The Defense of the Green Bay Packers: Call them the Capers Crusaders

In 2009, which was the first year in which Dom Capers became the defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, the defense finished fifth in passing defense, fourth in lowest passer rating by quarterbacks (68.8), tied for 11th in sacks with 37 and first in the NFL with 30 interceptions.

The next year, in which the Packers eventually won Super Bowl XLV, the defense was fifth in passing defense, first in lowest passer rating by quarterbacks (67.2), tied for second in sacks with 47 and was second in the NFL with 24 picks.

Last season, Capers talked to reporters about what his defense is all about. “I think we’ve been able to disrupt the opposing quarterback,” Capers said, “and that’s our game.”

The 2014 season was a huge turning point for the defense under Capers. Through the first half of the 2014 season, the Packers were dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, as they had allowed 153.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry.

Capers decided to make some changes to his defense. He moved outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside on early-down rushing situations. Plus, Capers also increased playing time of Sam Barrington at inside linebacker.

Those two moves paid off. In the last eight weeks of the season, the Packers only allowed 86.3 rushing yards per game. That improvement moved them up nine spots in rushing defense, as they finished 23rd in the league.

Plus, the Packers also continued to play very solidly with their pass defense and continued to disrupt the opposing quarterback. The Packers finished 10th in passing defense, had 18 picks and held opposing quarterbacks to a 82.0 passer rating, which was seventh-best in the NFL.

The pass rush of the Packers helped that cause, as the team had 41 sacks last season.

In the 2015 season, the defense of the Packers has had to overcome the losses of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, who both left via free agency, while also overcoming the season-ending foot injury to Barrington.

The Packers have bolstered on defense this year with the return of nose tackle B.J. Raji, plus have gotten some nice play from two rookie cornerbacks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.

The rest of the secondary has been solid as well, even with safety Morgan Burnett missing three games because of a calf injury. Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde have all played well so far this season.

The pass rush has also been outstanding, as the team already has 17 sacks (tied for second in the NFL) in just four games.

The pressure is coming from everywhere. Julius Peppers leads the way with 3.5 sacks, while Matthews and Nick Perry have three apiece. Mike Daniels has chipped in with 2.5 sacks, while second-year linebacker Jayrone Elliott has two sacks.

Elliott is getting more playing time at outside linebacker this season because of his outstanding production. Besides the two sacks, Elliott also has an interception, plus has forced a fumble and recovered one.

As a whole, the Packers are ranked eighth in total defense this season.

After a rough start to the season in run defense after playing the Chicago Bears and running back Matt Forte (141 yards rushing) in the season opener, the Packers have greatly improved that aspect of their game.

The Packers held Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks to 41 yards rushing in Week 2. Green Bay then held Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs to 49 yards rushing in Week 3. The Pack also held Carlos Hyde of the San Francisco 49ers to 20 yards rushing in Week 4.

Raji has been stout at the point of attack in stopping the run. Nate Palmer, who took over for Barrington after his injury, has been solid.

But no one has been more disruptive than Matthews, both in the run game and the passing game. No. 52 continues to play inside, but also moves outside at times.

Sometimes Matthews will be in coverage shadowing a back or a tight end (like in his key interception against the Bears in Week 1), but most times he is applying pressure on the quarterback.

The pressure applied to the opposing quarterback by Matthews and his teammates has been outstanding. As Capers has said, “That’s our game.”

The Packers are ranked seventh in pass defense through four games. The Pack has held opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 74.6 passer rating, which is the fifth-best mark in the league.

Currently, the Packers only have four picks, but on the other hand, they have only allowed four touchdown passes.

More interceptions will come this season to be sure, especially as the Packers continue to pressure the quarterback. In the last two weeks alone, the Packers have had 13 sacks.

The upcoming opponent of the Packers this week, the St. Louis Rams, will be coming into Lambeau Field with a 2-2 record. They also will be coming into the game with three first-year starters on their offensive line, including two rookies.

Matthews and his buddies have to be licking their chops.

That being said, the Rams also have a superb defensive line and are tied with the Packers with 17 sacks. They also must be salivating looking at the pass protection issues that right tackle Don Barclay and left tackle David Bakhtiari have had so far this season.

Keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and clean has to be priority one for the offense of the Packers this week.

The number one priority for the defense will be to once again create havoc for quarterback Nick Foles of the Rams.

For that to happen, the Packers will have to continue to stop the run, which won’t be easy this week, as rookie running back Todd Gurley is coming off a 146-yard rushing performance against the Arizona Cardinals.

If you stop the run, than you can focus on disrupting the play of the opposing quarterback.

That focus has helped the Packers win the first four games of the 2015 season.

Yes, the Capers Crusaders have definitely disrupted the play of opposing quarterbacks so far this season. Just ask Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.

Expect to see more of the same this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

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