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Capers Had No Chance to Succeed

Like it or not, Dom Capers will return as the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator. Capers' defense had one of the worst seasons in Packers history but the longtime coordinator's hands were tied by limited personnel.

Dom Capers will be back as Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator.

The majority of the fans, based on our totally unscientific Twitter poll, are, shall we say, upset. About two-thirds clicked “ticked off” compared to 33 percent who were “happy” with coach Mike McCarthy’s decision.

Said one of the respondents, “Well no SB next year either. Like running in a car race with a lawn mower engine.”

The Packers’ defense this season was, in a word, awful.

The Packers ranked 21st in points allowed with 24.25 allowed per game. That 388-point total was the fifth-worst in franchise history. Capers’ 2013 defense yielded 428 points, the second-worst in franchise history. Before that, you’ve got to go back to the dog days of the 1950s and 1980s for such defensive ineptitude.

You name it, the Packers’ defense stunk by the franchise’s historical standards. The Packers allowed:

— 5,823 total yards, the fourth-most in team history.
— 5.87 yards per play, the sixth-most in team history.
— 329 first downs, the fifth-most in team history.
— 64.8 percent completion rate, easily the worst in team history.
— 95.9 passer rating, the second-worst in team history.
— 32 touchdown passes, the second-most in team history.
— 4,308 passing yards, the second-most in team history.
— 41.2 percent third-down conversion rate, the team’s second-worst since the NFL started keeping that data in 1991.
— 62.2 percent red-zone touchdown rate, the team’s worst since the NFL started keeping that data in 1998. 

If you’ve read my work for nine days or nine years, you know I’m a numbers guy. The numbers Capers’ defense amassed this season were awful. The numbers say Capers should be fired.

But the numbers clash with another of my long-held football philosophies. Players win games. With his Patriots back in the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick is being hailed as arguably the best coach in NFL history. He also got fired in Cleveland. Did he suddenly get smart when he landed in New England? Or did he get Tom Brady? 

That’s not to diminish Belichick’s incredible track record. He is the NFL equivalent of Einstein. But there are no Tom Bradys on Capers’ defense.

The formula to winning championships in the NFL is simple, in theory. Throw the football at a high level. Stop the other team from throwing the football at a high level. And, as the Broncos showed last year by winning the Super Bowl with over-the-hill Peyton Manning at quarterback, the second part of that equation might be more important than the first. After all, if the Packers were to have won this year’s Super Bowl, they would have had to beat two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, efficient rookie Dak Prescott, probable-MVP Matt Ryan and the living-legend Brady. Throw in a so-so Clay Matthews, a one-handed Nick Perry and an aging Julius Peppers, and pass rush was hit and miss — not exactly a great way to camouflage a bad secondary.

With that, it’s nothing short of an Aaron Rodgers-induced miracle that the Packers got as far as they did. Of the 204 teams teams that have reached the NFL’s equivalent of the Final Four, only one team had a higher opponent passer rating than Green Bay yielded.

Sam Shields’ season-ending concussion was a huge loss. But it could have been overcome had last year’s top picks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, been capable of filling the void. Whether they’re just not very good or whether they weren’t very good because they were hurt will be determined next year. For the sake of this conversation, however, that’s not important. The fact is they had terrible seasons.

You can’t blame Capers for that.

And McCarthy’s didn’t.

“This is no time for drama,” he said. “Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. That doesn’t change. He had a tough challenge in front of him this year.”

Again, talent wins football games. All the X’s and O’s don’t matter if your X’s aren’t good enough to compete with the other team’s O’s.

In 2014, when the Packers reached the NFC Championship at Seattle, Capers had Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Davon House as his four cornerbacks. Capers’ defense won that game by forcing five turnovers — only for an inept offense and bungling special teams to throw away a trip to the Super Bowl.
In 2016, Capers’ No. 1 corner was LaDarius Gunter. Enough said. He’s a decent young player but he wouldn’t have played for that 2014 team. Heck, he didn’t play for the 2015 team.

Among many fans, there’s a belief the Packers’ defense has generally been terrible under Capers. Here’s the facts: During Capers’ tenure, the Packers rank eighth in points allowed, fifth in opponent passer rating, first in interceptions and fourth in takeaways.

That too much ancient history? Fine. The more recent history isn’t nearly as good, but it’s not awful, either. The 2014 team ranked 13th in points allowed and eighth in takeaways and the 2015 team ranked 12th in points allowed and 19th in takeaways.

If you want to make an argument that McCarthy should have made a change for a fresh voice and fresh ideas, that’s fine. But don’t base your anger over this decision on the production of this year’s defense. Nobody could have coaxed a Super Bowl out of the talent on that side of the ball.

To cross those final hurdles and win a championship next season, it will be up to general manager Ted Thompson to do what he failed so miserably to do this year: Give Capers the tools to do his job.

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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