This was going to be the year that the defense of the Green Bay Packers was going to approach the success it had had in the first two years that Dom Capers was the coordinator of the unit.
In 2009, which was the first year Capers became defensive coordinator, the defense was ranked No. 2 in the NFL. In 2010, the year the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the defense was ranked No. 5 in total defense.
Since then, the Packers have not come close to that success. From 2011 through 2016, the defense of the Packers has been ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd.
Through nine games in 2017 the Packers are ranked 25th in total defense in the league, as the D is allowing an average of 357.4 yards per game. And based on the performance the defense had on Monday night versus the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, don’t expect the rankings to get any better throughout the rest of the 2017 season.
Just to illustrate how bad and inept the defense was on Monday night, the Lions did not have to punt once all evening. That is the first time that has happened for Detroit since the 1971 season.
Quarterback Matt Stafford just carved up the defense of the Packers, as there was little to no pass pressure from the Green Bay Front 7. The Packers did get one sack, but that was only when the Lions attempted a flea flicker pass.
In the game, Stafford completed 26-of-33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns. That adds up to a passer rating of 132.4.
That can’t happen against a Capers’ defense. Not if it wants to be successful. The key to any defense Capers runs, is putting pressure on the quarterback and disrupting his rhythm.
That isn’t happening in 2017 and that hasn’t happened consistently since 2010 either.
Currently, the the Packers are ranked 20th in passing defense, but that stat does not tell the total story. The Packers are ranked 25th in the NFL in allowing opposing quarterbacks to have a very solid passer rating of 95.7.
And this is with a new and improved secondary, as the team drafted cornerback Kevin King in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and safety Josh Jones in the second round. Plus, the team added cornerback Davon House in free agency, which is his second stint with the team.
But even when there is more talent and athleticism in the secondary, that won’t lead to success if there isn’t pass pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, which is supposed to lead to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.
It also doesn’t help when the two starting safeties of the Packers have largely been non-factors this season. Morgan Burnett has been hampered by hamstring and groin injuries, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been largely invisible after going to the Pro Bowl and having second-team All-Pro status in 2016.
But again, the the number one reason why a Capers defense is successful is by bringing pass pressure and getting sacks. And that’s not happening this season.
The Packers are tied for 28th in the NFL with 13 sacks. That’s barely over one sack a game on average.
Clay Matthews can still play, but he is not the pass-rushing force he once was, as he has just 2.5 sacks so far this season. Nick Perry has been hampered by a broken hand, but does lead the team in sacks with four.
Meanwhile, Julius Peppers, who had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions (both for touchdowns) in three years with the Packers, left the team this past offseason via free agency and now has 7.5 sacks for the Carolina Panthers.
It is not known how much or even if the Packers made an offer to Peppers to stay in Green Bay, or if Peppers just wanted to go back to the place he started his NFL career and where he calls home.
No matter, Peppers would have definitely helped the pass rush for the Packers this season. Much better than the players who back up Matthews and Perry at outside linebacker currently, that’s for sure.
Kyler Fackrell has been almost non-existent when he’s on the field, as he has just nine total tackles, zero sacks and multiple missed assignments. Ahmad Brooks can help when he’s healthy, but he’s missed the last three games due to concussion/back issues.
Fourth-round pick Vince Biegel saw his first action of the season Monday night at OLB, after starting the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. It’s too early to see how Biegel might be able to help the pass rush.
Speaking of draft picks, general manager Ted Thompson traded back four spots when the Packers had the 29th pick in the first round. The Packers then selected King in the second round with the 33rd pick of the draft, plus got another fourth-round pick which they used to select Biegel.
King looks like he has some excellent upside with his size, speed and athleticism. But Thompson could have stayed where he was at No. 29 in the draft and selected OLB T.J. Watt, who is having a great rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As a matter of fact, I had the Packers taking Watt in both my first mock draft and my last.
Watt has 28 total tackles, four sacks and one pick for a Pittsburgh defense that has gotten back it’s old swagger. The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total defense and are tied for fourth in sacks with 26. Opposing QBs only have a 74.4 passer rating against Pittsburgh as well.
That is how the a Capers defense is supposed to function.
Since Mike McCarthy hired Capers in 2009, it’s not like the Packers haven’t been successful. In fact, they have been very prosperous. The team has been to the postseason for eight straight years going into this season. That includes one Super Bowl win, three appearances in the NFC title game and five NFC North titles.
But it is also in the postseason where we have seen some of the cracks and deficiencies of a Capers-run defense. Granted, in some case there have been injury issues, like in the NFC title game versus Atlanta last season, but for the most part, the defense has been exposed in many of those games.
Since the 2011 postseason, the Packers have played in 11 games, winning five of them. In the six losses, the Packers have given up an average of 33.8 points per game. That won’t get it done.
Plus, in those same six losses, the Packers offense averaged 22.3 points per game. Three touchdowns per game usually gets a NFL team a win in the postseason.
So, what to do? I’ve heard a lot of talk from Packer Nation about firing Capers immediately. That will not happen. I do believe the writing is on the wall for a change this coming offseason though.
But right now, the Packers have some other big issues. The team is on a downward spiral due to the broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers lost that game and the two games since then, to see their record fall to 4-4 and two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.
To make matters even worse, right offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a torn ACL against the Lions on Monday night and is out for the season.
Brett Hundley has struggled since taking over for Rodgers, but in the game versus the Lions, No. 7 showed some definite improvement.
Rodgers can come back from IR (injured reserve) in Week 15, but that will only happen if he his collarbone is fully healed and also if the Packers are still in postseason contention.
This is what Rodgers said about his coming back last week when he spoke to the media.
“I want to be healthy. That’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said last Friday. “But if we’re healthy in eight weeks and it would make sense to come back, then I’m going to come back.
“The only reason to come back would be that I’m healed completely. If that doesn’t happen in eight weeks, there’s not even a conversation.”
There also won’t be a conversation if the Packers are out of contention for a spot in the postseason. There would be no reason to risk further injury to Rodgers for just the two remaining games of the season.
And based on the way that all three phases of the football team are struggling right now, the postseason does not look likely.
I do see the offense getting better behind Hundley at QB, but will that improvement be enough to overcome the issues that both the defense and special teams have right now?
To me, the answer is no.
Now, things could change. Maybe Biegel and fellow rookie Montravius Adams will add some spark to the pass rush. Adams would most certainly help, as the defensive line of the Packers has just two sacks this season, with Mike Daniels leading the way with 1.5.
But somehow things have to change on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that I’m still seeing effort from the defensive players. Blake Martinez is playing exceptional and is fourth in the NFL with 74 tackles.
But the scheme is not working. Maybe that’s because Capers doesn’t have the players he needs to make it more successful. If that’s the case, then part of the blame need to go to Thompson.
Still, Capers has been defensive coordinator for the Packers now for nine years. Based on what has happened this season and looking at the totality of the work done by Capers in his tenure in Green Bay, I don’t see Capers returning for a 10th season.