In defense of the defense

Lombardi Avenue explains why firing defensive coordinator Dom Capers is not the Packers’ answer:

As always, the numbers do not lie. The defense finished eleventh in points allowed, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact the Packers play in the league’s highest scoring division. Even more telling, Green Bay finished eighth overall in Football Outsiders’ weighted defensive rankings. Now, consider the fact that the 2012 Green Bay defense lost Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, D.J. Smith, Nick Perry, C.J. Wilson, and Mike Neal for multiple games this season. This meant consider playing time for many rookies such as Casey Hayward, Dezman Moses, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels. To perform at the level Green Bay did with so many injuries and shifting lineups is a credit to the coaching staff, and we haven’t even gotten into Desmond Bishop and the “bad tackling.”

The perception that the Packers were a bad tackling team this year is perhaps the most frustrating. It was a constant theme during the three games against the Minnesota Vikings and their all-everything running back Adrian Peterson. It’s the calling card of just about every armchair general manager who wants to see Capers ousted.

Well, here’s the reality: the Packers had the third fewest missed tackles in the NFL this year. That’s top three in the league, ladies and gentlemen. If the Packers weren’t a good tackling team this year, then nobody was.

You’ve read suggestions that the Packers should replace Capers with former Bears coach Lovie Smith.

Prior to his hiring by the St. Louis Rams, many were calling for Rob Ryan. Why? The only explanation I can conjure is he coaches a 3-4 and he’s not Dom Capers. Any cursory analysis of Ryan’s defensive record should quickly dismiss him as a reasonable candidate. He’s been a defensive coordinator every year from 2004 through 2012. In that time, he’s never finished with a top 10 defense in points allowed. Worse still, he’s finished in the bottom half seven times. Most of these teams had very capable defensive talent, especially these last few years with the Dallas Cowboys. Ryan is just not a good coach, and certainly not someone worthy of replacing Capers.

Yet, the far more egregious replacement suggestion is Lovie Smith. Now, Smith is one of the better defensive minds in the league. He’s run strong defenses during his time in Chicago and St. Louis and will be a good hire for someone. That doesn’t change the fact he’s a terrible schematic fit for the Packers. Smith runs a cover-2 base 4-3 defense. This defense demands pressure primarily from the four man rushes with the middle and weakside linebacker have the freedom to play in space.Even though Green Bay has a fair amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball, that talent does not fit into Smith’s defense. Specifically, the cover-2 has no position for the Packers’ best defensive players, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews. …

If Smith were to be hired, Clay Matthews would essentially become Aaron Kampman the sequel. For those who have forgotten, Kampman was the Packers’ best pass rusher back when they featured a 4-3 base defense. In the four years prior to the Packers’ switch to a 3-4, Kampman averaged just under 11 sacks a season. In all the years combined since the switch, Kampman has only acquired 7.5 sacks. If the Packers don’t want to repeat history, they’ll steer clear of Lovie Smith and a switch back to a 4-3.

Moreover: You know why Smith’s defenses played so well? Because defensive players and one running back have been the only competent Bears draft picks for more than a decade. Any competent coach would finish near the top of the NFL defensive rankings with linebackers Brian Urlacher (in his prime) and Lance Briggs. Meanwhile, the Bears’ offensive line is a disaster, the team hasn’t developed a competent quarterback since Jim McMahon, and the worst Packer wide receiver you could find over the past 20 years would have been the number one Bears receiver before they traded for Brandon Marshall. Capers has one more Super Bowl ring than Smith, and Smith had one more opportunity for a ring (Super Bowl XXXVI as the Rams’ defensive coordinator) than Capers.

I’ve pointed out more than once that the regular season and the postseason are different seasons. Capers and the Packers deserve criticism for how they played in the NFC playoff loss to San Francisco, but it wasn’t just the defense, in the same way it wasn’t just the defense in last year’s playoff lost to the New York Giants. I said before the 49ers game that the Packers needed to make quarterback Colin Kaepernick throw, not run. Notice that the Falcons made Kaepernick at least hand off; he ran with the ball once Sunday.

The Packers hired Capers and switched to a 3–4 in 2009. The first half of that season, the Packer defense made the much-maligned 2011 defense look like the 1985 Bears in comparison. Changing defenses would accomplish the same thing — that is, nothing good.

 

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