Packers ride defense into playoffs
When we first suggested the Packers hire Dom Capers as defensive coordinator on January 15, 2009 – two days before he interviewed for the position – we cited his experience, creativity and adaptability as the reasons why he would be the right person to replace Bob Sanders. But as much as we respected Capers, we never saw this season coming. What the 60-year-old has accomplished with Green Bay’s defense will go down as one of the finest jobs ever done by a coordinator.
Sure, the defense has talent. Nose tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, safety Nick Collins and cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson are among the very best at their respective positions. And ends Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett and inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are hardly slouches. So even with all the injuries, the defense still should’ve been good this season. That it gave up the second fewest points in the NFL and proved to be the strength of the team is amazing.
When the Packers opened training camp back in August, nose tackle Howard Green was the No. 8 defensive lineman in Washington, outside linebacker Erik Walden was a seldom-used special teamer with the Dolphins and cornerback Sam Shields was buried beneath Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood on the depth chart at St. Norbert. A heck of a lot changed in four months. These three players – to varying degrees – helped get the Packers to the postseason. Green added much-needed size and strength to the line when Pickett and Jenkins were slowed by injuries. Walden started the final three games of the season for Frank Zombo and held his own. And Shields was a revelation at nickel back. The game never proved too big for the rookie, who was signed as a free agent in May for a paltry $7500.
And while general manager Ted Thompson and the position coaches certainly deserve a big pat on the back for Green, Walden and Shields, the lion’s share of the credit has to go to Capers. He did an incredible job of maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. And it wasn’t just this unheralded trio that benefitted from Capers. Raji, Matthews, Hawk, Bishop, Williams and Jenkins all took their games to a higher level this season. Some of it was simple maturation, but a lot of it came down to a wise old general figuring out how to best employ his troops in their second year working together.
It was àpropos that Green Bay beat the Bears and earned a spot in the playoffs on Sunday on the back of its defense. While the offense has been as up-and-down as a roller coaster, their brethren on the other side of the ball have been consistently strong all season. Assuming Capers isn’t offered a head coaching job in the next few weeks (and that’s unlikely), Thompson must do whatever’s needed to keep him around. Whether it’s making him the highest-paid coordinator in the league, naming a street after him and/or giving him Mike McCarthy’s spacious office, the Packers absolutely can’t let this man get away. By the way, we’re just kidding about giving him McCarthy’s office. Well, kind of.