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Capers Has '09 Secondary Issues Sorted

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Capers Has '09 Secondary Issues Sorted

Heading into the 2010 season, the Packers' trouble with "veteran quarterbacks" was well documented. Fans and media alike kept rehashing the performances of the Packers defense against Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. Free agency and the draft came and went and the Packers did seemingly nothing to bolster their secondary outside of signing undrafted free agent Sam Shields out of Miami who had played all of one season at cornerback.

Where was the improvement going to come from? Why was Ted Thompson so blind to the problems his defense was facing? These were constant refrains all summer long.

Well, it would seem that, once again, Thompson knew what the hell he was doing. Rather than over-react, he trusted in his system of drafting (or signing) and developing young players. He let the talent that was already on the roster mature along with the defensive scheme they were playing in.

And he trusted in the man who was in charge of designing that scheme.

Much has been made of Dom Capers' work in the face of the slew of injuries the Packers have sustained, but not much has been said about the job he has done fixing what ailed the Packers during the 2009 season.

Sure, the secondary staying relatively healthy has helped. They have not been forced to go to Jarrett Bush or a rookie Brandon Underwood to play key roles. But more interestingly, Capers has done a lot of the patch-work with his linebacking group rather than his corners. Time and again we have seen teams bring out their multi-receiver sets and rather than counter with his dime package, Capers has been staying in his 2-4-5 nickel.

Take a look at the play below. This is the kind of formation that was giving the Packers nightmares over the course of the second half of the 2009 season. When you saw bunches or stacks of receivers before the snap of the ball, you could be sure that one or more of those receivers would break into a wide open area and take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain. Not so this season:

The bottom of the screen is a beautiful example of the Packers "man-match" scheme on defense actually working the way it is intended to. Too many times last season you saw huge defensive breakdowns on plays like this. And while Sam Shields is getting some much deserved recognition, some recognition should be given to both Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk for how much they have improved in this area of the game. Both of them have been huge liabilities in the past when it came to defending the pass.  How can one forget Hawk getting all of three snaps in favor of Brandon Chillar when the pass-happy Colts came to town two years ago? And it's hard to erase the memory of the Vikings and Texans making Bishop look silly several times.

Yet both linebackers are playing worlds better than they ever have in pass coverage, so much so in fact that they have made a case for keeping Brandon Chillar on the bench. (Chillar, while he made an excellent play against the Jets when he overpowered Ladanian Tomlinson's blitz pick-up for a sack, has been nothing short of pedestrian in coverage.) It will be interesting to see how Capers divides up the snaps on Sunday.

One of the reasons Capers has been reticent to blitz Favre is the veteran's ability to find the mismatches that can result from a blitz not getting home. Look at this play from the Jets game for a perfect example of Capers dialing up a pressure, only for the quarterback to find a receiver matched up on Hawk in a vertical route. Unless the blitz gets home in two or three seconds, this will almost always be a "win" for the offense.

The key on Sunday will be for Capers to pick his spots and to keep the exposure of guys like Hawk and Bishop to a minimum. Some might wonder why he doesn't simply counter with an extra defensive back, but the problem there comes in the form of Adrian Peterson in the backfield. For all that has been made out of Favre supposedly changing plays at the line of scrimmage, he's no fool. He'll know if his personnel has a power advantage over the defense and won't hesitate to call Peterson's number to take advantage of it. The linebackers playing as well as they are in the passing game allows Capers to keep a little more heft on the field in case Peterson's number is called.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, Capers has done an excellent job up to this point in the season of fixing one of the biggest problems the Packers had last year. No, they have not faced a murderers-row of quarterbacks - but Capers doesn't set the schedule. He simply prepares his guys to face whoever the NFL says they play next week, and week in and week out Capers has been getting the job done.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Chad's picture

Excellent take, and good analysis. I always love being able to see the plays on video... keep it coming!

Chad's picture

So just after reading this, I head over to Kevin Seifert's NFC North blog and see a post about the same subject.

Coincidence? Or does ESPN have someone on the inside of CheeseheadTV?

*shifty eyes*

c.d. angeli's picture

I will gladly play the role of Devil's Advocate (and far better than Keanu Reeves could so). I agree that Dom Capers deserves much of the credit. In fact, I'll say he deserves all of it.

Capers has done what Larry Beightol couldn't..he's made chicken salad out of chicken $#!+. He's taken the talent that's been given him and ressurected the careers of a couple guys we've been ready to give up on (Hawk, Peprah), taken some castoffs from other teams' rejection pile (Green), and got some undrafted free agents to fit (Zombo, Shields).

Thompson has given both MM and DC some decent talent to work with, no doubt. But if the Packers ever reach the top of the mountain, it will be because MM and DC take what's been given them and make it work, not the influx of veteran talent Holmgren needed.

Bogmon's picture

Sustaining most of the injuries in the first quarter of the season helps too.

Trying to regroup at the end of the season into the playoffs is much tougher....
This season has not been lucky by any means, but the timing of things is much better.

Satori's picture

"Thompson has given both MM and DC some decent talent to work with, no doubt"

Decent talent or hubris ?

Only the Shadow knows for sure...

Kudos to Capers, Greene, Whitt and Perry for successfully addressing a two major offseason concerns:

pass coverage vs bunch formations and pass rush in general

Full speed ahead and thanks for pulling this together for our illumination

CSS's picture

Devils advocate to your devils advocate:

It's the seasoned veterans that have cost this team games during tight losses this year. Youth is served and they've been assignment sure and consistant.

Continuity in personnel is the key to an expedited defensive transition. An influx of veteran personnel would (devils advocate) set the unit itself back another year.

PackerFanJon's picture

Nice article I asked about defending the bunch a few weeks ago. It seems like the DB's finally figured how to handle the bunch formations.

Sooner or later teams will starting attacking Hawk more and we will all go back to wondering why he is on the field in passing downs.

NoWayJose's picture

I hope we get one more year with Dom before he gets a head coaching call. I know he's been there before, but I think the league will take notice of the job he's doing here and give him another shot.

Here's hoping that's not true!

Bogmon's picture

I feel like Dom is having alot of fun with this group of guys...I mean...SERIOUSLY...
Imagine being able to play with toys like CM3; C-Dub; Tramon...and all those tubby linemen...
It makes me giddy just thinkin' about attacking QB's with all those weapons.

He'll be hard pressed to find a better situation next season!

dullgeek's picture

I look at the 4WR bunch play and think the Packers got lucky that Favre was indecisive. Because at the point when the lead WR out of the bunch, and the WR on the other side get to about the 43 yard line, there is a huge hole and Favre is standing there staring at it with no pressure on him.

Had he thrown the ball to either of those WRs, I don't think the safeties could have gotten there in time to defend the pass. The corners were beat so bad, that all either WR had to do wsa put on a juke that INT for GB is a TD for MN.

Or am I reading this totally wrong?

JD's picture

Does anyone feel that Desmond Bishop is better than Barnett and Hawk? I think he is better than both. Really hope they resign Bishop and then decide between Barnett and Hawk for the other ILB spot.

CSS's picture

Christl (GBPG) and LeRoy Butler would beg to differ. They've both commented, on a few different occassions, how surprised they are with Bishop's slower reaction time and lack of instincts.

I'm not making the case he hasn't played well, not by a long shot. But I don't believe he's done any one thing in spectacular fashion compared to Barnett or Hawk. Bishop, too, had '0' TFL prior to playing a lazy Dallas team.

Again, I'm not knocking him, just don't think his game is at the level where some perceive it to be.

PackersRS's picture

The vikings receiver running a go actually has some window between the safety and the linebacker, if Favre antecipates the throw, he could've hit him for a huge gain. But then again, the blitz get to him very quickly, so it would've been an amazing play.

LeRoy said in his X's and O's this week. If we can leave Tramon on an island against their top corner, the safety can cheat inside, to help the linebacker. But if it's Rice in there, it's harder to do it.

IanHanley75's picture

I agree Capers has done an excellent job up to this point, but as you pointed out, the Packers have not played any elite quartebacks this season.

If they can shut down Matt Ryan and Tom Brady the next couple weeks I will be very impressed.

foundinidaho's picture

What, Favre's not an elite quarterback? ;)

Jersey Al's picture

really, really, really nice job with this...

Austin Auch's picture

I loved it in the last Vikings game when Capers lined Bishop up on Moss or another WR on the outside. Some of the things this man draws up are amazing. People need to stop talking about Favre being gutsy and gritty and give those titles to the Dom.

RickyBobby's picture

Not to be a dick - but how is anything really any different than last year. The Pack did fine against average/crappy QB's last year. Have they faced anybody good yet this year?

favre?
cutler?
henne?
kitna?
sanchez?

yuk.

Great article. I just kinda think you shoulda waited 3 more weeks to post it.

HOPE YOU'RE RIGHT THOUGH!!!!!

p.s.
I have a funny feeling that the Pack's gonna blow out the vikings.

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