Will Capers Be Made Scapegoat For Defense?

That's the big question going forward. Are the problems rooted in overrated talent? Or are the problems rooted in a coaching staff unable to find the answers? The players weighed in on those questions after Thursday's debacle and Packer Report weighs in now.

With a mini-bye week at his disposal and no immediate hurry to formulate a game plan for next Sunday's game against Atlanta, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has plenty of time to think.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. He'd never say it in a million years, but it would be incredibly interesting to know how much of his thoughts have been focused on 2014 – namely, the defense, the defensive scheme and defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

From those who don't spend 14-hour day after 14-hour day at Lambeau Field, Capers is The Scapegoat. It's understandable: This is three consecutive seasons of substandard defensive play. After a strong start to this season, the defense has gone downhill with the speed, ferocity and unstoppable momentum of an avalanche.

It seems like a lifetime ago when Capers coordinated the Packers to a Super Bowl championship. While Aaron Rodgers was getting to know Mickey Mouse, it was Capers that crafted the championship mouse trap. His unit ranked second in points allowed, fifth in yards, first in interception percentage and third in sack percentage. Game after game, if a play needed to be made, Capers' unit made it.

Capers didn't forget how to coach, did he?

Then again, five of the Packers' defensive starters (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews) were drafted in the first round with a sixth (Datone Jones) playing in a situational role, three other starters (Brad Jones, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett) were given lucrative contract extensions and one more starter (Sam Shields) is going to get his payday in the offseason. Injuries have been an issue, but less so on defense.

So, where is the disconnect between coaching and talent?

"It's hard to say right now," Matthews said after the 40-10 loss at Detroit. "Obviously, you're right, we do have talent. You can sit here and say it's the injuries but we're not going to pull that, especially on the defensive side. Ultimately, it comes down to will and want and having pride, playing with pride. Ultimately, that's what it boils down to is taking pride in your work. Obviously, we need to improve upon our tackling and where we need to fit. There comes a point where you have to take it upon yourself as a man and step up and make your presence known."

After the Packers' playoff meltdown at San Francisco last year, McCarthy made it perfectly clear that Capers was his guy to coordinate the defense. After Thursday's meltdown at Detroit, McCarthy again laid the problems at the feet of his players.

"No, we can talk about scheme," a frustrated McCarthy said about 15 minutes after the game. "I'll go back to our conversations with our football team. You try to learn from your experiences in the past. Scheme is not a crutch. When you're in run defense, you play with leverage. You've got to get off the damn block and tackle the ball-carrier. We're not doing that right now. We haven't done that in a month."

Packer Report asked several players, both on and off the record, about their faith in Capers. Their support was unwavering, though it's impossible to know what's being said in private.

"No one person takes the blame. Coaches coach and players play," Matthews said. "Ultimately, we're the ones out there and didn't do enough to get it done. We all had opportunities. On paper they all fit up. It's about making it work and we haven't been doing that. It's tough. I don't have a definite answer and that's what's most difficult."

Said Hawk when asked if the team supports Capers: "Of course, 100 percent. It's not his fault that we're letting them run down our throat. It's us. We're the players, we're on the field. You can't sit there and blame the coach for us. Yeah, we're behind him 100 percent – all of our coaches."

No one seems to have the answers, though, to explain how a defense that looked so strong back in October is playing about as poorly as any defense in the franchise's long history. Is it Capers or is it the talent? Has Capers become stale or predictable? Or is it because the inside linebackers are so athletically limited, the safeties so mediocre, Raji so void of impact plays and Davon House such a disappointment? And is the mediocre play because of overrated talent or is it poor scheming from Capers and/or poor teaching from the position coaches?

Of course, it's easier to fire the coaches than the players. McCarthy isn't going anywhere. Ultimately, this season disintegrated when Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone. They were winning with him and they started losing without him. It's a pretty simple formula. Still, the defense is lost and Capers is at a loss. Barring a dramatic turnaround, it's becoming increasingly clear who will be made The Official Scapegoat.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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