Tramon Williams insists that there’s no reason to panic. The takeaways will come, the Green Bay Packers shutdown cornerback says – and you won’t have to wait until the next time the Packers play Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, either.
Nevertheless, four games into the season, the team that has taken the ball away from its opponents more than any other defense since the start of the 2009 season – a whopping 114 takeaways since defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ arrival – has just four interceptions to show for their efforts, all thanks to Cutler.
“I’m not worried,” Williams said after the Packers defense allowed 474 yards, 27 points and generated zero takeaways in the team’s 28-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints. “Every year, things change. I think we’re playing better as a total defense, and I’ll accept that any day. Hopefully we continue playing like we are and (start) getting the turnovers and interceptions that we should.”
In fairness to the Packers defense, they did have two takeaways wiped out by questionable calls in their Sept. 24 loss at Seattle: An interception by rookie safety Jerron McMillian that was nullified by a late-flag roughing-the-passer penalty on Erik Walden and an interception by safety M.D. Jennings on a Hail Mary on the final play of the … well, you know all about that one.
“You only get so many opportunities, so when you get them you have to convert them. I feel good about our guys’ ability to do that,” Capers said. “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.”
Comparatively speaking, the Packers had 11 takeaways after four games last season, when they tied with San Francisco for the NFL lead in turnovers forced with 38, including a league-high 31 interceptions.
Sometimes those takeaways come in bunches, and Capers believes that his guys have been close enough on several occasions that they will come.
“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 (Sunday) and we get those, we’re probably one of the leaders in the league. That’s stuff can change around in a real hurry.
“There’s no question in my mind going into this game what kind of challenge Drew Brees and this offense was going to be. I just watched them enough. They have all the tools and that’s why they’ve been where they’ve been offensively.”
On Sunday, the Packers had at least two chances at interceptions that didn’t work out. On the opening play from scrimmage in the third quarter, veteran defensive back Charles Woodson nearly picked off a Brees pass intended for Marques Colston. And early in the fourth quarter, inside linebacker D.J. Smith deflected a Brees pass that he probably should have caught.
“If D.J. catches that ball clean, he's probably walking into the end zone,” Capers said. “But that's the way this game is.”
The ball caromed up into the air and it looked like Williams had a bead on it, only to have safety Morgan Burnett crash into him, leaving the ball to fall harmlessly to the turf.
“I think both of them kind of lost vision of each other,” Capers explained. “Morgan, the ball was tipped, and he was going aggressively for the ball and Tramon was sitting there waiting for it to come down, and they knocked each other off. I’ve seen it happen a number of times. Yeah, you’d like to be able to communicate on that, but it’s a bam-bam deal, so it’s a reaction deal. I know if we had that one back, if they had any idea, that one of them would’ve backed off.”
Takeaways are only part of the issue. The Packers appeared to have significant problems when they were in zone coverages in the secondary, although Capers insisted that the defense has actually been good in some zone schemes this season and that he can’t simply go man-to-man press coverage non-stop, even if his DBs prefer it.
“I think a couple times (Sunday) when we played zones, we weren't in great position. Quite frankly, through the first four games, we've played some zones extremely well,” Capers said.
One complaint the defensive backs had back when the Packers played almost exclusively man-to-man coverage was that it prevented them from having vision to the ball – a crucial component for takeaways. So look for Capers to continue to mix coverages – and the takeaways to return, eventually.
“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,” Capers said. “It’s going to change.”