Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was disturbed after his defense surrendered 579 yards in a 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Divisional playoffs. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick shattered an NFL record with his 181 rushing yards. It was an embarrassing performance for a team that was completely unprepared and out-coached.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers received a lot of heat for that meltdown. Many fans wanted him replaced. That never happened. Instead, McCarthy will send his defensive coaches to school.
According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Tom Silverstein, coaches will spend the off-season learning how to defend the read-option offense. They’ll speak with college coaches, most notably Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees used a similar strategy before Super Bowl XLVII.
These coaches can return smarter than ever before. In relaying their wisdom to the players, coaches can dust off the Super Nintendo, power it up and teach them about “Spy” and “Contain.” Outside linebacker Erik Walden should watch the “Contain” tutorial about 50 times. Because during that divisional playoff game, many players either refused to perform their assignments or they didn’t understand how.
Speaking with college coaches who are more experienced against read-option and pistol offenses? That’s a clever idea. Wish McCarthy would’ve thought of it sooner. However, McCarthy is fooling himself if he thinks his defensive coaches only need to major in “Defending read-option 101.” Capers and the gang need a triple, even quadruple-major.
How about pocket quarterbacks?
Before Kaepernick, the Packers’ defense allowed historical playoff performances to Kurt Warner and Eli Manning. Those are two of the most immobile quarterbacks in NFL history. Yet, in January 2010, Warner completed 29-of-33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-45 overtime win. In January 2012, Manning completed 21-of-33 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-20 victory.
How about star running backs?
In 2012, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had 2,097 rushing yards. In two regular-season games against the Packers, Peterson had 55 caries for 409 yards and two touchdowns. That dominance helped the Vikings reach the playoffs. For the Packers, it cost them home-field advantage against the 49ers.
How about the entire 2011-12 season?
The Packers allowed 4,796 passing yards. That’s 299.75 yards per game. That’s more than any team in NFL history. Even before Nick Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury, Drew Brees and Cam Newton were shredding that defense.
Excluding the 2010-11 season, Capers’ defenses have failed against a variety of offensive styles. It’s more than an inability to stop gimmick offenses. This defense lacks speed, toughness, discipline, talent, quality schemes and adjustments.
Typically, successful 3-4 defenses have a great pass-rushing defensive lineman, middle linebacker, safety and a shutdown cornerback who controls his side of the field.
For the last two seasons, the Packers have had none of that. And if they do, Capers isn’t getting the most out of his players.
Don’t oversimplify these deficiencies. Fixing this defense is not as easy as stopping a mobile quarterback. It’s also not expecting the offense to score 31-plus points every game, too.