Preface: I know this article will be controversial, perhaps even unpopular. Just give it a chance. After you’ve read it, if you still disagree with me, feel free to let me know in the comments.
The Green Bay Packer fan base has been stumbling around for someone to blame for the last two weeks’ performances, and much of that misplaced blame has landed squarely on the slumping shoulders of a familiar scapegoat- defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The calls for Capers’ head grow louder by the day. His haters have lit up every sports talk radio show in the state. He even had his own trending hashtag on Twitter- #FireCapers.
Whenever the “Fire the Coach!” mob appears, three alarming questions blare in my head:
“Is it warranted?”
“Is there someone better?”
“What’s the expense?”
Bear with me as I explore these questions.
Capers’ defense, like the rest of the Packers, has been victimized by some pretty damaging injuries. Safety Morgan Burnett’s absence against the Saints severely limited the defenses’ ability to pressure quarterback Drew Brees. With Burnett on the field, the Packers are able to deploy their “Nitro” package (incorrectly referred to as “NASCAR” by me, but explained here) with outstanding success. Young defensive back Josh Jones, playing Burnett’s role, did not have the ability to shed blocks in the run game or cover the low hole with the capacity that Burnett has. That allowed the Saints’ Mark Ingram to gash the Nitro package for a 23 yard dash in the fourth quarter that essentially downed any comeback hopes for the Pack. He also struggled in covering the checkdown-riddled low hole, which allowed Brees to fire off quickly before any pressure could get home. Burnett’s on-field communication was also sorely missed, and the young Packer squad miscommunicated on a number of calls which led the Packers to burn time-outs unnecessarily and eventually led to a score in which the Green and Gold had only 10 men on the field.
That being said, the leaderless squad was still able to hold the powerful Saints offense to 26 points. This was an offense, mind you, that came into last Sunday averaging 31.5 points per game.
Capers’ scheme is sound. Key players made key mistakes in the last two games. Think of it this way- would you fire the manager of a fast food restaurant if an employee didn’t make a burger correctly? Or would you expect the manager to teach the employee the correct way to make the burger? Then, if the employee still couldn’t make the burger correctly, is it a managerial issue? Or an employee issue?
WHO IS BETTER?
I assume whenever someone is calling for the firing of a coach that they’re actually calling for the firing of the coach’s scheme. If that’s the case, which direction do you suggest the Packers go? Sure, there are brilliant defensive minds out there. Do you chase a 4-3 coordinator to shore up the run D and provide an excellent pass rush, a la Minnesota? Do you pursue the versatile 4-2-5 like Seattle, in an effort to shore up the secondary? Green Bay could certainly court these ideologies, but at what expense? (We’ll explore EXPENSE below). But if Green Bay were to can Capers, I believe they would be terminating one of the best 3-4 minds in the game. Any move to a new 3-4 coordinator would be a lateral move, at best, and a risky one to boot. After all, there’s no guarantee that the new coordinator would be better, or at least as good as Capers with the personnel that the Packers employ defensively.
This point could go two ways, and we’ll explore them both. Let’s talk literal money first. Green Bay has the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers. He, and his 20 million dollar per year salary cap hit, are going nowhere soon. Couple that with the salaries of two top-tier receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and that leaves relatively little money to build a defense around. In the NFL, you almost always get what you pay for. If Green Bay were to bring in some top-tier defensive talent, where would that money come from? I firmly believe that Capers is doing a great job with what he has in the likes of lower-level (and lower pay grade) players like Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. I’ll never pretend to be an expert in the complex world of player pay and salary cap issues, but let’s face it- this (usually) incredible offense has put the squeeze to Capers’ ability to get quality players at every position.
The other point of expense, and perhaps the most important one, is that of opportunity cost. Let’s imagine, for a second, that the Packers did fire Capers tomorrow and, for argument’s sake, say they hire a 4-3 coordinator. Now they need to revamp the existing defensive structure. I believe Kenny Clark could be a dominant 2i (defensive tackle) in a 4-3, but you still need a bully of a 3 tech and two phenomenal 5 tech defensive ends (think Everson Griffen and Brian Robison). What do you do with Clay Matthews? Do you expect his coverage responsibilities to grow at an outside linebacker position? Or do you take one of your best athletes off the field in favor of a nickelback? Do you hamper his athletic ability in space and ask him to play middle backer?
Oh yeah, one more thing- these types of changes take time to develop. Green Bay has an extraordinary quarterback whose window of high-level play is possibly closing. Are the Packers okay with sacrificing two to three years of Rodgers’ career to subpar defensive play in order to bring in a new scheme?
There’s some pretty big questions posed here; ones that I do not have the answers to. But if you ask my opinion, there are incredibly large risks at play in firing Capers with a relatively small potential payout. The man has won a title before with a great scheme and pretty good players. Let’s all hold tight, let him get some key players back, and see if he can do it again.
What do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below!