McCarthy Right to Keep Capers as Packers Defensive Coordinator
After a humiliating defensive performance in their playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, many Packers fans wanted to see defensive coordinator Dom Capers lose his job, but Mike McCarthy is right for not making a move.
The performance was incredible as the 49ers racked up 45 points on 579 total yards, including 323 on the ground as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, most of which came before he was touched. Many cried for Capers to make in-game adjustments, but more times than not, the Green Bay defenders were in position to make a play, but weren't able to execute.
On their second touchdown drive, they faced a third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Kaepernick threw a pass well short of the end zone, but neither Charles Woodson nor Brad Jones were able to get there in time, allowing Michael Crabtree to go into the end zone untouched.
On their next drive, with the game tied at 14, Kaepernick ran up the middle right by both B.J. Raji and Erik Walden to pick up the first down. Another key mistake came when they faced a third-and-10 with 1:45 left in the first half, Capers had 255-pound Clay Matthews stunt up the middle, but he was blocked out of his rush lane by 195-pound LaMichael James. Kaepernick used that hole for a 19-yard run. That drive ended with a field goal just before halftime, putting San Francisco ahead 24-21.
The most notable play of the game was when Kaepernick's 56-yard touchdown run came in, which linebacker Erik Walden crashed instead of containing, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams were destroyed by blocks and the last line of defense—safety Morgan Burnett—was nowhere to be found.
Then there are, of course, the plays the Packers had defended perfectly—such as Kaepernick's second touchdown pass to Crabtree—but there was nothing they could do about it. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opponent and realize the opponent gets paid to do a job too.
All of San Francisco's offensive success was set up by the fact that they dominated at the line of scrimmage. When teams are pushed around like that at the point of attack, no scheme or coverage matters. The only chance the Packers had was if they stopped the 49ers running game, but Frank Gore finished with 123 yards and over five yards per carry.
Out of the 15 players who played 25 or more snaps, 13 of them graded out negatively on Pro Football Focus. Say what you will about coaching, but the players need to show up.
Woodson was critical of his coach, saying they didn't adjust, but Capers stuck up for himself in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, pointing out several adjustments he did make, but the players didn't execute. Woodson shouldn't be throwing stones; he was responsible for quite a few of the 49ers' big plays, including the play that got them started.
Some fans and analysts begged for them to switch to a zone defense, but since they haven't played zone much at all this season, the biggest game doesn't seem like an ideal time to try that. It may have helped, but it may have been a disaster. There's little or no evidence to suggest they would have played it correctly, especially since they weren't doing so in the original game plan.
Another critique was that he should have blitzed defensive backs more, but Kaepernick had a rating of 102.4 against the blitz, compared to 83.1 when he wasn't blitzed according to Pro Football Focus. They also weren't able to play extra defensive backs on as many snaps because they weren't able to stop the run. Slot corner Casey Hayward was on the field for only 40 percent of their plays, his fewest since Week 12 when they were blown out by the New York Giants.
It's easy to blame coaches and firing them always seems to be the easy fix, but it would be unjust in this case. Some fans have even suggested a complete overhaul with a switch to a 4-3 defense without realizing that would lead to a massive change in personnel, including the likely departure of Matthews.
Fans seem to have forgotten how good Capers and his defense were this season. They ranked 11th in yards and scoring, while registering 47 quarterback sacks and finishing with the fourth worst opponents passer rating. All of this came with numerous injuries, including Sam Shields missing six games, Matthews missing four games and B.J. Raji missing two games.
As much as people want to blame the defense for this playoff exit, it's also worth noting the offense and special teams didn't help them out much with two of the touchdowns coming on drives that started in their own territory, thanks to turnovers. Prior to their garbage time touchdown, the Green Bay offense had scored just one more touchdown than their defense. It's that side of the ball that has most of the big-name players and they're the ones who are expected to win the biggest games.
Many blame their defense for their playoff exits the last three years, but it was quarterback Aaron Rodgers who over-threw to a wide-open receiver then fumbled in their Wild Card loss to Arizona three years ago. Rodgers also played poorly in their second-round loss to the Giants last year. If Capers is going to be held to a different standard for playoff appearances, when does Rodgers get the same treatment? He gets a free pass because of their Super Bowl win, but that never would've happened without the exceptional play of their defense, which scored a touchdown in each of their last three games.
It wouldn't have mattered who the Packers defensive coordinator was, they did not have the manpower to compete with the 49ers. San Francisco was a lot stronger up front and their quarterback had a great game, running and passing.
Had McCarthy listened to the angry mob, his team would've been left with more questions. It's easy to say a coach should be fired, but there doesn't appear to be a more capable replacement out there.
The Packers have a lot of young players on defense and a lot of players who just had bad games against the 49ers. Their best bet is to stay the course; they'll improve with experience and should be in contention again next season. A change of coordinators would lead the Packers to the unknown and there is no evidence to suggest it would be an improvement.
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