Ca­pers pays the price for Pack­ers’ dis­mal de­fense

Packer Plus - - Extra Points - MICHAEL CO­HEN

Green Bay — The fall­out from a dis­ap­point­ing 7-9 sea­son un­folded quickly for the Green Bay Pack­ers, who wasted lit­tle time re­liev­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Ca­pers of his du­ties af­ter a nine-year run.

A league source con­firmed that Ca­pers, de­fen­sive line coach Mike Tr­go­vac and in­side lineback­ers coach Scott McCur­ley all were fired amid a sig­nif­i­cant over­haul of the team’s most glar­ing weak­ness. Ad­di­tional changes to the de­fen­sive staff are likely to fol­low in the next few days.

The de­ci­sion to re­work the de­fen­sive staff came in the wake of a lack­lus­ter sea­son in which the bro­ken col­lar­bone of quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers pulled back the cur­tain on issues across the board.

When Ca­pers’ unit ex­hib­ited the same flaws as 2016 — namely the lack of pass rush, poor se­condary play and a lack of co­he­sion from front to back — the Pack­ers and coach Mike McCarthy felt it was time for a change.

Pos­si­ble can­di­dates to suc­ceed Ca­pers in­clude de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors Vic Fan­gio of the Chicago Bears, Gregg Williams of the Cleve­land Browns and Steve Spag­n­uolo of the New York Gi­ants, among oth­ers.

Ca­pers’ un­do­ing was the re­sult of a sta­tis­ti­cal nose­dive in re­cent years com­pounded by wide­spread dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion this sea­son. The Pack­ers had fielded a steady de­fense as re­cently as 2015, when the team ranked sixth against the pass, sev­enth in op­pos­ing quar­ter­back passer rat­ing, ninth in in­ter­cep­tions and tied for 12th in points al­lowed.

But mas­sive slip­page over the last two years hinted at larger sys­temic issues, es­pe­cially given the re­cent in­flux of high draft picks on that side of the ball: two first-round picks in corner­back Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and nose tackle Kenny Clark; three sec­ond-round picks in corner­back Quin­ten Rollins, corner­back Kevin King and safety Josh Jones; two third-round picks in out­side line­backer Kyler Fack­rell and de­fen­sive tackle Mon­trav­ius Adams.

Year over year, the Pack­ers have found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to de­fend against the pass, re­gard­less of the op­pos­ing quar­ter­back. A se­condary that ranked in the top 10 in most sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gories a hand­ful of times un­der Ca­pers — 2009, ’10, ’12, ’14 and ’15 — plum­meted to the bot­tom of the league in as­tound­ing fashion as turnovers van­ished.

The likes of Andy Dal­ton, Jameis Win­ston, DeShone Kizer, Blake Bor­tles, Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler and Sam Brad­ford have com­bined to throw 22 touch­down passes against only three in­ter­cep­tions in the last two sea­sons, all me­diocre quar­ter­backs.

Per­haps most con­cern­ing for McCarthy was the dis­so­lu­tion of Ca­pers’ de­fen­sive for­mula, which the team’s me­dia guide de­scribes as “pres­sur­ing the quar­ter­back and cre­at­ing turnovers.” Ca­pers has sur­vived mul­ti­ple sea­sons of leaky de­fense by gen­er­at­ing take­aways at ex­tremely high rates, thus cre­at­ing more pos­ses­sions for the of­fense.

The Pack­ers led the league in in­ter­cep­tions twice in Ca­pers’ nine sea­sons (2009, ’11) and fin­ished in the top 10 an­other five times (2010, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’16) to shroud sev­eral me­diocre de­fenses in the seven years since their last Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance.

This year, though, the in­ter­cep­tions (T-20th) and sacks (T-17th) were harder to find. Ran­dall and safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix were the only play­ers with mul­ti­ple in­ter­cep­tions; out­side lineback­ers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were the only con­sis­tent threats to rush the passer.

Week af­ter week, op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs took a hatchet to por­ous cover­age on the back end, and the Pack­ers fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son ranked 31st in op­pos­ing quar­ter­back passer rat­ing (102.0) and 30th in com­ple­tion per­cent­age al­lowed (67.8).

Equally wor­ri­some was the pat­tern of lo­gis­ti­cal dys­func­tion that strad­dled the line be­tween comedic and em­bar­rass­ing. No de­fense, it seemed, had as many com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­downs as the Pack­ers, who shuf­fled their on-field head­set be­tween a min­i­mum of three dif­fer­ent play­ers in an at­tempt to com­bat the prob­lem.

There were times when the Pack­ers had too many men on the field and oth­ers when they didn’t have enough. There were blown cov­er­ages in which receivers ran free and oth­ers when two de­fend­ers fol­lowed the same tar­get. Vet­er­ans had to re­di­rect rook­ies be­fore the ball was snapped. Coaches dis­agreed with one an­other over whose play­ers were at fault for cer­tain touch­downs.

The op­er­a­tion as a whole felt bro­ken.

Still, there were sev­eral fac­tors that went be­yond Ca­pers’ con­trol, shift­ing at least a por­tion of the blame to gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son, who is step­ping down and will take an ad­vi­sory role with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The Pack­ers’ corner­back po­si­tion was dec­i­mated by in­juries in each of the last two sea­sons, be­gin­ning with the ca­reerend­ing con­cus­sion for Sam Shields in the 2016 sea­son opener at Jack­sonville. Ca­pers has been with­out a true No. 1 cor­ner ever since, a vir­tual death sen­tence in to­day’s pass-happy league.

There were groin prob­lems for Ran­dall and Rollins, both of whom needed surgery last sea­son, and a dev­as­tat­ing knee in­jury to Demetri Good­son that cost him all of 2017. Rollins tore his Achilles ten­don in October. King, this year’s top draft pick, was in an out of the lineup with a shoul­der prob­lem that ul­ti­mately landed him on in­jured re­serve. Davon House, the lone vet­eran Thomp­son signed, bat­tled prob­lems with his quadri­cep, shoul­der and mul­ti­ple trans­verse process frac­tures in his back.

It meant that in each of the last two years, as the Pack­ers reached the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game in 2016 and fought to re­main in the play­off race this sea­son, Ca­pers reached a point where un­drafted rook­ies were the only healthy bodies at one of the game’s most im­por­tant po­si­tions. The chances of Mak­in­ton Dor­leant, Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pip­kins and Donatello Brown guid­ing the Pack­ers to glory was slim, so Ca­pers turned his backup safeties into slot cor­ner­backs in­stead.

At some point, Thomp­son should have re­in­forced his ros­ter with vet­er­ans to give Ca­pers a le­git­i­mate chance.

If Ca­pers de­cides to call it a ca­reer, he will leave the sport with a tremen­dous ré­sumé. He en­tered coach­ing as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant with Kent State in 1972 and has been on the side­line ever since, sit­ting out just a sin­gle year in the last five decades. He broke into the Na­tional Foot­ball League as the de­fen­sive backs coach for the New Or­leans Saints in 1986 and has been here ever since.

Ca­pers

MARK HOFF­MAN / JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Dom Ca­pers’ de­fense did not pro­duce enough take­aways this sea­son to make up for its weak­nesses.

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