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How Dom Capers was Able to Redeem Himself Against the 49ers

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How Dom Capers was Able to Redeem Himself Against the 49ers

Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers has been heavily criticized during his tenure in Green Bay, fair or unfair. He was especially criticized after the 2012 Divisional Round loss at San Francisco, where Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards. It is true that Capers, his staff, and the players have not been able to consistently defend the read option. However, on Sunday, Capers was willing to go great lengths to prevent Kaepernick and the 49ers’ running game from running wild.

As you will see in the four plays below, Capers employed three main strategies out of the 2-4-5 nickel. First, he used a coverage called “Cover 0” to attempt to slow down the 49ers’ running game and the read option. Cover 0 means that there is man coverage underneath with no safety back deep. In other words, the Packers were selling out and loading the box to defend the run and read option, and they did not feel threatened by Kaepernick’s arm. Secondly, in addition to employing Cover 0, Capers lined up both defensive tackles on the outside shoulder of the guards (3-technique position). It is logical to assume that Capers lined up the defensive tackles there to make it more difficult to run the read option to either side of the formation. Third, and finally, he occasionally had Clay Matthews and the outside linebacker (OLB) perform a “scrape-exchange” to defend the read option. A scrape-exchange means that, versus the read option, the OLB crashes down to take the running back/dive while the inside linebacker (Matthews) “scrapes” to the outside to take the quarterback (Kaepernick).

The first play that this article will analyze features an Outside Zone run by the 49ers versus the Packers’ 2-4-5 nickel/Cover 0. On this play and on all the plays below, instead of being the single-high safety in the deep middle, you will see Ha Ha Clinton-Dix come down into the box as the extra defender (green arrow). As a result, there is no safety deep, and it is man-to-man underneath (Cover 0). Here, 49ers running back Carlos Hyde had no cutback lane because of Clinton-Dix filling and Nick Perry’s hustle, and the Packers set the edge well. Ultimately, Hyde was corralled by Matthews for a 3-yard loss.

On the second play of this article, the 49ers ran “Split Zone” with the read option built in to the play. The Packers ran Cover 0 again, but they also ran a scrape-exchange with OLB Nick Perry crashing down inside and Matthews “scraping” outside to take Kaepernick. In addition, Clinton-Dix came down to fill one A gap while Nate Palmer created penetration in the other A gap. This forced Carlos Hyde to bounce it to Mike Daniels and Casey Hayward.

On the third play of this article, the 49ers ran a Split Zone read option play like the one above. Again, the Packers played Cover 0 and ran a scrape-exchange with OLB Mike Neal crashing inside to take the running back and Matthews scraping to take Kaepernick. The 49ers executed this play perfectly. Kaepernick correctly kept the ball since Neal crashed on the running back, and No. 84 kicked out Matthews. However, the 49ers could not account for Clinton-Dix, the extra defender. This was outstanding scheming by Capers.

On this fourth and final play, the 49ers ran a read option with their tight end performing an “arc” block on Micah Hyde. Kaepernick read Jayrone Elliott, and decided to keep it. Typically, the defense would be in trouble here, but since the Packers were playing Cover 0 with Clinton-Dix coming down as the extra defender, Kaepernick could not make an explosive run.

The Packers played great defense on Sunday, and a lot of that was due to Dom Capers’ gameplan versus the running game and read option. This article contained just four examples, but there were more plays such as these in the game. This was one of Capers’ best gameplans in Green Bay, and he deserves credit for it.

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

Gotta say I just loved the D in the last several games. Would seem the talent and D calls are in the right spot.

RCPackerFan's picture

Really Capers has been great since the bye week last year. Since he has switched Mathews to ILB, he has really done good things with this defense.

He has really matched his play calling to the personnel he has, and has made it work.

One thing I really like about this defense is that they should only get better as we get Burnett back from injury, and as our Rookie CB's, and our young ILB's get more experience.
I really like the way our defense is trending.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Absolutely. The move from OLB to MLB has really paid off. I went back and watched the Seahawks game again and there were many plays where Clay just came flying down crashing into the Center/Guard at the snap which forced Wilson (option plays) to have another threat to think about other than just simply reading a DE or OLB. Also, with Clay crashing in and taking up 2 blocks allowed our 2 Down Linemen to take on single blocks (another reason why Raji and Daniels are looking so good)

RCPackerFan's picture

I just love the idea of the offense not being able to key in on Mathews being on one side of the field. Moving him around creates a lot of mismatches and creates a lot of confusion for opposing offenses.

jh9's picture

In my opinion, this article today by Michael Cohen in the Journal Sentinel might contain the most important reason why the defense has been so good thus far in the season:

As you will read, Capers and McCarthy decided to simplify the defensive signals this year after hearing complaints from the players during exit interviews. I give both Capers and McCarthy much credit for listening to the players.

Spud Rapids's picture

This makes a lot of sense after reading it. How many times were players running around with their heads cut off in coverage the past few years. The only one i've seen do that is Hayward this year but he has been getting better. Below I defended Capers that he hasn't had the players to be better but it sounds like he adjusted as well and it may have been both faults.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

That was along time coming. The packers might have another Superbowl if it happened 3 years ago when it should have.

Spud Rapids's picture

I think we are too hard on Capers. Watching the plays above show disciplined players sticking to their assignments. I'd like to see an article where it shows where San Fran had success vs. their recent game.

I mean come on you had AJ Hawk , Brad Jones, and other slower, less athletic MLB playing against the 49ers the last few years. Now they have improved speed with Matthews, Palmer, and the crop of OLB. Not to mention safety play has greatly improved.

Capers is an amazing D-coordinator however a professional can only perform as good as his tools e.g. you put Jimmie Johnson in a Prius and he isn't winning many races.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Exactly. I never thought it was Capers. It was the players. There were games where we completely shut down Kap and Gore from running, but Kap killed us in the air. Then there were games where we did good against the pass, but Kap and/or Gore ran wild.

Now, what I've always been against was having the CBs give so much cushion to receivers. I blame Dom for that. Can we blame Dom for starting Hawk for so many years? Serious question. If so, then that too - I blame(d) him for.

The plays might have been dumbed-down, but players back then just weren't disciplined. Players trying to force things and play "Hero Ball" can't be put on Dom.

porupack's picture

But that still comes down to the coaches to instill discipline. Many of us felt that the fundamentals weren't there for 3-4 years. Tackling, out-of-position, confused D-backs, etc. So coaches have to take responsibility for getting the best prepared of the 53 players. I like the comment above about having to simplify. Might explain partly.

DrealynWilliams's picture

You can only so much with the MD Jennings, CJ Wilson's, Erik Waldon's -- guys like that. I think Dom did just that. Made the best of it. That's why there were times the Def looked good and times where they looked horrible. One thing that separates bad players from good players is consistency.

John Galt III's picture

I agree with 100%.

Here's an example. A. Rodgers gets hurt against the Rams and is out for the season. We have Tolzien and Hundley. The Packers end the season 8 and 8 and we miss the playoffs.

So, you fire McCarthy and the new OC or you realize what juts happened.

Dan Stodola's picture

I think having Peppers, Perry, Neal and now Elliot providing quality play at OLB and pass rush has allowed Capers to move Matthews around. Before last 1/2 of last year, Capers needed Matthews pass rushing. Its had alot of good consequences.

Along w/ simplifying the D, so young talents like Clinton-Dix, Datone, Perry, Randall and others has also helped a lot.

DrealynWilliams's picture

That play where Clay popped Kap after handing it off I mentioned in another article is the 2nd play showed (3rd and 4th GIF). Perfect angles. I think we start doing that against all Option QB teams moving forward. Make em think twice of running. It's legal.

Jersey Al's picture

Play #3 should be used as instructional video for how to play the scrape exchange with cover 0. Perfection.

EdsLaces's picture

It's still early, but am I crazy to think we are doing better without Sam Barrington in the middle? I think the combo of 48 and or Palmer is working out for us pretty well.

Dan Stodola's picture

Honestly, no. Barrington while a helpful player last year has significant limitations of his own. Palmer is much better IMO in just about every way. Bigger and faster. Barrington MIGHT have been a little more of an enforcer type, but he isn't all that talented. This time next year, Palmer might be so far ahead that Barrington gets relegated to the bench again.

I've mentioned this before but next year Palmer and Ryan are the likely starters at ILB. Matthews might still get snaps Inside as well. Would still be nice to get a playmaker at ILB in the draft. Can you say Myles Jack, UCLA ILB? Great fit w/ either Ryan or Palmer next to him.

EdsLaces's picture

I'll check that guy out .

DrealynWilliams's picture

I'm done with checking prospects out. Ted always does Ted and picks guys we never thought about during that round. lol

Jimmy Ryan's picture

You have to admit, Ted seems to have nailed it with Randell. So far that kid has played really well at CB. He's given up a play here or there but he's been solid overall.

Dan Stodola's picture

If you mean that Randall kid, yeah he's doing very well.

DrealynWilliams's picture

By no way was I talking bad about Ted. Of course I respect his picks. I was talking more so about doing doing the research on x amount of prospects only to have the Pack pass on them. All for nothing. I'll still watch the draft, but I'll go in with no knowledge of the prospects Ted drafts and THEN do my research.

RCPackerFan's picture

The thing that I have been impressed the most with Palmer is his coverage ability. Compared to Hawk/Jones, Palmer is great.

Barrington is definitely more physical then Palmer but Palmer is far better in coverage and in space. I like that they are mixing in Joe Thomas because he brings the physicality that Palmer lacks.

porupack's picture

If I recall, we could have drafted Alec Ogletree in 2013 and that was exactly my call for solution to the defensive weakness. Instead TT drafted DJones. At that time, the popular opinion was that the ILB was a position in decline and hardly worth a 1st round pick. This sentiment seems to continue each draft, including this year. I again wanted TT to pick up Kendricks even though he might be a 'reach' and not an obvious 1st rounder, but even by 'reaching' and acquiring a solid 2nd round talent into that spot, you get your 1st round stud (Matthews) back to pass rushing....or option to rotate him in ILB spot duty. Sure, there are advantages to how they use Matthews all over this year, but to your point that next year you see GBP drafting an ILB and Matthews goes back mostly to the OLB; So why hasn't TT spent more draft capital on the ILB earlier? If the 3-4 Dlinemen are to eat up blocks as many on this site assert, seems the ILB position is essential and needs hard-hitting, quick guy and those aren't very common. Appreciate more thoughts on this.

Dan Stodola's picture

I LOVED Ogletree. He would have been a perfect fit at ILB. I wanted no part of Kendricks tho, would have been OK w/ Anthony. Have to say Datone is playing really well right now. So maybe that was the right pick after all.

Dan Stodola's picture

From what I've heard Thompson wanted CJ Mosley in a big way in that draft. Maybe Shazier too, but didn't hear his name mentioned specifically like Mosley.

In the Packers new Defensive scheme the DL are only responsible for one gap, not 2. They now have much more freedom to penetrate and make plays. That started before last year. Daniels, Datone and Raji all fit better in a one gap scheme. The DL aren't just block/space eaters now.

If a talented ILB is available and fits the draft slot I think Thompson will pull the trigger. Imo Myles Jack fit the bill. We'll see.

4thand1's picture

If Myles Jack is rated high TT won't have a chance to draft him. Maybe he trades up like he did with CM, that turned out pretty dam good.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

High quality piece, Robert. Excellent. I think it should be emphasized that this defense requires all the CBs to be out on islands. Kap can't throw and his receivers aren't all that dangerous. At the end of the year when we grade the CBs, we should take into account just how often Capers puts them out there alone.

4thand10's picture

I will probably catch a little for this...but the only other reason this 2-4-5 works is because 2 of the OLB's ( Peppers, Neal, Perry take your pick) are body types of 4-3 defensive ends. There has been more weight and beef on the LOS than in the past. In the not so recent past the OLB's were 240-245 vs the 260-280 lb range. So the Elephant body types give it a 4-3 look because there is more weight on the line. I'm glad GB is doing this, the addition of Peppers primarily has paid huge dividends. I do still feel this adjustment is about 4 years over due. With a proper defense that 2011/12 team was a SB team. Just MHO.

PaulRosik's picture

Kapernick ran crazy on the Pack in 2012. The Packers changed their gameplan to stop that in 2013 and held him to 22 yards running. Of course he threw for 412 yards and 3 td's. But that Colin Kapernick doesn't exist anymore, now when you stop his running he is unable to do anything through the air. He is inaccurate and has so terrible footwork than even I can see it. His running is his only weapon and can be game planned for to stop.

EddieLee's picture

The key to that defensive effort was the deficiency of the QB to read and throw against man coverage with no safety help...

Props to Capers for recognizing that Kaepernick can't read a defense this year or throw over 10 yards with any accuracy. Clay was right- Kaep is no Russel Wilson. Wilson would have chewed up that cover 0.

porupack's picture

Sure appreciate your examination of the scheme, and your diagrams and use of pics are excellent. Yours and such contributions make this the go-to site, envious of 31 fan-bases. Thanks.

DrealynWilliams's picture

I really enjoy them as well. Many props to Robert!

RCPackerFan's picture

Geez, trying to read through these comments.

Great article, great discussions were going on, and then it just goes downhill...

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