I will be up front with all of you. I have been in Dom Capers’ corner for the last two seasons specifically.
When the defense completely tanked in 2011, finishing last in the NFL I was a believer that a coaching change was not needed, but rather more personnel. After last season’s debacle in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers, I was the same way. It was not Dom Capers fault that he was working with the likes of Erik Walden, a thin defensive line, and a complete liability at the safety position.
The words from various players that they were not prepared for quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ability to run did not sit well with me, but it was something I was willing to look past.
Early in the season it looked foolish to be in that corner. The Packers faced the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs, and their defense was absolutely lit up. Kaepernick threw for more than 400 yards, 208 of which went to Anquan Boldin, the only viable 49ers receiving threat on the outside at the time. Those who were calling for Capers head were louder than ever.
Some of those calls quieted down when Capers defense turned in a dominant performance against the Washington Redskins, and played well enough to win against the Cincinnati Bengals going into the bye week.
Following the bye, the defense looked like it was in top form. They played well against the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns. They played relatively well against the Minnesota Vikings as well giving up the majority of their points in garbage time. Over the first seven games of the season the Packers were ranked at, or near the top of the league in run defense
This was a major emphasis in the offseason, as anyone can tell by the comments of players that they were tired of the label they earned by the end of last season. Soft. The Packers had successfully shed that label by playing well, and playing physical.
Then last week hit. The Packers lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the foreseeable future with a broken collarbone. As soon as he went down there was the elephant in the room. The defense had to step up, and help out the offense, a unit that had bailed them out for much of the last two years.
The results were less than stellar. The Bears marched up and down the field against the Packers with their backup quarterback to the tune of 27 points. Perhaps more embarrassing was the way the game ended. The Bears took over on their own 11 yardline with nine minutes and 48 seconds left to play. The Bears lined up, and attacked what had been the Packers biggest strength all season. They ran the ball down the Packers throat. 18 plays and they took more than eight minutes off the clock. The Packers took over again with under a minute left. The Bears beat down the Packers at the line of scrimmage. It was embarrassing, but could have been left as an aberration if the Packers recovered the following game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead of recovering, and rising to the challenge of holding teams down without Aaron Rodgers, the defense was even worse. They gave up three touchdown passes of over 30 yards, and allowed the Eagles to move up and down the field with a limited time of possession. What happened against the Bears, happened again. Following a pass that was ruled incomplete on fourth down the Eagles took over with 9:32 left to play in the game. They ran out the remaining clock. Before that possession the Eagles had only had the ball for 16 minutes, had rolled up 27 points and 345 yards. In 16 minutes of possession. Not to mention the recurring issue of allowing a fast paced Eagles offense to run off the remaining 9:32 of the clock.
As bad as Monday night’s game was, this was far more embarrassing. The argument could remain that the personnel is the issue, and that Capers is simply working with what he has. Which begs the question, what exactly is Capers working with?
Following the debacle of the 2011 season where the Packers defense fell all the way to 32nd in the NFL, Ted Thompson made bold changes. His first six selections in that year’s draft were defensive players. That included moving up for Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward, the second and third picks of that draft respectively. The defense was improved, but still not to the level required.
In 2013 Thompson drafted another defensive player in the first round with Datone Jones. That made it so there were six first round picks in the Packers front seven. Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Datone Jones, Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk, combined with free agent acquisition Ryan Pickett.
Of the backup players on the Packers defense you can add Mike Daniels, Mike Neal, and Jerel Worthy as players who were selected in the fourth round or higher. That makes nine players in the front seven alone that were selected in the top parts of the draft, or acquired through unrestricted free agency.
The secondary is less decorated in terms of draft status as Hayward, Morgan Burnett, and Davon House are the only defensive backs selected in to the top half of the draft. What they lack in draft status, however, they make up for in talent. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, despite detractors from the fan base are good cover corners, and capable of wreaking havoc on opposing teams wide receivers. The secondary is widely known as a deep and talented unit.
With all of these facts present, the Packers defense currently ranks 18th in yards per game, and 17th in points per game. Both statistics are good for the bottom half of the league.
With all of these facts present, that begs the question in terms of Dom Capers. At what point does the investment, not reflect the results. With all of the perceived talent on the roster, and the heavy investment in the defense, this Packers team should be more than capable of controlling games, and ranking closer to the top of the league in terms of total defense.
The results at this point do not, and have not reflect the investment made in the defense.
That is why I have flipped. No longer am I in Capers’ corner. No longer will I be standing on a soapbox defending him, and the decision to keep him on the staff.
That is why, barring an improvement from the defense, and a deep run into the playoffs, the end is near, and Capers’ days in Green Bay is and should be numbered.
Jacob Westendorf is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
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