Because interceptions aren’t a real common event in the NFL, such statistics vary greatly from team to team and from year to year. Fans do follow individual interception statistics fairly closely. Most Green Bay Packers fans know, for example, that former Packers Micah Hyde (5) and Casey Hayward (4) were among league interception leaders in 2017. Few, however, keep track of which defensive teams produce the most interceptions.
The Packers’ modern golden era in interceptions was 2007-11. In 2007, Green Bay had 19 picks (tied for sixth in the league); in 2008, 22 (tied for third); in 2009, 30 (first); in 2010, 24 (second); and in 2011, 31 (first).
Who were those ballhawks of yesteryear? In 2009, Charles Woodson had eight, Nick Collins had six, and Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby had four each. In 2011, Woodson had seven (tied for the league lead), Charlie Peprah had five, and Tramon Williams and Sam Shields had four each.
Last year, the Packers front office was high on both Kevin King and Josh Jones. They two were quickly inserted into the starting lineup, but their play was lacking and between them they tallied but one interception. The team’s interception leaders were the departed Damarious Randall with four and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with three.
This year, however, the preseason enthusiasm is all about defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his press-coverage defense strategy – and about two ballhawking cornerbacks that were expressly recruited to fit into Pettine’s system. Iowa’s Josh Jackson led FBS colleges with eight interceptions last year. Louisville’s Jaire Alexander had only one interception in an injury-plagued season, but he had five of them in 2016, when he received second team All-ACC honors.
Even without Jackson and Alexander, fans were thinking that Pettine’s style of play alone would be good for an increase of several more interceptions. And maybe significant playing time by the two rookies add yet another five interceptions to the estimates?
In the six years from 2012 through last season, the Packers never totaled more than 18 interceptions. In 2013 and last year, it dipped down to 11.
In his two head-coaching years in Cleveland, Pettine’s defenses recorded 21 and 18 interceptions. I would think that 15 to 20 interceptions this season by Green Bay would not be an unduly optimistic forecast.
If Pettine can get this defense humming as he has elsewhere, an increase in interceptions won’t be the only thing he’ll accomplish. With increased close coverage and pressure on the quarterback, Green Bay should be able to bring down the completion percentages of opposing quarterbacks.
Last year the Packers’ defense allowed a pass completion percentage of 67.8, lower than only Oakland and Cleveland. If they can cut that back to the league median of about 62 percent, they stand to win two or three more games this time around. If they could get it down to around 60 percent, based on last year’s stats, that would rank them eighth best in the league.
Maybe the 62 percent goal and the 15-20 interception target is too much to envision. But unless numbers like that are achieved, making the playoffs is also too much hope for.