Under defensive coordinator Dom Capers the past four seasons, the defense has at times been unable to stop the run, unable to communicate consistently in the secondary and unable to stand up to hot quarterbacks. Its saving grace other times has been creating turnovers and getting sacks, but too often the season has ended on a disappointing note.Football is a rough game, and high-value free agents can be injured, as can draft choices.
As the week goes on, [head coach Mike] McCarthy is going to have to decide whether Capers has lost his touch and no longer has the ability to keep up with the NFL's increasingly diverse offensive attacks or is a victim of Thompson's draft-only philosophy and neglect in acquiring the bruising linebackers and safeties it takes to compete with the physical offenses of NFC contenders San Francisco and the New York Giants.
As players are wont to do, the Packers defend Capers and his staff to reporters, refusing publicly to turn on the same guys who helped them win Super Bowl rings. But it was also clear after the loss what players were speaking of when they said they were out-schemed and underprepared against 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option plays he used en route to breaking the NFL record for quarterback rushing yards with 181.
"Coach Capers is a great coach," said linebacker Desmond Bishop, who spent the season on injured reserve. "You can't have a great defense and win the Super Bowl one year and then be kicked out the next year, or a year or two later. I don't think it should work like that at all.
But before McCarthy decides a coaching change is necessary, [general manager Ted] Thompson needs to examine his philosophy for stocking the roster with talent. Thompson devoted his first six draft choices last spring to defensive players, but did not sign a veteran free agent and made Capers and his staff make do this season with a bunch of rookies.A little history: one way of writing the job description of a Packer head coach is "The next Vince Lombardi will develop the potential in the first-round draft choices of the past seven years." It's harder to do that with a regular playoff team that picks late in the first round (although there might be some room for dealing this year). I would note, though, particularly for any Chicago readers who might want to gloat, that improving the league's 32nd-best defense to the eleventh-best defense through the draft, and the team concept of next-man-in, is encouraging, and something to militate against an immediate regime change. Experience, conditioning, spring free to recover.
It's hard to have a successful defense when the roster is continually turning over and isn't allowed to mature. Whether that has been the case with the Packers is up for debate.
But what isn't is that Thompson has leaned away from acquiring big, physical players like Bishop in favor of more agile players like A.J. Hawk, Morgan Burnett, Brad Jones, D.J. Smith, M.D. Jennings, Sam Shields, Frank Zombo, Casey Hayward and Mike Daniels.
First-round pick Nick Perry was more in the Bishop style of physical player but was tentative in his transition from college end to pro outside linebacker and was lost for the season halfway through with a wrist injury. Rookie inside linebacker Terrell Manning might be able to add some pop to the lineup next year, but after battling a training camp illness the best he could do was contribute on special teams.
Safety Jerron McMillian, another physical type played like a rookie and the jury is still out on his future. His height will always be an issue. Cornerback Davon House looked like he might add some muscle to the defense, but he dislocated his shoulder in training camp and was not the same the rest of the season.