come after the Packers crossed midfield, with a sixth coming at midfield.
So even when the Packers move the football, turnovers have taken points off the board.
"As soon as we feel like we’re getting going a little bit," Lang said, "we just turn it over. You can’t win like that. I think if we clean that up, obviously we might be looking at a different ballgame."
The Packers’ turnover surplus has put them in rare situation with their differential margin.
They are minus-three on the season, ranking 24th in the league. Certainly, the Packers’ defense forcing only six turnovers – tied for 19th in the league – hasn’t helped.
Since McCarthy arrived in Green Bay, the only time his team finished with a negative turnover differential was 2013. The Packers have finished in the league’s top 10 each of Rodgers’ seven full seasons as starter.
“I think they just happen,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “You’ve just got to prevent them. A lot of it is fundamentals, but a lot of it is just timing. Sometimes, they happen. For whatever reason, it always seems that when they do, it happens in bunches. So we’ve got to nip it and move on, get it taken care of.”