7

March

Dom Capers Green Bay Packers 2013 Evaluation and Report Card

dom capers

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers

1) Introduction:  Ever since the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011, Capers’ defenses have been banged up, overmatched, pushed around and just plain lousy. The backlash against Capers has gotten so loud in Green Bay, there is actually a small backlash to the backlash going on. You know the backlash is bad when people start backlashing against the Capers backlash.

2) Profile:

Dom Capers

  • Age: 63
  • Born: 8/7/1950, in Cambridge, OH
  • NFL Coaching Experience: 28 years

Biography and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  Build a more physical defense. It worked the first part of the season. Then injuries started wiping out key players and most of the middle of the defense completely disappeared.

The Packers in 2013 weren’t a complete mess on defense like they were in 2011. At times they were even better than they were in 2012. But at no point in the season did you ever feel like this defense was good enough to step up and carry the team for an extended stretch, if needed. They just weren’t good enough.

4) Season Highlights/Lowlights:  With Aaron Rodgers out and the Packers needing late defensive stops to have a shot at stealing games against Chicago and Philadelphia in weeks 9 and 10, Capers’ defense went in the tank. The Bears held the ball for almost 9 minutes to seal the game and the Eagles for 9 minutes, 32 seconds to wrap up the victory. The defense also looked absolutely helpless in a blowout loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Highlights included holding the Lions (without Calvin Johnson) to nine points in week 5 and coming up with a gritty performance the following week against Baltimore to help the Packers win despite several key injuries.

5) Contribution to the overall team success:  I don’t know…do we give Capers credit for Sam Shields’ interception against the Cowboys? Do we pat Capers on the back for not allowing the Bears to score after the Rodgers-Randall Cobb miracle in Chicago?

This is where it gets tricky with Capers and why the people backlashing against the Capers backlash have a point: We get all ticked off at Capers when the Packers defense gets run over, then give credit to individual players instead of Capers when the Packers defense does something positive.

3

March

The Green Bay Packers Are At A Fork In The Road

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson

What Ted Thompson is currently looking at–metaphorically speaking.

Imagine this scenario: you’re traveling with your family on a vacation.  You mapped out the route you would take and foresaw smooth travels ahead.  What actually happens, however, is road filled with bumps and potholes and you suffer some damage and keep getting detoured from your ultimate destination.

For Ted Thompson, with perhaps his legacy as general manager for the Green Bay Packers in the balance, such a moment is at hand.

Ever since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, Thompson’s ultimate destination has been a return trip to the title game.  Many, including Thompson himself, thought the Packers were in prime position for multiple Super Bowl runs and some even uttered the word “dynasty” when looking at Green Bay’s long term prognosis.

Instead, Thompson’s team has suffered through multiple injury plagued seasons while the defense continues to suffer blowout after blowout like a cheaply made tire on an RV.  The offense is the engine that keeps the vehicle moving at a decent speed but what good does that do with consistently flat tires on defense?

Heading into the 2014 offseason, Thompson has to put solid rubber underneath the Packer vehicle in order to take some pressure off the offense and keep that engine from overheating. The defense must get better (and fast) if the Packers want any chance of returning to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers was dead on when he said one window has closed for the Packers and another has opened.  The franchise quarterback is 30 and will turn 31 late in the upcoming season. The clock is ticking.

Thompson has relied heavily on drafting talent and developing it along to replace aging stars.  This method has worked well in spots, the wide receiver position is a case in point.

It has been an utter disaster on defense. The Packers have yet to find a suitable replacement for Nick Collins and also haven’t fully replaced Cullen Jenkins either. After both these players left the team via injury and free agency, the performance of the Green Bay defense has gone into a tailspin.

That is why this off season is crucial for the Packers. The Packers managed to stay afloat without Rodgers for half of 2013 but they’d have been in even better shape had the defense even resembled competence. Thompson has not been the best in terms of drafting defensive talent and that was on display for all to see in 2013.

14

February

Big-name free agent targets for the “big-spending” Packers

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Feb. 12 that the Packers, armed with $30 million in cap space, are prepared to spend on outside free agents this offseason to remake the defense in Dom Capers’ image.

Capers has been in Green Bay for five seasons, so the wording is a bit confusing. Surely, the Packers haven’t given Capers a team of bobsledders and asked him to mold them into an attacking 3-4 defense. But regardless, Rapoport’s report ignited a spark of hope among Packers fans that the team would make a rare dip into free agency.

With all due respect to Matthew Mulligan and Duke Preston, the Packers haven’t made any “splash” moves in free agency since 2006 — when they signed both cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

The Packers’ offseason spending spree got off to a roaring start with Thursday’s addition of fourth-year undrafted free agent tight end Raymond Webber. That was sarcasm. But it’s rather comical that a portion of the fan base almost seems upset that Webber’s name isn’t Jimmy Graham.

Of course, the Packers’ $30 million in cap space won’t be $30 million for long, as they’ll be forced to spend about $5 million on this year’s rookie class. And with Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and others (perhaps Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb) likely to receive contract extensions, that number will continue to shrink.

But should the Packers let B.J. Raji walk — which seems more likely than not, given Raji’s production, or lack thereof, the past two seasons and his reported rejection of a contract extension that would have paid him $8 million per year — then they’ll have some financial flexibility to perhaps spend on veterans. Take into account Jermichael Finley’s cloudy future coming off major neck surgery, and the Packers could, really, become players in free agency.

As far as positions of need, the Packers could use help at every level of the defense. The opposite can be said about the offense, with the exception of tight end, at which they could still bring back Finley or opt for a cheaper option in Andrew Quarless.

Here are a few bigger-name free agents the Packers could — probably won’t — but could target once free agency hits.

20

January

Ted Thompson Could Learn Some Things From John Elway

John Elway showed the Packers how it was done in Super Bowl XXXII. 16 years later, he might be showing them again.

Approximately 16 years ago, John Elway broke the hearts of the Green Bay Packers and their fans when his Denver Broncos upset them in a 31-24 victory in Super Bowl XXXII.

That loss has gone down as one of the bitterest defeats in the history of the Packers and the failure to win that game hastened the departure of head coach Mike Holmgren from Green Bay. Holmgren coached only one more season before leaving to become both the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

Elway meanwhile won his second straight ring the following year before retiring from pro football.  In 2011, not soon after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the Hall of Fame quarterback was hired by Denver to run their football operations.  It was a move that was criticized by many as Elway didn’t have much front office experience, aside from owning Colorado’s arena football team.

Much like in his playing days, Elway silenced his critics.  In his first year at the helm, he picked up the pieces from the disastrous tenure of Josh McDaniels as head coach and the Broncos won the AFC West title with Tim Tebow (TIM TEBOW!) at quarterback.  Denver even upset the then-defending AFC champion Steelers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Patriots.

Elway then of course signed Peyton Manning the following offseason and the rest is history.  With the Broncos on their way to Super Bowl XLVIII, many teams around the NFL will be looking at how Elway built his roster. Despite a recent run of success, the Green Bay Packers should be one of those teams.

While a full roster rebuild is not necessary in Green Bay, Packers general manager Ted Thompson would be wise to look at exactly how Elway has built the Broncos and how that could serve as a blueprint to get the Packers back in contention for a Super Bowl.

The common excuse for Elway’s detractors is “Oh, he has Peyton Manning.”  That’s true, but remember this team won the AFC West in 2011 with a quarterback whose throwing style resembles loose Jell-O. There is plenty of talent on the team even if you don’t count Manning.

19

January

Packers, Capers really missed Casey Hayward in 2013

Casey Hayward wasn't the Packers' only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Casey Hayward wasn’t the Packers’ only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

As a rookie in 2012, Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was one of three finalists for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best cornerback–the second-round pick trailed only established veterans Antoine Winfield, Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman.

After Hayward intercepted a team-best six passes and holding opposing passers to an abysmal 31.1 passer rating, the Packers had high hopes for Hayward, as they cut ties with their veteran leader and turnover-creator Charles Woodson following the 2012 season.

But Hayward’s encore was disrupted by a recurring hamstring issue, limiting him to appearing in just three games. He played 88 snaps.

With Woodson playing in Oakland and Hayward on the sideline, the Packers were left searching for a solution in the slot early last season. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams had fine seasons, but both are better suited for the perimeter. Micah Hyde didn’t play like a rookie, as he took over as the primary punt returner while proving to be a reliable run defender and a versatile cover man.

All things considered, the Packers’ cornerbacks fared well, but they were seriously lacking in one area.

For as long as Dom Capers has served as defensive coordinator in Green Bay, the Packers defense has relied heavily on takeaways. Woodson intercepted 19 passes and forced 11 fumbles during Capers’ tenure, which began in 2009. When Capers served as defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992-1994, he had another Woodson (Rod), who intercepted 16 passes in three seasons with Capers.

But for the first time since taking over in Green Bay, Capers was without his X-Factor in 2013. He didn’t have a play-maker. He certainly didn’t have a Woodson.

For a defense that had grown accustomed to bending but not breaking, losing its turnover-creating wild card would be like throwing Capers in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean without a raft. Hayward’s 88 snaps were a makeshift life vest, but Capers and the defense remained stranded and searching for answers.

It would be foolish to assume Hayward’s career will unfold like Woodson’s, but you don’t let go of your high-school sweetheart without a winner on deck. The Packers had a plan for Life After Woodson, but that plan (Hayward) fell by the wayside thanks to the injury bug.

2

December

Has Packer Nation Gone Off the Deep End?

Calm down, Packers fans. Things are going to be OK.

Calm down, Packers fans. Things are going to be OK.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT! LOUD NOISES!”

OK, I do know what everyone is yelling about and it’s understandable….to a degree.

The 2013 season has completely come off the rails for the Green Bay Packers who are 0-4-1 since quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down against the Chicago Bears with a fractured collarbone.  Green Bay since then has gone through three starting quarterbacks (Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn) that have all struggled badly at some point.  The Packers defense, meanwhile, has suffered a complete meltdown.

Unfortunately, though not necessarily surprising, so has a decent chunk of the team’s uber-passionate and ever loyal fan base.

Everyone knew it would be a struggle for the Packers to win without Rodgers.  What so many didn’t expect, however, was that the team would basically not even be in any of the games since the 2011 NFL MVP went down.  The defense in particular would have to step up and they didn’t.  That’s not necessarily a surprise, either.

Many Packers fans, however, are suddenly in a white hot rage and ready to storm Lambeau Field with pitchforks and torches.  Packers Nation consists of some of the most knowledgeable fans in the NFL yet the team’s longest losing streak in years suddenly has them thinking the return to the dark ages (post-Lombardi to the arrival of Mike Holmgren, Ron Wolf and Brett Favre) are suddenly upon us.  They want to fire everybody, including the general manager that just three short years ago hoisted a Lombardi Trophy.

If this non-winning streak has taught me anything (it’s not a “losing streak” due to that tie against the Minnesota Vikings) it’s that Packer fans are the most spoiled fans in the NFL with the exception maybe of fans of the New England Patriots.

This is not to lecture fans about their passion for their team.  That passion has made Packer Nation one of the most revered in the NFL and has sold out Lambeau Field even when the team was much MUCH worse than it is right now.

What I am saying is that Packer Nation needs to get a grip.  There is no reason to fire Ted Thompson or Mike McCarthy.  There is a definite argument for firing Dom Capers, but even some of the defensive issues have been out of his control.

12

October

Which Joe Flacco will the Packers see in Baltimore?

Joe Flacco has been pretty average for most of his career, except for the 2012 playoffs.

Joe Flacco has been pretty average for most of his career, except for the 2012 playoffs.

Prior to the 2012 season, Joe Flacco rejected a contract worth about $14 million per year. At the time, that contract seemed generous for a quarterback who had won five playoff games yet had never thrown more than 25 touchdowns in a season through four years.

But Flacco thought otherwise, so played out the final year of his rookie contract.

After a 9-2 start last year, the Ravens lost four of their last five regular-season games and backed into the playoffs at 10-6.

Then, Flacco put together a four-game postseason stretch in which he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title, throwing for 11 touchdowns without an interception, while posting a passer rating of at least 106.2 in each game.

Following Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco cashed in with a six-year contract worth around $20 million annually. He may be only slightly more (or not) than an average NFL quarterback, but he took a gamble—and it paid off.

This week, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers may be forced to put all his chips on the table to generate a pass rush against Flacco and the Ravens, as Green Bay will be without Clay Matthews for about a month.

Last season, with Matthews and Nick Perry out of the lineup nursing injuries, the Packers were forced to go with Erik Walden and Dezman Moses as their outside linebackers. This year, they’ll start Perry and Mike Neal in Matthews’ absence.

Matthews is unquestionably Green Bay’s most valuable player on the defensive side of the ball, and thanks to a hamstring injury that kept safety Morgan Burnett out of the lineup for the first three games, the Packers have yet to play a full game with their top two defensive players.

But even if the secondary is taking form with Burnett back, Flacco figures to have plenty of time to throw the ball behind a strengthened offensive line and against a Matthews-less Packers defensive front. Baltimore traded for Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe a couple weeks ago, and he’s expected to make his first start this weekend on Flacco’s blindside.

Flacco is what he is. As far as NFL quarterbacks go, Flacco’s a pretty Average Joe.