Lots of interesting chatter between myself and a few other Packer fans yesterday on Twitter regarding NFL Network’s replay of the November 1st contest against the Vikings this past season.
Do holes in the zone D get fixed with a year of 3-4 under their belt?
It’s an excellent question. There’s a soft spot in the middle of the Packers’ zone defense that has been there since preseason of last year. I remember speaking with both Greg Bedard and Jason Wilde about it during the season. And after the Arizona game, I said the biggest problem that I can see with Dom Capers and how he chooses to call his defense is that he has been given a collection of defensive backs that were all brought in to fit Bob Sanders press-man scheme and he is forcing them to play zone way, way too much.
Now, some of these “holes in the zone” are just part of doing buisness in this particular version of the 3-4 defense. Last season you saw the same void in the middle of the field open up repeatedly for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a byproduct of sending guys and them not getting home. For the Steelers last year, a big part of it was missing the playmaking presence of Troy Polamalu. For the Packers, it seemed both safeties, but Atari Bigby in particular, were always a step or two behind where they needed to be, always arriving just after a completion for a sizable gain. It will be interesting to see if Morgan Burnett’s athleticism makes any kind of difference in this regard.
Other than adding Burnett, Ted Thompson has done almost nothing to change the makeup of his defensive backfield. You have to think that, after going back and watching the defensive cut ups for the entire season, McCarthy sat down with Capers and said something along the lines of: “Look – I know we were in Year One of a new defense, but we were entirely too cautious. I want to turn up the heat this season” – and the best way for Capers to do that is to start mixing in some small doeses of what is known as Zero Coverage, where the defensive back field pressed up to their men on the line of scrimmage while some combination of defensive backs and linebackers blitz the quarterback, with no safety help. (Thus the zero…)
Now, I’m not saying Capers is suddenly going to morph into Rex Ryan. He won’t become another person over the course of one offseason and last year his defense hardly ever blitzed more than five guys. But I just think, looking at where their weaknesses were, and the fact that almost everyone in the defensive backfield will be back, the adjustments that need to be made will come from Capers adjusting to his personnel, rather than making them do things they aren’t all that good at.