With the NFL Draft only three days away, Packer fans everywhere have visions of new linebackers and defensive backs being added to the roster and making a not-inconsiderable difference right away, most hopefully in the area of pass defense, what with the much-publicized problems Dom Capers' unit had against "veteran quarterbacks" that spread the team out and threw all over the yard last year.
Some new players will help, it's true. But more importantly, Capers having a full offseaon to evaluate the talent on hand and match their talents to what he asks them to do will have just as much, if not more of an impact.
As indicated above, Packer fans can recite by rote the phrase that appears in almost every season recap of the 2009 Green Bay Packers - "they had trouble against teams with savvy veteran quarterbacks that spread the field". This is true of course, but going back and rewatching the season (as I am prone to do) something jumped out at me.
First of all, the problems to come were foreshadowed in the 49er game especially after Al Harris went down. And as far as I know, Alex Smith has never been confused with a "savvy veteran". Now, yes, it's hard to blame Capers for what guys like Jarrett Bush and Brandon Underwood do or don't do well when thrown into the middle of a game and where he is forced to gameplan on the fly knowing what he does about their capabilities. But watching that game again, I was reminded how Capers, at times, could really struggle to find a playcalling rhythm once Harris went out. And it may have affected his ability to recognize what the 49ers were doing.
For instance, earlier in the game, Capers had Woodson blanketing Vernon Davis, effectively shutting down the talented tight end. The few times he took Woodson off Davis the result was almost an automatic big completion, with Smith hitting him twice down the seam for big gains, first against Hawk and then against Jarrett Bush. Then, we witnessed the following:
Simply put, this was the 49ers favorite pass play last year, a trips to one side, three vertical with Davis running the inside seam. I remember shouting at the TV that it was coming because I had the two plays below burned in my brain from earlier in the season:
Now, if I knew that play was coming, Dom Capers had to have known. Yet he chose to have Woodson blitz from the far slot rather than keep him man on Davis. (Yes, its a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don't for any defensive coordinator. If you blitz and get burned, it's "Why did you blitz!" If you sit back and give the quarterback time, it's "Why didn't you blitz!") And of course, Davis promptly scored.
One play in that Niner game that really foretold the problems to come was the Frank Gore touchdown.
It's all there.
Crossing patterns. Confusion. Two guys taking one man while another roams free. Absolute bedlam. Once that play was on film, it was all over but the crying. Any halfway decent coordinator with an experienced quarterback could see the problems the young guys in the secondary would be having and how guys like Woodson and Barnett would have to try and compensate for the problems they knew the defense would have.
It's Capers job to figure out where those breakdowns occurred and to ensure that his system is clear to EVERY member of the defense coming out of training camp. If that means drilling rookies and second year players more in camps and preseason, so be it. If that means running crossing routes until their eyes are crossed, so be it. It's all well and good to have a playbook that is larger than a Manhattan phone book (yes, an antiquated reference) but it's little more than fodder for the shredder unless it is grasped and understood by every single member of the defense.
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