There would be no victory laps from Dom Capers.
The Green Bay Packers’ venerable defensive coordinator — he of the popular “#FireCapers” hashtag on Twitter — could have basked in the afterglow of Sunday’s defensive masterpiece for a moment. Capers’ defense was the driving force between the Packers’ 17-3 victory at San Francisco.
Standing at the podium in the Lambeau Field media auditorium about 24 hours later, he could have gloated for a moment. Instead of soaking up the adulation of shutting down a third consecutive stud running back or totally dismantling a nemesis, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he was thinking ahead to the next challenge.
“This team coming in is a talented team,” Capers said of the Rams, who are set to visit Green Bay on Sunday. “You saw what they did yesterday in terms of going to Arizona.”
And lamenting the two — two! — bad plays out of 50.
“The one thing we’ve got to do is, they did have a couple big plays on us,” Capers said.
That mind-set has served Capers’ well over the years, as he’s in the midst of his seventh season as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator and 30th season as an NFL coach. Never too high. Never too low. Just head down and right back to the grind.
With just one-fourth of the season in the books, Capers knows there’s work to be done. But facts are facts. After losing two cornerbacks in free agency and a young standout at inside linebacker in the opening game, Green Bay’s defense has risen — quickly — up the league rankings. In fact, other than the defense’s fourth-quarter boredom-induced nap against Kansas City, his unit is about the hottest thing going in the NFL.
Green Bay’s famous offense, led by its famous quarterback, ranks 10th in yards and sixth in scoring. And Green Bay’s defense, with that over-the-hill coordinator? Eighth in yards and tied for third in scoring.
“I’ve always felt with the number of young guys we have and guys playing different positions, that if our guys stay tuned in that we would get better,” Capers said. “You’ve heard me say that you always look at how the arrow is pointing and I felt the arrow would be pointing up at this group. Consistency is a big factor. We were more consistent yesterday because we’re able to play four quarters and play for 60 minutes.”
The arrow has been on the rise faster than anyone could have imagined. After allowing 141 rushing yards to Chicago’s Matt Forte in the opener, Green Bay was No. 31 in run defense. The past three weeks, the Packers stopped Marshawn Lynch (41 yards), Jamaal Charles (49 yards) and Carlos Hyde (20 yards) to a mere 111 yards. That’s two likely Hall of Famers and a young back who entered the game ranked third in rushing and first in yards after contact who were stopped in their tracks.
Here’s a winning formula: Stop the run on first down and rush the passer on third down. Green Bay is allowing just 2.86 yards per first-down rush. That means a lot of third-and-longs, with the Packers piling up 13 sacks the past two games.
“I feel like if you go out and stop the run early that it influences teams,” Capers said. “There’s a lot of teams that will get impatient with the run, so Hyde ended up with only eight rushes for 20 yards, which I thought was very big. What that enabled us to do was dictate a little bit more from a down-and-distance standpoint to where we could get after and pressure Kaepernick. Obviously, the six sacks we were pleased with, but I thought we had some constant disruption.”
Since 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl behind the second-ranked scoring defense, Green Bay’s defense too often has been an obstacle to victory rather than a reason for victory. No more. There were clinching turnovers against Chicago and Seattle, a dominant three quarters against Kansas City and a powerful four-quarter performance at San Francisco.
Can it continue? Can the Packers continue to squeeze the life out of opposing running games? Can the defense play just as well when it finally goes up against a top-tier quarterback?
Those answers will come down the road. For now, Capers will continue to work his magic. One after another, weaknesses have become strengths. On Sunday, it was a 60-minute performance.
That made Capers happy. But not satisfied. None of this will matter if the defensive arrow turns the wrong direction.
“We had a big emphasis all week about finish,” Capers said. “I think that was on our guys’ mind in the fourth quarter. They ended up with 196 yards and 3.9 yards per play. That’s kind of a blueprint. That’s what we have to do. That will be the challenge this week with the Rams coming in here.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.