Playing It Vanilla Is No Excuse For Defense

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme can only do so much. For the Packers to be an elite team, the players must make plays. That simply didn't happen on Saturday night, which is a cause for concern, publisher Bill Huber says.

The Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals picked up right where they left off in their January playoff game during Saturday's preseason opener at Lambeau Field.

Oh, wait, that wasn't Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and that high-octane Cardinals attack at the dome in Glendale, Ariz. That was Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace tag-teaming at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field. You know, the Browns -- who finished last in the NFL in total offense and passing offense last season.

That the Browns won 27-24 on a last-play field goal is, of course, irrelevant in terms of the regular season. The only thing that matters is starters vs. starters – and even that doesn't mean a whole lot, as keen observers of the team will remember after last year's rousing preseason fizzled once the real games began.

Nonetheless, a shoddy performance by a defense that was sliced and diced by the Cardinals seven-plus months ago, as well as Pittsburgh and Minnesota in other big games, doesn't exactly inspire much confidence in all of that Super Bowl jibber-jabber.

To be sure, the flavor of the day was vanilla for the Packers' defense, which was content to rush four on just about every passing play when the starters were in the game. What was alarming, though, is that nobody could win a one-on-one matchup to make a play. Not a lineman, not a linebacker and not a defensive back. When the games count, coordinator Dom Capers' bag of tricks will help, but coaching and scheme and creativity only go so far in a league in which the other team's coaches are pretty creative and clever, too. At some point, players have to make plays. None were made – and several were allowed -- by the first-team defense on Saturday.

"We need to play better than what we did tonight, let me just say that," Capers said when asked if he was concerned that his starters didn't win nearly enough one-on-one matchups. "No matter what we do, we need to execute better. The good thing is we'll look at this tape and I think our guys will learn a lot from this tape."

Delhomme was Warner-like by completing 6-of-7 passes for 66 yards on his only drive as the Browns strolled to a 7-0 lead. Just like Warner in the playoff game, Delhomme had guys running open through the secondary, including on fourth-and-1, when third corner Brandon Underwood gave far too much room on a 12-yard completion to Mohamed Massaquoi.

Ryan Grant, who fumbles about as often as Tiger Woods shoots 66 these days, coughed it up on the Packers' first play from scrimmage. About the only pass rush provided by the starting defense was by Cullen Jenkins, but Wallace beat him to the corner and Massaquoi worked himself open in the back of the end zone. Just like that, it was 14-0.

Less than six-and-a-half minutes into the four-game slate of fake games, the first boo birds were heard rumbling through the fabled stadium.

Aaron Rodgers wasted no time in rallying the Packers to a 14-14 tie by early in the second quarter, but Wallace again exploited a defense that still had several starters in the game. A screen to Jerome Harrison gained 26 yards when Nick Barnett was demolished by a blocker and Morgan Burnett whiffed on the tackle. A couple plays later, A.J. Hawk gambled – and lost -- in coverage on tight end Benjamin Watson's double move for a 20-yard touchdown.

"Every time you go out, you want to execute," Capers said. "My concerns are always the fundamental techniques that I've seen us execute on the practice field and you get into a game situation and you're not quite as crisp. That's what you're looking for to be in the first preseason game. How do you carry what you've done on the practice field out onto that field and not get affected by the crowd and the different opponent?"

With almost a month until the Sept. 12 regular-season opener at Philadelphia, there's plenty of time to work out the kinks. Preseason success or failure translates to the regular season about as often as it doesn't. In the preseason opener against the Browns last year, as Capers quickly recalled, the defense pitched a shutout and had four interceptions.

"We did a lot more in the game, obviously," Capers said with a smile.

Rodgers smiled when pestered about the defense, too.

"Nah, I'm not worried about that. Not at all," he said. "They didn't show anything. They played (vanilla) all night. We're going to play a little different, I think, once the regular season starts, both sides."

Aggressive and creative play-calling will help, but it won't do much good against quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady, who have seen every blitz a thousand times in their careers. Rather, it will be up to the players to beat blocks and cover receivers if this team wants to be truly super.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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