What was wrong with the Green Bay Packers’ defense last season?
Certainly not defensive coordinator Dom Capers, in the eyes of coach Mike McCarthy.
The 66-year-old Capers is back for his ninth season on the job, even though his defense finished 21st in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed in 2016 — the sixth consecutive season Green Bay finished outside the top 10 in both categories and the second time in four years it finished in the 20s in points allowed.
Still, McCarthy stuck with the venerable coordinator, even though a change admittedly would have “give(n) everybody a breath of fresh air,” McCarthy said during a lengthy interview on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde and Tausch” show with Jason Wilde and Mark Tauscher.
Said McCarthy: “I think all of us in life have gone through experiences in our past that you may have quit on something just to get that fresh, new start, and it feels good but, in hindsight, it was not the best thing for you. I know I have personally. So, I’ve always held true to that in my decision-making process.”
Green Bay finished 31st in pass defense last season, a season-long issue that predictably led to disaster in a 44-21 loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns — including 294 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone.
Injuries, especially in the secondary, were an obvious part of that “decision-making process.” The issue runs deeper, though. A team’s highest-priced players must be among its best players. However, Green Bay’s highest-priced defenders were among its most disappointing performers.
— Outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ cap charge was $13.75 million, which ranked first in the NFL among all edge defenders, according to OverTheCap.com. According to the coaches’ stats, Matthews finished with 24 tackles and five sacks in 12 games. His previous worst season came in 2013, when he missed five games with a twice-broken right thumb but still recorded 50 tackles — twice as many as he had this season — and six sacks.
— Outside linebacker Julius Peppers’ cap charge was $10.5 million, which ranked sixth among edge rushers. At age 36, he had 7.5 sacks. But, according to STATS, he had career-low totals in tackles (23; previous low was 36) and stuffs (one; defined as a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run).
— Cornerback Sam Shields’ cap charge was $12 million, which ranked fifth at the position. He suffered a season-ending and potentially career-ending concussion in the opening game. Heading into last season, Shields’ 23 interceptions (including playoffs) since entering the league in 2010 trailed only Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
When almost one-fourth of the team’s salary cap is invested in three players who are unable to play to expectations, the results are predictable. No doubt, McCarthy took that into account when weighing Capers’ performance in 2016.
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Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.