The Capers Defense in One Play

Mike Pettine is the Defensive Coordinator and while Packers Nation has rejoiced, some have poured cold water on the hire saying the Packers defensive wows have been caused by a lack of playmakers and that Pettine’s defense is complicated, like Capers’. Both points may are accurate. However, Pettine implemented a completely new defense in Cleveland and improve it drastically in his first year and improved defenses as a coordinator.  Could it be that Pettine is a good communicator and leader, while Dom lacked those skills in the latter part of his career, while sitting in the comfort of the press box? The past few years, the Packers consistently blew coverages. And they were not just on complicated zone schemes or blitzes. Let’s consider one play from Capers’ last meaningful game as a part of the Packers.

It’s the opening drive of the 2nd half and Carolina has the ball at the GB 30 for 1st and 7. The defense needs a big play that it seemingly never gets, but then Ahmed Brooks whips the left tackle and immediately brings pressure to Newton’s left.  Dean Lowry isn’t far behind him with pressure from the right. They were meeting at the QB.
Instead of a sack, Newton unloads it as he gets hit, and the pass ends up being completed to a wide-open Greg Olsen at the three yard lone for the go-ahead touchdown. The next drive Rodgers underthrows Cobb for an INT, Davante gets knocked out of the game from a cheap shot and the Packers never lead in the game again and their season is over. With the amount of pressure generated on this play, the worst-case scenario should be an incompletion and the best-case scenario should be a sack or INT. The coverage doesn’t even have to have be good, it just must be played okay as the pressure was there in immediately. So how does this happen?

The play is a simple; They are in base 3-4 and run Cover One blitz with both OLB’s rushing. Carolina has 12 personnel (1 RBs and 2 TE), with McCaffrey as the running back but they go with an empty backfield.  The right side being the strength of the formation, with a WR wide, a TE (Ed Dickson) in the slot and a TE (Olsen) close to the line. Josh Jones lines up over Dickson in the slot with outside leverage, while Joe Thomas is over Olson near the line with inside leverage. And Blake Martinez is lined up in the slot on the opposite side of the formation on Devin Funchess. The Martinez/Funchess matchup is one that Newton must like and one that Ha Ha is certainly aware off as the lone safety is in the middle of the field.  Here is the play at 4:15 of this video:

As you can see, Greg Olsen was covered by no one.  To help understand how someone can be left alone in a Man to Man defense, one should appreciate that each defense is based on a set of rules which determine each player’s specific responsibility.   In man to man defenses, it’s not like basketball when each person guards a particular man. Many defenders don’t know who they are covering prior to the offense breaking the huddle but they cover a man based on the formation and sometimes the initial part of the play.

On this play, both Jones and Thomas cover Dickson, who was lined up in the slot to the right of Olsen, as he cut to the middle. Jones thought the rule was that he had Dickson the whole way , based on where he lined up, while Thomas thought he had whoever ran the in breaking route. Ha Ha provides no over the top help, instead he favors the other side as Funchess runs a seam route against Martinez. My suspicion is that the confusion arose because Thomas thought the rules to be different if the Tight Ends lined up in line, vs if they lined up away from the line, while Jones was treating them the same either way. No matter whose fault it was they should have communicated with each other.  And no matter what the rule is supposed to be, its most important they are on the same page for that play.

(On a side note, relating to Capers and the play, it makes no sense they are in base. With two tight ends and McCaffrey and what is a favorable down and distance, this screams pass.)

This was not a lack of talent. In fact, this play showed explosive pass rushing moves from not one but two players. Rather it was confusion and what is most basic play call. This coverage and all the rules associated with it would be installed in the first rookie OTA.  Cover One packages are upon the simplest in football.  This was not a zone scheme when players must worry about the route combo being run or a complicated blitz scheme. And it has to be stressed to the players to talk to one another in those situations.

It would be easy to chalk this up to a bad play by a rookie who screwed up. But blown coverages have been too prevalent the past few years. It’s not just rookies either. It has been veterans with blown coverages at the most critical moments, such as overtime in the divisional game two year ago vs the Cardinals. At some point it isn’t just the football mind, or the scheme. But it’s about the coach as a leader and their effectiveness to communicate to a group of men. Whether it be communicating with the position coaches or the entire group , the failure is on Capers. Pettine has been responsible for defenses both a Defensive Coordinator and as Head Coach, and he has succeeded with supposedly complicated schemes.

Sure, the Packers need more playmakers on defense. At every position. A Nick Collins, Charles Woodsen, Julius Peppers, Clay Mathews circa 2010, Tramon Williams, BJ Raji. But his is not a group of bums talent wise. While Capers being out and Pettine being in, is not cure all, it’s a heckuva good start.

Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz
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