This is one of the toughest analyses of the Green Bay Packers to make.
For one thing, there are the usual difficulties in grading a coaching staff, such as how much credit or blame goes to the coaches vs. the players. In the case of the Packers defense, there were areas they absolutely shined and areas they absolutely bombed.
And then there are the injuries. Can a coach realistically be expected to get as much from a free agent signed mid-season off the street as he would have gotten from the experienced and proven player whose place he took?
Not really, but then what is a reasonable expectation for that player? You cannot simply excuse horrible play, either.
With excuses for any difference of opinion firmly intact, it is time to set out to make these assessments for the defensive assistants. Click on these links to see the analysis of the offensive assistants and the rest of the coaching staff.
Dom Capers: B
Capers' system generated the most interceptions, second-most turnovers, and second-fewest yards overall, with the least against the run and fifth-least against the pass. The Packers were also not weak in pass-rushing, tying for 11th in the league in sacks.
Despite what many have said, the Packers faced as many strong offenses (Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Minnesota twice) as weak ones (St. Louis, Seattle, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Detroit twice). As with all teams, they generally fared well against the weak ones (Tampa Bay the lone exception) and poorly against the strong ones (Dallas the lone exception).
So how does a coordinator, doing so well in so many aspects of his defense, in the first year in a system, and after inheriting a unit in the bottom quarter of the league, not get an A? The answer is relatively complex.
For one, the porous Packers defense he inherited had been ravaged with injury the year before; the season before that, they had been in the top half of the league. Of course, this unit lost five of its original projected 14 regular players for over three games, and a total of nearly 50 man-games was lost to the defense.
Due in part to these losses, the Packers struggled mightily when up against deep receiving corps with good quarterbacks. Every team has difficulty with these situations, but most do not give up 500 passing yards twice.
The Packers were also among the league's worst red zone defenses. While that also has something to do with injuries, it was an area that was falling short before the two final starters were knocked out in November.
Finally, while the pass rush overall was satisfactory, it was intermittent. At times, such as in both games against Minnesota, no one was getting near the quarterback.
Perhaps Capers was too conservative with blitzes and in trying to protect his depleted secondary, he put pressure on them, giving quarterbacks too much time to throw. Ultimately, his failure to come up with ways to disrupt the timing and reads of opposition passing games keeps him from getting an A.
Mike Trgovac: A
Trgovac did an exemplary job with a line that lost a Pro Bowl end and replaced him with a rookie (albeit highly-touted) end/tackle hybrid while moving from a four- to a three-man unit. By all accounts, he had little talent to work with: Not one of the players had (or have) made a Pro Bowl, and none but the rookie were high draft picks.
Overall, this line not only occupied blockers to helped this defense shut down some of the best running backs in the game, but provided occasional pressure, were best in the league at batting down passes, and even came up with turnovers. No more could be expected from Trgovac.
Joe Witt, Jr.: B
The secondary under his direction in 2009 was often viewed as the team's biggest weakness. However, considering what he had to work with, he did a solid job.
Dimeback Will Blackmon missed 13 games, Pro Bowl starting cornerback Al Harris only played eight full games, and Pat Lee never stepped onto the field. In their place, Witt had to coach up players who are not capable of playing the roles they were asked to fill: Josh Bell was signed off the street, Brandon Underwood was a rookie sixth-round pick, and Jarrett Bush has failed for years now, and all were forced into the nickel and dime packages.
Despite this, the cornerbacks produced a defense that only allowed 300 yards passing twice (albeit 500 both times!) and were instrumental in the pass defense finishing fifth in yards allowed and first in interceptions. Of course, having the Defensive Player of the Year helps, and Witt does not deserve credit for Charles Woodson's production.
Darren Perry: B
Perry's safeties only lost three-plus games to injury, but they performed at the top of the league. Green Bay was the only team to have two safeties ranked in the top ten, and one made the Pro Bowl.
They performed this well despite matching up against many of the good tight ends in the game. The unit struggled a bit when Atari Bigby was hurt, but were still adequate with a capable backup inserted, usually a sign of good coaching.
Winston Moss: C-
Moss is also the assistant head coach, but as it is hard to differentiate his performance from Mike McCarthy's in that role, he is being graded solely on the production of inside linebackers.
The Packers got above average production out of the position, but suffered no injuries and so got to rely on starters Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Both are talented linebackers taken in this first round, and should have produced better given that fact. The only thing saving Moss from a D is that production came from much-less heralded players in spot roles, such as Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop.
Kevin Greene: A-
Greene did very well for his rookie season as a coach with less-than-ideal working conditions. Yet his outside linebackers accounted for over half the team's sacks as well as over 100 tackles and 40 assists.
He started the year out with a converted defensive end a veteran who, while having years of starting experience, had been this defense's weak link for most of his career. He ended the season with better production out of two rookies, one who was drafted in the final round and the other who made the Pro Bowl. That is coaching.
Scott McCurley: C
McCurley's primary role was breaking down game film to help the other coaches make adjustments and form game plans. From all accounts, this team came up with great game plans, but did not always make good defensive adjustments.
No changes were successful when the team was being ripped apart by Minnesota, Pittsburgh, or Arizona in the playoffs. Nothing changed when they were being called for penalty after penalty against Baltimore. Those things cannot fall as much on McCurley as the coaches that develop the schemes, but nothing stood out one way or another about his performance.