2013 NFL Playoffs: Who’s to Blame for Green Bay Packers’ Defensive Meltdown?
San Francisco put up an eye-popping 579 yards of offense, including 181 rushing yards from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Of all the vomit-inducing statistics from the game, perhaps the most sickening is that 178 of Kaepernick’s rushing yards came before contact.
This is a professional team – how could they allow this to happen? Though the San Francisco game was the worst, the Green Bay defense has struggled all season long against any of the playoff or playoff-type teams they played.
Is it scheme? Is it execution? Surely, it’s a combination of both, but what should the Packers do to fix this? Should Green Bay fire defensive coordinator Dom Capers? Is it time to release players who have not lived up to their potential?
Capers must take some blame for the way the defense has played this year. The Niners did not pull any tricks out of the bag. Everyone knew that they’re a running team and Kaepernick poses a particular challenge because of his running ability. The fact that Capers and the coaching unit seemed somehow unprepared for the Niners’ offense and, worse, were completely unable to make any in-game adjustments as Kaepernick and Frank Gore, as well as LaMichael James, repeatedly shredded the defense is inexcusable.
All the scheming in the world, however, means little if the players are unable to execute the game plan. A run defense that has been characterized by missed tackles for the last two seasons unsurprisingly continued to miss tackles against San Fran. A.J. Hawk is much improved this season, but he’s still A.J. Hawk and, in seven years, just has not proven himself to be a starting-caliber linebacker.
With the exception of Clay Matthews, the entire Green Bay linebacking crew has failed to distinguish itself. Players like Erik Walden, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Jamari Lattimore, and rookies Dezman Moses and Terrell Manning have had good stretches, but not a single one has stepped up and performed well enough to secure a consistent starting position.
The Packers certainly had a tough time with injuries this year, as well. Professional athletes aren’t in the business of making excuses, but, as a fan, I sure am. The Packers defense took a huge blow before the season started when they lost inside linebacker Desmond Bishop. A vastly underrated player, Bishop was the strongest run defender on the team. Things got worse when his solid backup, D.J. Smith, went down early in the season. Add to that the loss of Nick Perry – who had shown some promise in taking pressure off of Matthews – and the linebackers were in a tough spot.
The injuries are not just an excuse; they are a serious factor in deciding what the Packers should do as they move forward. Should Green Bay look for linebackers in the draft if Bishop, Smith, and Perry are healthy? Were Capers’ hands tied with his available personnel? Green Bay fans are depressed, wine-soaked messes right now (just me?) and are calling for coaches’ and players’ jobs, but perhaps nothing drastic is needed.
General Manager Ted Thompson and the Packers organization are not the type to overreact, but back-to-back playoff whuppings do necessitate some change. Their current front seven is just too soft for physical teams like the Niners. As a team that is hesitant to pursue free agents, the draft is obviously the key for the Packers. Along with the offensive line, Green Bay’s biggest need is big, tough, hard-hitting linebackers and defensive lineman.
As with most things in football, easier said than done. The defensive softness in the loss to San Francisco, however, cannot be ignored.