Dom Capers’ defense is disintegrating around him.
And the Green Bay Packers’ season is disintegrating along with it.
His No. 1-ranked run defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown run on the Titans’ first snap on Sunday.
Outside linebacker was supposed to be the team’s deepest position. Instead, Clay Matthews has missed the last three games and Julius Peppers, rather than sacking quarterbacks, is being sacked by Father Time.
Capers has no cornerbacks.
No pass rush.
“We’ve been here before,” Capers said on Monday. With 31 years in the NFL as a defensive backs coach, defensive coordinator and head coach, maybe he’s right. But Sunday’s 47-25 outcome was a disaster from the get-go.
The Packers entered the game ranked No. 1 with 75.8 rushing yards allowed per game. On Tennessee’s first play, DeMarco Murray ran 75 yards for a touchdown. The tone was set — never mind that the Packers pretty much smothered the Titans’ running game the rest of the way.
“We had three or four things for that thing to break out of there,” Capers said.
As Murray was about to take the hand-off from quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Packers appear to have had the play smothered. The Titans double-teamed defensive tackle Mike Daniels with left guard Brian Schwenke and left tackle Taylor Lewan. That left Peppers and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix against only fullback Jalston Fowler. As Murray took the handoff from Mariota at the 20-yard line, Schwenke left Daniels and collided with center Ben Jones, who already had nose tackle Letroy Guion blocked.
Here’s where everything went wrong. Peppers went too far upfield and took himself out of the play. Strong-side linebacker Blake Martinez got suckered on end-around action and took himself out of the play. Lewan left Daniels to block Clinton-Dix, which left Daniels one-on-one with Murray. Lewan, however, used his size to overwhelm Clinton-Dix. That created too much space for Daniels to cover, and Murray was gone.
“We had a couple of missed fits on that play,” Peppers said. “That’s all it takes. It takes one or two people to miss fit their gaps and explosive plays happen like that.”
It snowballed from there:
— The Titans scored 21 points in the first quarter, 35 points in the first half and 47 for the game. The Packers, who hadn’t allowed three consecutive games of 30-plus points since 2006, have been gutted for 111 points the last three weeks. That’s the worst since Scooter McLean’s defense gave up 128 points in a three-game stretch in 1958.
— Green Bay entered the game ranked seventh with 325.8 yards allowed per game. The Titans had 351 by halftime.
— The Packers were ninth in third-down defense with a conversion rate allowed of 36.7 percent. The Titans converted their first five and finished 50 percent for the day.
“To me, any time you hit a tough stretch, you go back to the fundamentals of playing fundamental football and do a better job of communication,” Capers said. “Any time that you’re on the road and a team has success against you early, you have to handle the adversity. That’s the ebb and flow of the games. It’s always accentuated when you’re playing on the road. We had a hard time doing that. I think that first play impacted us for the next three or four series, where we had them in situations to get off the field but we didn’t get off the field. Then we added a couple critical penalties into those drives, which helped them out.”
How much of the blame falls on Capers is hard to quantify. Starting cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Sam Shields, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and inside linebacker Jake Ryan were sidelined by injuries vs. the Titans.
— With two of the three starting corners out and second-year starter Quinten Rollins struggling after a three-game absence, Mariota completed his first 10 passes and had five connections of 20-plus yards. The Titans had almost as many touchdown passes (five) as incomplete passes (seven).
— In four games without Matthews, they’ve allowed 34.5 points per game. In five games with Matthews, they’ve allowed 19.2 points per game.
“Clay’s a good football player,” Capers said. “We’ll be happy whenever he’s healthy enough to come back. You’d like to put as many good football players on the field as you could and we have a lot of good football players. Again, based on your opponent, you like to look at the matchups and Clay normally gives you a pretty good matchup.”
— How far has Peppers fallen off the radar? Without Matthews and with no pass rush, Peppers still only played 19 snaps (32 percent).
— From 2009 through 2015, only four teams had forced more turnovers than the Packers. This season, only eight teams have forced fewer than the Packers’ 10.
All of which adds up to this: Can a Packers defense that ranks 24th with 26.0 points allowed per game be fixed?
“Nobody’s panicking around here,” Capers said. “We just have to go back to work.”
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.