Jaleel Johnson kind of chuckled when it was suggested that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers value ball security a tad more highly than do Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
“Uh, yeah, you could make that argument,” the Vikings’ defensive tackle said Thursday, four days before the Vikings play the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday Night Football.
OK. Here goes.
Last Sunday, the Chargers needed just 58 minutes and 12 seconds to turn the ball over seven times in a 39-10 loss to the visiting Vikings.
The Packers, meanwhile, have just nine turnovers, second-fewest in the league, in … 14 games! Their seventh turnover didn’t occur until the 347th minute of the season (Week 6). And that was followed by a four-week stretch before Green Bay’s eighth turnover.
“No. 1, Rodgers does a great job with [ball security],” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
You can say that again. In 100 years of NFL football, Rodgers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio of 361-82 ranks No. 1.
This year, he has two interceptions. He leads the league in games without a pick (12). His current streak of passes without a pick stands at eight games and 265 attempts. And that ranks only second-best in his career behind a streak of 402.
But it’s not just Rodgers. When the Packers went without a turnover from Weeks 7-10, it marked the first time since 1967 that not a single Packer lost a fumble in four straight games.
“Every time I watch Aaron Jones run, he’s carrying it high and tight,” Zimmer said. “They do a great job of protecting the football. We’re going to have to do the same thing.”
Jones has 235 touches. He’s tied for the league lead in touchdown rushes (14) and ranks second in total touchdowns (17). And he’s fumbled twice, losing the ball just once.
The Packers’ turnover ratio is plus-14, second behind only New England (plus-24). The Vikings vaulted into a fourth-place tie (plus-11) after going plus-6 in one game against the Chargers.
With two games left in the regular season, their 27 takeaways already match 2016 as most of the Zimmer era and the most since the 2007 team finished with 31.
“We’ve been emphasizing [takeaways] quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “We show tape of the [league’s] turnovers every Friday. [And show] why they happened and what [the defense] did. So I think guys are starting to take a little pride in it.”
But Zimmer said he still refuses to let players gamble on takeaways if it means sacrificing fundamentals.
“We still do the same things,” Zimmer said. “We still make sure to secure the tackle and things like that.”
Oftentimes, with pressure on the quarterback comes turnovers. The Vikings rank 11th in sacks per pass play and have six games with at least four sacks.
“We kind of try to do what we do [fundamentally],” said Zimmer, “but we also emphasize a lot of finishing the plays.”
The Packers, at 11-3 and a game ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North, rank seventh in takeaways (23) and are the only team in the league with two players in double digits in sacks — Preston Smith (11 ½) and Za’Darius Smith (10).
As for those woebegone, butterfingered Chargers, well, they’re tied with Cincinnati for last in turnover ratio (minus-16). Rivers has 18 interceptions in 14 games, which is one more pick than Rodgers has in his last 53 games going back to the start of the 2016 season.
In other words, as Johnson said, “I think it’s going to be a different kind of game from last week.”
The Chargers have turned the ball over 29 times, third-worst behind the Buccaneers (33) and Giants (31). Only the Saints have fewer turnovers (eight) than the Packers.
“We’ve got to be fundamentally sound and locked in,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they turn it over much on the road.”
Nope. Just one time in six games. And that’s 360 minutes of football.