Sky Not Falling For Capers

Dom Capers' scheme has led the NFL in sacks with four teams, but Green Bay ranks 28th with 12 sacks entering Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. Capers isn't panicking, however, as he told Packer Report this week.

Maybe it's more acute after the Packers were outsacked 14-0 in two games against Minnesota, but without prompting, Dom Capers offered a reminder.

"At four different places, we've led the league in sacks with this defensive scheme," he told a couple of reporters on Friday. "I'm not ready to jump off a cliff because we don't have a bunch of sacks."

Entering Sunday's game at Tampa Bay, the Capers' unit is a long, long, long way from leading the NFL in sacks. With 12 sacks, the Packers rank 28th. Between the lack of production as a unit and the lack of production by Aaron Kampman, the lackluster pass rush has become a hot-button issue — at least outside of 1265 Lombardi Ave.

"Well, that's kind of the nature of our game," Capers said of the fans' concern. "We just lost a tough game to a division opponent and an emotional game. There's always a tendency to feel the sky's falling. When you've been around (as long as I have), if the sky's falling after every game like that, then I would have fallen out of the sky a lot of times."

Nonetheless, Capers isn't missing the forest for the trees — at least for public consumption.

The numbers, of course, don't lie. The only number that matters is scoring, and the Packers rank ninth with 19.1 points allowed per game. How do you keep teams from scoring? Get off the field on third down and force turnovers. The Packers rank highly in both categories. They stand 10th with a third-down conversation rate of 35.5 percent and tied for fourth with 17 takeaways.

"I think if you look at us statistically through seven games, that's really the only area where we're less than what you'd want," Capers said of sacks. "We're in the top 10 in about everything else except sacks."

Of course, the elephant in the room is the schedule. In games against St. Louis, Detroit and Cleveland — teams with a combined record of 3-20 — the Packers allowed just 20 points. In games against Chicago, Cincinnati and Minnesota (twice) — teams with a combined record of 23-7 — they allowed 114 points.

While Capers' citation of statistics could be construed as spin — especially after coming under fire from two of his best players, Charles Woodson and Cullen Jenkins, after losses to Minnesota — he does offer a valid point.

Since the Bengals' Cedric Benson ran wild for 141 yards in Week 2 and the Rams' Steven Jackson broke loose a couple times the next week, the Packers' run defense has been tremendous. Green Bay ranks fourth by allowing only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. And since allowing a combined 17-of-26 third-down conversions against Cincinnati in Week 2 and Minnesota in Week 4, the defense has generally gotten off the field on third down.

So, while quarterbacks haven't been flattened, that his defense has improved against the run and in third-down efficiency, Capers is hopeful that the pass rush will improve, too.

With or without blitzing.

"The bottom line, over the years, I can remember when back at Pittsburgh, when it was Blitzburgh, you'd win a game, give up seven points, and everybody was upset because you didn't blitz enough. They wanted to see you blitz every down," Capers said.

"Obviously, during the preseason out here, we were coming after them a lot. But, it varies from game to game based off the team you're playing. The one area that I like where we've been heading is playing the run. I know coming in, that had been an area of concern. Quite frankly, it was an area of concern for me after the Cincinnati game, because it's a helpless feeling if you can't do that. We haven't had that situation since then, so I'm encouraged by that. What we've got to do is take and build on that."

Which, eventually, means sacking the quarterback — and that means defensive ends Jenkins and Johnny Jolly and outside linebackers Kampman and Clay Matthews III have to win more of their one-on-one battles. The Vikings smothered Kampman and Matthews with mostly single blocks in their two matchups.

An effective rush doesn't necessarily have to end up in a sack. Nick Barnett's well-timed blitz against the Vikings almost resulted in an interception when he hit Brett Favre's arm as he was throwing.

"My feeling's always been this: People get too hung up sometimes on the sacks, because over the years, I've done a lot of correlations between winning and losing football games, and sacks isn't real high on the list," Capers said.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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