It’s time to trust the Packers’ defense

I trust Dom Capers.

There, I said it out loud. No take-backs and all that, right? Sure it was a little shaky there in the first few weeks, and I was nodding along with demands for a regime change. What can I say? I’m fickle and impatient.

But wasn’t Cam Newton on his way to being crowned one of the next big things? A mobile QB that was a dangerous threat outside the pocket?

Well he looked more like Christian Ponder than his contemporaries Kaepernick and Wilson. The Packers did a great job shutting down a mobile quarterback and finally decoded the read option that had been their Kryptonite for so long. Sure the Panthers are a shadow of the team they were a year ago, but it’s the same QB that would gash teams on the ground.

And Cam ran for diddly. What yards he got were gained scrambling for his life.

That type of resounding victory is exactly the confidence booster this team needed. They aren’t just good shutting down a pocket passer like they consistently are in the NFC North. They turned the page and were effective in neutralizing the new generation of dual threat quarterbacks.

While people were calling for Capers’ head (yes, I was one of them. I kind of apologized above, remember?) there were others pointing out it wasn’t a scheme issue, but rather a personnel issue.  This is definitely not the unstoppable defense that the Packers fronted in 2010, but it appears to be the best one since.

What makes it different is for the first time, defense isn’t trying to cling to the remnants of the 2010 team and trying to recreate that with spit, duct tape and players starting to age out. It’s why the Packers parted company Charles Woodson a year ago. And perhaps its why they are a different defense after BJ Raji is out of the picture for the season.

The had to adapt because they finally didn’t have the personnel to mimic 2010. With Woodson, they tried mold the aging player into more of a safety and trialled a Big Nickel with him. Had Charles been five years younger, it may have been brilliant. But age and injuries caught up with him, and he became a shadow of his former 2010 self.

Yet Capers did not give up on that model, and instead of forcing an old dog to learn new tricks the Packers found that skill set they desired in Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Yes, there were growing pain the first few weeks. All rookies have them. But last week against Carolina, Clinton-Dix was the starting strong safety, featured heavily in the Big Nickel as well, and he played every single defensive snap. He is that safety the Packers envisioned. His physicality and speed is what sets him apart. If he’s not dropping back in coverage, he’s getting to the quarterback and is that treat all over the field that Woodson used to be. He’s one of those player you can trust and build around his strengths.

And then there’s Raji. This summer it looked like the Packers were trying to recreate that 2010 team where the big nasties on the defensive line were setting the tone and Raji dominated as a nose tackle. But we haven’t seen that Raji since. Then all of a sudden, the Packers resigned him after an absolute lackluster season last year and rebranded him the same Raji that danced in the end zone at Soldier Field and was nicknamed the freezer without a shred of evidence that his performance this year would be any different than the past three years. Sure, there were murmurs the Packers wouldn’t be a true 3-4 team and would use other schemes to let Raji shine as a true nose tackle again.

We all know what happened this summer. A torn biceps, and that dream of recreating 2010 was dashed again.

But I will argue that putting Raji on injured reserve and forcing the defense to reinvent itself is what turned this defense around. There was no Raji v. 2.0 to take his place on the line. In fact there were very few big bodies to patch together an old school beefy DL.

So the defense had to reinvent itself. It couldn’t force a square peg into a round hold. That was disastrous the past three years. They had to reconfigure with the talent they had. Instead of surrendering to the nostalgia for a defensive roster that no longer exists, Capers has created a defense that highlights the innate talents the Packers have right now.

It’s why the NASCAR defense is being rolled out. If you don’t have the beef on the line to neutralize the QB while he’s in the pocket (and let’s face it, it’s pretty effective with traditional pocket passers) then you need to bring the speed in a different package. The Packers no longer have big nasties like Raji or Pickett (or Gilbert Brown if you really want to feel nostalgic.)

So they rolled out a defensive package that employs no front line beef that Jay over at our sister site All Green Bay Packers illustrates far better than I ever could.

And it is that type of speed and mobility that the Packer need to utilize to bring down a mobile quarterback. Last week it paid out dividends.

Last week signaled to me that the Packers’ defense is no longer yearning for a team that cannot be recreated. It finally has the talent to be different. More importantly it has the formations to highlight that talent. This is where Raji exited and linebackers like Julius Peppers entered into the lineup.

It’s impossible to recreate the past. Old ghosts such as Woodsoon and Raji are just that ghosts. Neither is on the active roster, and it appears for the first time that Dom Capers is moving on without them.

 

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Kelly Hodgson is a writer for PackersTalk.com and you can listen to her as a Co-Host of Out of the Pocket. You can also follow Kelly on Twitter at @ceallaigh_k

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