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Capers Is The Key To A Super Bowl Run

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Capers Is The Key To A Super Bowl Run

While Ted Thompson could certainly still sign or trade for an outside linebacker, some secondary help, or a return man, the 53 men who will be representing the Green Bay Packers in 2010 have been assembled and are ready to begin practicing on Monday morning for their opening game against the Eagles. Looking down the roster I still feel, even stronger now that I know what the general makeup of the personnel is going to be, that what I wrote back in April was correct. To summarize, I believe the Packers are counting on Dom Capers to make the necessary adjustments in lieu of what can only be considered a paucity of options when it comes to rushing the passer.

In my mind, this is the key line from that post:

...when Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers sat down and went over the cut-ups on the defensive side of the ball, they saw a lot that Capers could do to improve with what they have on hand personnel wise.

I have no doubt we'll see a bunch of non-scouted stuff a week from today in Philadelphia. And I have no doubt the defense will look better than most fans expect. That's not to say there are not legitimate concerns: Brad Jones, who will be counted on opposite Clay Matthews, hardly played this preseason. Neither did Matthews, for that matter, though at least he has a track record of success when it comes to rushing the passer. The secondary is still young and actually got younger with the release of Will Blackmon and the addition of Sam Shields who, along with Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee, have got to be the biggest question marks on this team.

However, Capers is not completely bereft of talent on the defensive side of the ball. I know all the gnashing of teeth over the outside linebacker spot and the nickel and dime corners tends to obscure the fact that this is still a defense which features the reigning Defensive Player of the Year along with a two-time Pro Bowler in Nick Collins. And there is young talent emerging up front. If you haven't figured it out yet - Mike Neal is a player, and will be a big part of the expected improvement on the defensive side of the ball. I completely agree with what Greg Bedard had to say about Neal when Greg appeared on Packer Transplants last week - Neal should replace B.J. Raji in the Nickel. Like, yesterday. The guy is already the second best pass rushing defensive linemen on the squad, after Cullen Jenkins, and he hasn't even played his first regular season game yet.

Regardless of the positives or the negatives, Capers will be judged by one thing: results.

And those results will determine how real the Packers' Super Bowl chances are.

"The offense will be fine", while it sounds lazy, is actually correct. The offense WILL be fine. Aaron Rodgers and company will have their ups and downs as any NFL team does throughout the course of a 16 game season.  But for the most part they will be able to score on anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Which brings us back to the defense. If there is going to be any marked improvement in the pass rush, it will come from an increase in the multiple places the blitz comes from and when it comes. I got rapped on the knuckles for daring to write "Capers needs to blitz more" - which isn't actually what I wrote, but Donald's Designated Driver makes the right point: It's not as simple as that. It's not a question of sending more guys more often. It's a question of sending different guys at different times. Too often the Packers relied on one of three versions of pressure - the cross-dog from their middle linebackers, the slot blitz by Woodson, or the straight-up four man rush from the Nickel with two defensive linemen and two outside linebackers. By the end of the year even my oldest daughter could tell when the cross-dog was coming.

That isn't to say Capers never got creative. He designed and called some creative stuff, especially against younger quarterbacks like Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. But, and stop me if you've heard this one before, the veteran QBs the Packers faced rarely saw much beyond the three types of pressure I just listed above. One trap I think Capers fell into last season was being so dedicated to stopping the run that he constantly put himself in bad positions when he came up against guys like Favre or Warner, quarterbacks who could easily recognize what the defense was trying to do on early downs. The veteran quarterbacks easily made the necessary adjustments.

Now, fans would no doubt welcome more pressure looks and calls from Capers, but they have to take the good with the bad. As DDD indicates in his post, the drunk at the bar is always calling for his team to "blitz more" - only to curse the team when it allows a big pass play. Bill Johnson is spot on when he says, as he has several times on Green and Gold Today, that fans would have to live with the occasional big play if they want to reap the benefits of some extra pressure.

The company line from the Packers has been that Capers has been playing "vanilla" this preseason, but if you take a closer look, I think we actually saw a small sneak peak during the Colts game of the small shift Capers will be making this year. After watching Manning move the ball pretty well for a few series, Capers started to dial up some pressure. Nothing exotic, but it was interesting to see him sending Nick Collins and Charles Woodson. Now, Woodson was a regular on the pass rush rotation last year, but we rarely saw Collins coming on a blitz. In fact, just three weeks ago Leroy Butler was talking on Packer Transplants about how the team would probably prefer to keep Collins back to play center-field. Yet there Collins was against the Colts, dropping down into the box:

Now, he doesn't get to the passer, but notice how he occupies the running back who would have been there to help against Mike Neal had Collins not come flying in. The play encapsulates exactly what I feel the Packers need to do this season. Bring different guys from different places and let guys like Mike Neal, Cullen Jenkins and Clay Matthews take advantage of the confusion and the one-on-ones that are produced as a result.

Fans tend to overreact to the final roster as it is and this year, with expectations sky high, the rehtoric is especially ridiculous. We tend to latch on to the images from the playoff game and the games against the Vikings and Steelers and think that the league is set to roll over the Packers. In actuality, football games are won and lost by two things: Star players and one or two plays a game. The Packers have the star players in Rodgers, Woodson, Finley and Matthews. Now they need to stop the 3rd and 17 conversion by Favre. They need to stop letting down their guard on a Steelers pass play where Hines Ward gets behind Bush for a big gain after it looks like the defense has come up with a big 3rd down stop. The list goes on and on. Each game the Packers lost against "veteran quarterbacks" could have easily gone the other way had the defense come up with one play it didn't, usually a 3rd down where the likes of Jarrett Bush or Brandon Underwood were caught looking in the backfield or where the pass rush was non-existent.

Look no further than the current Super Bowl champions. They didn't have a lights-out defense. No one would confuse them with the 2008 Steelers. And they had their own issues in the secondary throughout last season. But they made the one or two plays necessary when they needed to be made, came up with one or two stops that helped swing games toward their direction. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' heavy pressure scheme, with multiple personnel blitz packages, played a big part in that. Sense a theme here? There's no reason the Packers can't take the step the Saints took last year. Football Outsiders' founder Aaron Schatz is fond of noting that offense tends to be much more consistent from year to year and that teams like the Colts and Saints simply keep trying to match a defense that will do just enough with an already potent offense. I think this is the path the Packers have set themselves on.

The Packers have all the tools they need to get to the Super Bowl. We know the offense is up to the challenge. The hopes and dreams of Packer fans everywhere rests with Dom Capers and the defense.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (60) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Max (ukpackersfan)'s picture

What no one's talking about is, this is our second year in the 3-4. Most of the main players are back and have the expeience in the system. Things will be different.

Brett Cristino's picture

Awesome read Aaron, I agree pretty much word for word. Pressure on the QB is the key to stopping any QB, anywhere, at any time. Our Defense is filled with spectacular athletes, so there shouldn't be any restrictions to what Capers can do and who he can do it with. That may be what i'm most excited about seeing a week from now...the new wrinkles MM and Capers have added to the Offense and Defense.

fhornplayer83's picture

Excellent article to kick off the regular season. And it was made that much better by the use of the word "paucity." ;-)

Jersey Al's picture

and bereft

Bogmon's picture

I had to look that one up...NICE

FITZCORE1252's picture

Oh yeah, he worked that little gem in there. For shame.

thepretzelhead's picture

I think he needs to improve on his ability to make in- game adjustments...probably like every other defensive coordinator in football.

ZeroTolerance's picture

Neal did really break through there, did he not!

packeraaron's picture

He was helped by the calls on both sides, but he's got a great first step and is as strong as an ox. The kid is going to be very good.

c.d. angeli's picture

I'm going to add to what D.D.D. said. It's not a matter of blitzing more (because you cripple your coverage if you still don't make it to the QB). As DDD says, varying your packages and disguising where the rush is coming from help out. But, in the end, the rushers need to win their battles. They need to execute their techniques and do more than just try to bull-rush through blockers. And, the more we're forced to play from a nickel, two-man line set (which I guarantee more teams are going to force the Packers to play after last years' Steeler and Cardinal games), the more imperative the Packers are able to collapse the pocket with four rushers.

Too often, Matthews is the only one beating his blocker. Raji/Neal/Jenkins are simply going to have to do more to occupy and move back five offensive linemen and allow the rushing linebacker to force the QB up into his offensive line.

Disguising coverages is a way to compensate, but these players, quite simply, need to start out-techniquing, out-muscling, and out-executing the blockers they are going against.

Tommyboy's picture

I also like that they moved Matthews to the left side. That puts our best pass rushers on opposite sides. It also means that if Matthews breaks through, the qb is more likely to have to run left to escape - an unnatural move for most.

Oppy's picture

That's a great point I'd never have thought of- forcing the QB to roll to his left. The only "negative" vs. flushing the QB to his right is that when a QB runs right, he runs the risk of throwing across his body if he tries to force a throw to the middle of the field while on the move.

ZeroTolerance's picture

Pressure is KEY!

PackersRS's picture

I think this is the first post I agree word for word. The "team having talent but not enough to win by playing vanilla", the "Capers committed to the run too much and played too simple against veteran qbs" and the "the offense is so good that the defense needs to keep up, not play lights out" are all points I've made, emphatically, before.

I may be wrong, but I think the problem is that our D needs to set the tempo, instead of reacting to what the opposing O is doing, which was specially true against veteran QBs.

Can't wait for this new season!

NickGBP's picture

I disagree in one sense with the comment regarding committing too much to the run. I would have to imagine that, from a gameplanning perspective for Capers, stopping the run against the Steelers for example was not at the top of his list. I think he knew that they would be throwing the ball.

Where I do agree with your statement is that Capers' focus going into the season was clearly to keep it simple; teach the team how to stop the run and keep them in manageable 3rd down situations. Obviously that sounds like a defensive philosophy that some teams take in general, but I don't think that is Capers' full vision for his scheme. The emphasis in his schemes, at least in the past, was on getting to the QB. He's made pro bowl OLBs on every single team he's coordinated for. Looking back at his interviews when he first came last March though , his emphasis coming to Green Bay (from what he said at least) was stopping the run; rushing the passer seemed a secondary goal. That was probably why there was a complete lack of interior pass rush; they were so concerned with ensuring linemen played gap responsibilities against the run that they didn't focus on getting to the passer. Which makes sense because if a team can run AND pass against you you're screwed.

It's clear that after the Arizona game, McCarthy wasn't going to let that happen again. The emphasis for Capers HAS to be coverage and getting to the passer. I expect we'll see some impressive pass rush this year, even if it's to the detriment of our run defense. When McCarthy fired Sanders he mentioned that the same mistakes that were made in year one were consistently being made in year three. The areas we need to improve are pretty blatant. Despite the sudden turnaround on Capers around most of Packer Nation, I can only count on one hand the defensive coordinators that I'd put faith in to make improvements. And even those require special talents on their team to have their defense run the way they expect (Revis, Polamalu, etc). Capers has Woodson. With Woodson performing anywhere near last year (it's dangerous to expect as good or better from him this year) I think with the emphasis on pass defense we'll see a marked improvement.

NyPacker's picture

I think Capers is a tad one-sided at times. He can call more run blitzes than pass against certain teams and vice versa against teams who love to pass. Either way our overall goal is to ensure that the other team doesn't score points. I still think the Arizona wildcard game is an enigma of itself. It looked as if Capers couldn't gameplan for both the run and pass. Not only did Kurt Warner throw more TDs than incompletions, but Beanie Wells had over 100 yards on the ground. We suffer a weakness against the more experienced QBs but considering we were the No. 1 ranked rush defense, that's simply inexcusable.

Wiscokid's picture

Nice article Aaron. You appear to be in mid-season form already.

In light of our lugubrious efforts in stopping veteran qbs last year, I hope Capers has figured out something that will work this year.

Tommyboy's picture

How long ya been waiting to use that one? :)

Wiscokid's picture

Hey, if Aaron can use paucity, I can use lugubrious :)

Tommyboy's picture

Fair enough

Ron LC's picture

Right kid! No more 4 and 5 hundred yd. passing games. AT ALL! NEVER! NADA!

Oppy's picture

One of the things I think gets lost in translation from Caper's play design to us fans- and I might be way off base here- but just because Dom brings a S or a DB in on a blitz route, doesn't mean that player is necessarily expected to get the QB.

Numerous times last year, I watched plays where I am almost positive that a player- whether it's a DL, a LB, or a DB- appears to be "rushing" the passer, but if you looked closely, it seems as though the intentionally hold up or steer into a blocker, be it a TE or a HB.

It's my assertion that one the keys to some of Dom's plays is that he brings pressure on occasion that is intended to draw blockers and tie up the protection, creating one on ones and unbalanced line protection, enabling other players to capitalize.

Now, I'm not saying that's what happens on this Collins blitz, but there's been numerous occasions where it certainly looks like guys penetrate the LOS and then look to be coaxing protection to lock on to them.

packeraaron's picture

Absolutely correct. This happens way more than fans realize.

Oppy's picture

I think this is where we heard a few grumbles from players last season, who eventually bought in and conceded that everyone has to sacrifice for this D to work, but the positive is everyone gets opportunities to make plays as well- you just have to capitalize when your number is called.

NyPacker's picture

Absolutely right Oppy, specific blitzes are called not only to get pressure but adjust to the way offenses manage their protection. I believe Leroy Butler mentioned something similar to this on Packer Transplants where the defense plays poker and "disguises" their true intentions. You can have a safety or CB line up in the box to make the offense think their blitzing OR which way they blitz so the offense leaves a TE or RB to block in that direction. However it's only a measure for so they're fooled into allowing a player on the other side or middle to come in freely and make a play.

CSS's picture

As much 'gnashing' of teeth as there is over the Packers secondary I dare anybody to look within the division and tell me the Packers aren't better, right now, than the Vikings/Lions/Bears. Yes, those teams are looking for a push on the DL to disrupt the passing game, but they are
AWEFUL in the secondary, rubbish.

Vikings may have the better D-line reputation when getting after the QB, but I will take the Packers depth.

Oppy's picture

CSS,

I agree with what you're saying, and I actually think that our CB depth isn't that much off from most NFL teams. When the Packers have a healthy Harris and Woodson on the field with Tramon Williams, we are the absolute envy of the league at CB. I'd argue that even without Al Harris out there, having a pro-bowl, DMVP CB across from a player in Williams who's teetering between nickle and starter quality, and falling back on our jumble of acolyte DBs at nickle is STILL at least on par with most NFL teams.

That said, the complaint you are going to hear from many is that this team shouldn't be judging itself against the division rivals. Many fans feel the Packers are a lock to make the post season, one way or another. They will complain that all that matters is how this secondary will hold up against top-flight competition faced in the post season. While I don't think things are as dire for our secondary as some, this line of thought is hard to argue. The Packers secondary should be held to the standard of competition they will be facing in a deep post season atmosphere, if we are truly looking at a possible SB run. Of course, with our O, they only have to be average, IMO

CSS's picture

I understand, and I'm not holding the Packers to a lesser 'league-wide' standard. That being said, I don't care if they finish 9-7 or 14-2, you win the division first to make the playoffs and you do so HEALTHY and with momentum. This group will take its lumps, but if healthy they will have time to develope over the course of the year. Just look at the mediocre Giants and mediocre Cardinals teams that made recent SB runs. Stayed relatively healthy, peaked at the right time and were hot. All that mattered was winning the division and getting into the playoffs.

Erikgj's picture

I agree by the end of the year if we are healthy, we should be in good shape for the playoffs. Our defense does not have to be #1 for the Packers to be a force in the playoffs.

Being home for the playoffs will help. Also special teams that are just average would help too.

I think many of there roster moves were aimed at the second half of the schedule and the playoffs. Harris, Sparks, Bigby on the pup, one or two of them come back we can be pretty good going into the playoffs.

Erikgj's picture

I mean Starks. Spell checker!

NYPacker's picture

I like Sparks better. Hmmm... James Sparks, yup that's got a nice ring to it.

Oppy's picture

Sounds like a "B" class action hero, James Sparks- Interpol Operative. Or, I suppose, he could be an underworld figure- Jimmy Sparks.

Let's roll with it.

AK26's picture

Nice piece, Aaron. I agree, the season totally hinges on the D.

One question, though- if 1-2 plays define a game, and the players that were responsible for the Packers' failures in those situations were fringe players like Bush and Underwood, doesn't it stand to reason that the final cuts ARE important, and that it's not necessarily an overreaction? Capers put those players in the right position, even in your explanation-- they just failed to carry out his gameplan.

I'm paraphrasing Bedard here, (dangerous, I know) but it seems critical to the Packers' championship aspirations that the depth on defense is more solid than a year ago. Thus, cutting potential contributors like Obiozor (and even Havner, in a pinch) in favor of McDonald, Wilson, and Zombo scares me. And with an undrafted FA as your nickel corner, however much raw talent he may have, I think you're setting yourself up for some similar results, even if Capers dials up different kinds of pressure.

Hope I'm wrong.

packeraaron's picture

"Capers put those players in the right position" - in the Viking, Steeler and the playoff game, I respectfully disagree.

NickGBP's picture

I disagree in one sense with the comment regarding committing too much to the run. I would have to imagine that, from a gameplanning perspective for Capers, stopping the run against the Steelers for example was not at the top of his list. I think he knew that they would be throwing the ball.

Where I do agree with your statement is that Capers’ focus going into the season was clearly to keep it simple; teach the team how to stop the run and keep them in manageable 3rd down situations. Obviously that sounds like a defensive philosophy that some teams take in general, but I don’t think that is Capers’ full vision for his scheme. The emphasis in his schemes, at least in the past, was on getting to the QB. He’s made pro bowl OLBs on every single team he’s coordinated for. Looking back at his interviews when he first came last March though , his emphasis coming to Green Bay (from what he said at least) was stopping the run; rushing the passer seemed a secondary goal. That was probably why there was a complete lack of interior pass rush; they were so concerned with ensuring linemen played gap responsibilities against the run that they didn’t focus on getting to the passer. Which makes sense because if a team can run AND pass against you you’re screwed.

It’s clear that after the Arizona game, McCarthy wasn’t going to let that happen again. The emphasis for Capers HAS to be coverage and getting to the passer. I expect we’ll see some impressive pass rush this year, even if it’s to the detriment of our run defense. When McCarthy fired Sanders he mentioned that the same mistakes that were made in year one were consistently being made in year three. The areas we need to improve are pretty blatant. Despite the sudden turnaround on Capers around most of Packer Nation, I can only count on one hand the defensive coordinators that I’d put faith in to make improvements. And even those require special talents on their team to have their defense run the way they expect (Revis, Polamalu, etc). Capers has Woodson. With Woodson performing anywhere near last year (it’s dangerous to expect as good or better from him this year) I think with the emphasis on pass defense we’ll see a marked improvement.

NickGBP's picture

Whoops. Posted twice.

Jack's picture

I just watched Ted Thompson's uneventful (as usual) press conference on Packers.com
Before TT's arrival at the podium, I listened to the media talking amongst themselves. Normally the conference room is silent because the mic's aren't plugged in. Not this time....Heard some interesting things.

One guy whose voice I recognized (but haven't been able to put a name to yet) went on and on, bitching and moaning about Thompson's secretive nature and his unwillingness to say anything of interest during his press conferences. Before he changed the topic he said "As a news organization you can only beat your head against the wall so many times."

I also heard Jason Wilde talking with a couple of other guys about someone who was sleeping with one of the Packers. Here are some of the quotes:

"You can't sleep over at someone's house in Green Bay 'casue you're gonna get fired."

"I'd be interested to know if she's been banging C.J. Wilson."

"I think it was Anthony Levine."

Wilde also complained about how obnoxious someone's girlfriend was on Twitter.

I don't think those guys realized that their mic's were on.

Gossipy, I know, but I have to mow the lawn and am trying to procrastinate.

Oppy's picture

LOL, Lori Nickle wears football cleats!**

**This is unconfirmed, and I completed made this up. But, C'mon, she seems the type.^^

^^Okay, no, she doesn't seem the type. SHe's a respected beat writer, and conducts herself as a professional. But, hey, she IS a female who gets 'exposed' to the locker room atmosphere. Hey, you can only dangle cookies in front of a fat kid so long before he eats one.

Jack's picture

LOL. I was thinking it might be Paige Pearson.

nypacker's picture

It's neither Wilson nor Levine, it's Brandon Underwood. Woops! Too soon? :)

jerseypackfan's picture

Also...let's hope Capers gets plenty of rest the night before a game. No naps during game time OK?

WoodyG's picture

Aaron,

Nice article with much insight .....

I am a little dismayed that you allowed DDD to malign you, however .."slobbering drunk with Buffalo wing sauce on his shirt" ...... You can minimize the stain if you blot it with cold water immediately after dropping the wing (if you're able) ..... Works for me .... LOL.

Jack's picture

I know this is trivial, but it's bugging me that I can't figure out the name of the reporter who was bitching about TT before the press conference began. Can anyone help me figure out who it was? He is the guy who asks in the latter part of the p.c. if Havner's off-season incident had anything to do with his being cut. TT said no.

Anyone know who that voice belongs to? It's driving me crazy.

PackersRS's picture

That's a strong voice. Seems like Bedard.

Jack's picture

Nope it's not Bedard. Someone from the Milwaukee TV market maybe?

CJ in Guatemala's picture

REALLY don't think that voice belongs to Bedard, but i mean it is very close so who knows.

packeraaron's picture

Its not Bedard - you hear him early on ask Ted something and then the "strong voice" asks something later. Not sure who that is. Its not McGinna and I don't think its Spoon - might be Bill Michaels actually. Just not sure.

packeraaron's picture

It was Bill Scott of the Wisconsin Radio Network

Jack's picture

Bingo!!!

Mystery solved. Thanks Aaron.

CJ in Guatemala's picture

Now I'm convinced it wasn't him. Three questions later Bedard asks something about Starks after he completes his time on the PUP list.

greenlights's picture

It was Bill Michaels.

greenlights's picture

Or maybe redlights.

Oppy's picture

Maybe it's Pippens. He's a tool and a horrid talking head in the Milwaukee TV Market. One of those guys that perhaps the lay fan respects, but the typically die hard who frequents CHTV would love to strangle because he doesn't know jack about football, he just spits out sensationalistic BS without thought.

Oppy's picture

Actually, just listened to the PC again, and I have -zero- idea who's voice that is asking the Question about Havner. Zilch. None.

Jack's picture

It's not Pippens or Michaels. But I agree with you about Pippens; he is pretty darn awful. Have you ever watched Packers Blitz? It is torture listening to him but I tend to watch the show anyway because I am such a Packers junkie. I am going to keep count this year of the number of times Pippens uses the word "marvelous"---the guy has a very limited vocabulary for a journalist.

Oppy's picture

Jack, I used to watch Blitz all the time until I found the various Packers resources all over the 'net like this one.

I get more interesting insight and useful information from 5 minutes on the game day live blog here at CHTV, much less the post-game...posts... and from other sources like JerseyAl's blog and PackerLounge, Carriveau's stuff, etc, etc, than I could ever get from the Blitz.

Plus, it saves me from having to listen to Pippens.

fish's picture

Mike Neal, "Big Swole" as Matthews calls him, also wore #92 in college. That's Cool! Glad he's aboard.

redlights's picture

Darn, they took off the "mic on" comments. Any further analysis? Or is this just too immature for this site?

PackerFan4Life's picture

I think we will see a NEW revised defense that capers I would think got his ass chewed for the AZ game and Steelers game too thats just unacceptable

Tarynfor12's picture

Capers' defense last year was like watching the baby take it's first steps,"gasping" is frequent and the baby gets "Boo-BOO's".
This year Capers' defense must show "how it LEARNED to Stand Strong and Run with it".

If we can survive till week 9 defensively great,the we may not need to put more undue pressure on Harris and(ahem) Bigby for the next 8 and keep Harris and (ahem) Bigby fresh for the last leg of the race.

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