Capers vs. Martz: Coaching Subplot

If history is any indicator, the Bears' offense could be in for a long day vs. the Packers' defense in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Matt Tevsh takes a look at the matchup between two veteran coordinators and the telling numbers on Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler.

Even with 42 years of combined NFL experience to their credit, Dom Capers and Mike Martz have matched wits just four times as coordinators or head coaches in their careers. Their fifth meeting, Sunday, will have the most at stake.

Capers, in his second season as the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator, and Martz, in his first season as offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, will square off in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in what figures to be an intriguing chess match between two of the most prolific coordinators of their eras.

"We study ourselves," said Capers of trying to anticipate Martz's plan. "We know what we've done the last four, five, six games. They certainly know what we've done. You always anticipate what tape they're looking at. And then there's certain elements of your scheme that you're just going to do. That's just you. And I think all good teams develop certain tendencies in certain areas because they're probably pretty good at what they do. 

"But then it's whatever little adjustments that you make off of that. Mike has certainly been doing this for a lot of years, and he has a lot of little intricacies that are true to his system, I think, that you never know when that's going to come out, and he knows when he wants to use them and he knows when I think they'll be the most effective against you. Yes, I think it's, first of all, utilization of the personnel and then fitting that into your system and when you want to come out with those things that are always kind of the frills of your system."

For the record, Capers and Martz have split the four meetings against each other when they have held leadership roles. Martz beat Capers when both were head coaches in 2005 (Martz with the Rams and Capers with the Texans) and Capers beat Martz as an assistant head coach/defensive coordinator with the Dolphins in 2006 (when Martz was offensive coordinator with the Lions). This season, they split as coordinators (with the Bears winning 20-17 in Chicago and the Packers 10-3 in Green Bay).

But when the numbers of those games are broken down, a much clearer story comes into focus. And what it says could mean big trouble for the Bears on Sunday.

Capers' defenses always have been able to bring the heat against Martz's offenses. No more was that evident than this season, when the Packers racked up nine sacks in two regular-season games against the Bears.

In the two previous meetings of the gurus, it was even worse. A 2-14 Texans squad led by Capers in 2005 had eight sacks in a game against Martz and an average Dolphins squad in 2006 had seven sacks.

Those numbers should have Clay Matthews licking his chops.

"Fifty-two's going to make his plays," said Martz of dealing with Capers' pressures. "Clay's a great player. But we're going to try to limit his impact as much as possible and stop the bleeding as much as you can. They do a great job. Dom's a great coach. He does a great job of scheming those things. As we get better with what we do and the group on the offensive line has continued to improve, we've been able to deal with that much better, as well.

"You just don't want to turn the ball over and you want to do a great job running the football."

Mike Martz
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
If the Bears found some success offensively against the Packers in two meetings this season, it was on the ground. On 38 carries, they ran for 187 yards — a 4.9-yards-per-carry average. Matt Forte had two big runs the last time out.

"They had back-to-back, a 25-yard and a 21-yard run," said Capers. "He (Forte) has those capabilities of doing that, and I think Chester Taylor does, too. Like I say, I think their line is doing a better job. I think all three of those inside players in their line are very good pullers, so they do a good job scheme-wise of getting those guys out on the perimeter, and when you've got a runner like Forte you're always concerned about being able to stop the run. Fortunately, we were able to get it back under control after those two runs. I think they had a 12-yard run a little bit later on against us. Those were both in the first half. And second half they had a 12-yard run. But we tightened down and played the run better from that point on."

While Capers' pressures beat up on some weak teams years ago in matchups against Martz, the last two seasons were different while going up against a much better team in the Bears. And though Martz was not around in 2009, the Packers have continued their attack on quarterback Jay Cutler into 2010.

In four games against the Packers since coming to the Bears, Cutler is 1-3 with a quarterback rating of just 57.5 and a completion percentage of 55.8.

More importantly, the Packers have kept Cutler off-balance and skittish in the pocket. They have used a variety of blitzes against him — from unveiling the "Psycho" package last season in Chicago to using linebacker Erik Walden as a spy and delayed rusher in the most recent meeting. Such confusion has resulted in nine interceptions against just four touchdowns for Cutler.

The argument for Cutler, of course, coming into this week is that he has played better over the second half of the season. It all culminated last Sunday in a divisional playoff win over the Seahawks, when he posted 274 passing yards, four touchdowns (two rushing) and no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 111.3.

Helping his cause is that Martz is starting to better understand him and how to use his offensive personnel.

"It's a lot more fun and it's a lot easier to call plays when you can mix it like we've been doing," said Martz.

Responded Capers, "I think playing against Mike for a number of years, we all have certain qualities about the way we call the game and systems and that type of thing, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect. Obviously, the success he's had speaks for itself. You know, I would say that they've been a certainly more balanced team the second half of the season than they were the first half of the season, and I think what he's been doing is playing to the strengths of their personnel. When you have a running back like Forte, Chester Taylor, I think their offensive line has made tremendous strides during the course of the season. You know, they made an adjustment, moved (Chris) Williams inside, and they've been very productive in terms of … they force you to defend both the run and the pass, and I think that's probably helped Jay Cutler."

One area that Martz does have the advantage on Capers is knowing what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. Martz has been to two Super Bowls — winning one as a coordinator in 1999 with the Rams — while Capers has yet to reach pro football's ultimate game. Three times in his 25-year NFL career — once with the Steelers, once with the Panthers, and once with the Jaguars — Capers reached the conference championship game, only to lose.

If he can win the chess match with Martz this Sunday, that will likely change.

"Obviously, he's an important factor," Matthews said of Capers. "The fact that he can put us in the right position with all the expertise he has in aligning us and bringing the right amount of pressure at times and sitting back into coverage the other times. That's really going to help us out. It's a great working relationship with the players. What he's preaching, we're buying into it."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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