18

January

Analyzing Dom Capers. A Track Record of Success and Regression

Dom Capers

Dom Capers has a lot of cleaning up to do in 2012.

One of the issues discussed on Twitter immediately after the Packers took a dump against the Giants was the track record of defenses coached by Dom Capers. The Twitter chatter focused on the fact that Capers’ defenses generally decline in years two and/or three.

Actually this topic came up before Sunday but now that us Packers bloggers have some extra time on our hands, we can actually look up the numbers and discuss the issue using more than the 140 characters allowed on Twitter.

In the chart below, the numbers represent where the team finished in respect to the rest of the 31 teams.

Let’s take a look:

 

Defense Rushing Def Passing Def
Year Tm Yds Pts TkA Att Yds TD Y/A FR Att Yds TD Int nY/A
1992 PIT 13 2 1 12 17 4 23 1 14 8 6 7 10
1993 PIT 3 8 3 4 3 1 2 11 17 15 7 2 11
1994 PIT 2 2 13 7 7 1 4 7 12 3 1 13 2
1995 CAR 7 8 5 18 10 26 4 8 23 14 4 6 6
1996 CAR 10 2 5 2 8 4 26 4 22 12 6 7 5
1997 CAR 15 13 26 25 22 12 17 21 5 9 8 27 14
1998 CAR 30 27 7 24 26 23 25 7 12 28 30 10 29
1999 JAX 4 1 17 3 7 2 14 18 10 3 6 12 4
2000 JAX 12 16 14 17 11 20 8 3 1 14 17 25 23
2002 HOU 16 20 30 32 28 11 14 17 6 10 18 26 11
2003 HOU 31 27 25 30 31 23 22 27 11 31 21 20 32
2004 HOU 23 15 13 7 13 1 23 28 24 24 30 5 24
2005 HOU 31 32 32 28 32 29 30 27 4 24 26 31 31
2006 MIA 4 5 18 20 8 2 5 2 7 5 20 31 8
2007 MIA 23 30 28 32 32 30 30 27 1 4 28 23 31
2009 GNB 2 7 1 3 1 1 2 17 20 5 28 1 6
2010 GNB 5 2 6 6 18 3 28 24 13 5 4 2 3
2011 GNB 32 19 1 5 14 6 26 26 32 32 27 1 30
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2012.
The facts:
  • Before Capers arrived, the Steelers’ defense finished 22nd in both yards and points allowed in 1991.
  • Capers’ defenses improved every year he was in Pittsburgh. The Steelers finished third in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed in 1995, the season after Capers left. They lost to the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.
  • The Panthers were an expansion team in 1995, Capers first year as head coach, so there’s no previous season to measure against. Guiding an expansion team to the NFL’s seventh-best defense is very impressive, however.
  • Unfortunately, it was all downhill after year one. Carolina’s defense got worse every season and bottomed out as the worst defense in the NFL in Capers last season as coach.
  • Carolina “improved” to 26th in both points and yards allowed in its first season post-Capers. I’m not sure how much of an improvements that is, however, since there was nowhere to go but up.
  • Capers took over as defensive coordinator in Jacksonville in 1999 and immediately improved the defense. The Jags went from 25th in yards allowed in 1998 to fourth under Capers. They went from 17th in points allowed to first.
  • In 2000, Jacksonville’s defense fell to 12th in yards and 16th in points. The Jags finished 17th and 10th, respectively, without Capers in 2001.
  • Capers defenses as head coach in Houston were never that good. By the time Capers was finished, the Texans were near or at the bottom of the league in both yards and points allowed.
  • Houston’s defense “improved” in 2006 without Capers, but not that much. It was another one of those “nowhere to go but up” situations like in Carolina.
  • Capers and his hair then went back to Florida, this time as defensive coordinator for the Dolphins. The year before Capers, the 2005 Dolphins finished 18th in yards allowed and 15th in points.
  • Capers took over in 2006 and immediately improved the defense to fourth and fifth, respectively, before drastically regressing again in the second year.
  • Without Capers in 2008, the Dolphins defense improved to 17th in yards allowed and ninth in points.
  • The Packers hired Capers in 2009 and saw immediate results. Green Bay went from near the bottom in yards and points allowed to second in yards and seventh in points in Capers’ first year.
  • There was no sign of regression in 2010. Capers schemed past numerous injuries and the Packers D finished fifth in yards, second in points allowed and won the Super Bowl.
  • Regression hit in 2011. Big time. Despite being healthier than the previous season, Capers’ defense was historically bad.
  • Final note on Capers’ time with the Packers: His defenses have been horrible to just good enough in the season’s final game. Horrible in playoff losses to Arizona and the Giants and just good enough to win the Super Bowl against the Steelers.
General thoughts, observations and questions:
  • Perhaps Capers is like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction. He’s great at coming in and cleaning up messy situations, but maybe he’s not the best solution long-term.
  • On the other hand, it’s unfair to stare at all these numbers and judge Capers solely on statistics and league ranking. We’re not factoring in personnel moves, injuries, strength of schedule and other factors that played a role in Capers’ various terms as a defensive coordinator and head coach.
  • I’ve heard some people say that Capers’ defenses are outdated and other coaches are easily able to scheme against them once they figure it out. Well, OK. Then why does it seem to always take a year or two for other coaches to catch on to Dom’s defenses? If they were that simplistic, shouldn’t it take less than a year for other coaches to catch on?
  • And why does Capers continue to have success with different teams? If he was that easy to figure out, wouldn’t he have been a one-trick pony with Pittsburgh?
  • In the Packers’ case, perhaps it’s more of a player development issue. Under Mike McCarthy, offensive players like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Josh Sitton have steadily improved. Defenders like Tramon Williams, B.J. Raji and Sam Shields regressed in 2011.
  • Several times this season, we’ve heard McCarthy attribute the struggles on defense to “fundamental errors.” Isn’t it up to Capers to coach up his defenders so they’re fundamentally sound? Or does that fall more on the head coach?

The bottom line:

If Capers was able to coach the injury-plagued 2010 Packers to a Super Bowl title, he’s capable of turning things back around after this disastrous season. Capers has made a career out of cleaning up messes. Unless Ted Thompson’s fires him or another team hires him away, we’ll see just how good Capers is at cleaning up a mess he helped create.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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17 Responses to “Analyzing Dom Capers. A Track Record of Success and Regression”

  1. simzap says:

    My take is that Capers was so successful in Pittsburg he got a head coaching job. Pittsburg has maintained it’s success with his system but they have superior personnel people in management. When Capers went to Carolina and then Houston he tried to short cut success by getting veterans at the expense of developing young players through the draft over a longer period. When those vets got too old he hung onto them and their talent declined in addition to getting worse draftpicks by having better records in the short run. I knew that couldn’t happen in Green Bay because Capers doesn’t control personnel decisions like he did when he was head coach and TT wants to develope through the draft. The problem is TT didn’t bring in any help for the D this year to replace key losses. But that can be corrected this off season.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • Adam Czech says:

      Sounds like a formula that leads to the demise of many head coaches. Explains why Capers has always been a better coordinator than head coach.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Ruppert says:

    I’m not a huge Capers fan, honestly. But I can’t really knock the guy for 2011.

    IMO, the biggest killer for this defense was the loss of Cullen Jenkins coupled with the lack of a replacement. I read somewhere that CM3 had 67 QB pressures this year, while our entire D line only had 48 (or numbers close to this).

    On top of that, the ROLB revolving door brought nothing to the table. Hawk never could rush the passer. We had 2 guys with even a small amount of pass rushing skill this year: Matthews and Desmond Bishop. And Bishop missed some games.

    I can’t blame Capers for not successfully developing a DE, an ROLB, and Charlie Peprah. Tell me what other D coordinator could get a pass rush out of this crew.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. JimR_in_DC says:

    But why does Capers inevitably regress and the teams part ways with him? Loss of enthusiasm / complacency?

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  4. JimR_in_DC says:

    I meant Capers’ defenses.

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    • Adam Czech says:

      He left the Steelers and Jaguars DC jobs to become a HC somewhere else so it’s not like he was run out of town. I’m not sure what the circumstances were surrounding his departure in Miami.

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  5. Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

    I look at a team like Pittsburgh and am in awe of what Dick LaBeau has done with them. I don’t believe they’ve ever had less than a top 10 defense since 2004. Of course, they’ve got a lot of talent on that defense, especially up front. James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and then of course Troy Polamalu in the secondary.

    While I think it’s definitely interesting to note the downward trends in Caper’s career, it’s hard to truly get a pulse on his abilities without also considering the personnel he had to work with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Adam Czech says:

      That sort of gets back to my point on quantifying things. Yes, the Steelers have a lot of talent. But shouldn’t LeBeau get some credit for developing that talent?

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      • JimR_in_DC says:

        Yes, absolutely.

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      • Oppy says:

        Adam,

        I’m not sure how much the DC gets “hands on” with the personnel as far as development and drilling goes.

        I’m assuming the DC is exactly that- a coordinator. He’s creating the scheme, designing the plays that support that scheme. He’s analyzing opposition offense and crafting a weekly game plan.

        I’m assuming he gathers up his assistant coaches- the position coaches- and informs them what the scheme requires, the techniques he expects the players at each position to employ, and sets the expectations for performance, energy, and attitude.

        I would think that while yes, It’s up to the DC to make sure his position coaches are all on the same page and getting results, realistically it’s those position coaches who have the responsibility of getting hands-on with the players and teaching/developing/molding the talent into successful pro football players.

        Side note: Never made the connection that Dom’s initials are also his job title before..

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  6. Capers is terrible. Playing a soft zone because of a lack of pass rush. I rather see press coverage and get burnt than bleed to death with a thousand cuts! Third and One and they play a soft zone with the DB off 10 yards. Are you F****** kidding me?

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    • Adam Czech says:

      It boggled my mind. I’m all for bend but don’t break if you realize your defense isn’t that good. But there’s a big difference between bend but don’t break and running away and hiding.

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      • WIM says:

        that was why mccarthy onside kicked; he figured they will score taking 7 minutes off the clock if i kick away and score in 3 minutes if we do not recover the onside kick. i could simply not understand the softness of our zones. part of it is a linebacker problem, but hell since they are going to score and chew clock, play bump and run and take your chances.

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  7. MCS says:

    Adam,

    I hope you don’t mind, but I sent your article to Football Outsiders and asked them to consider your idea from a DVOA perspective. That should help factor in strength of schedule, etc.

    This is a great idea and I am curious how the numbers stack up when you compare them based on opponent.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Chad Lundberg says:

    “The bottom line:

    If Capers was able to coach the injury-plagued 2010 Packers to a Super Bowl title, he’s capable of turning things back around after this disastrous season.”

    Sorry Adam, not buying it.

    How many times do people need reminding that there were no offseason workouts. Some coaches need the offseason, some don’t. Maybe Wade Phillips and Jim Harbaugh are two coaches that care little for the offseason because they know they don’t need it, and maybe Dom Capers is the opposite.

    And even in Harbaugh’s case, he had Mike Singletary before him forcing discipline on his players.

    Also, you don’t just “replace” one of the best safeties in the league in Nick Collins. It’s not like absolutely any player can just go out there play like Collins did just because Dom Capers is your coach.

    Now hear me out, I am not making excuses for Capers, in fact he deserves a lot of the blame. But 70% of the blame goes to the injuries and the lock-out. If I “heard” you correctly, it sounded as if you felt it was 70% his fault.

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    • Adam Czech says:

      Not sure where you’re getting the 70 percent number. And Singletary was 18-22 as a coach in a bad division. I’m not sure how that equates to discipline.

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