Love him or hate him, the fact is he can only do so much from up in the box. Dom Capers had many Packers fans calling for his head just a few short weeks ago. Well folks, credit is due, and credit must be given. After a four game losing streak where the Capers-led Packers defense were receiving nothing but ridicule and blame – deservedly so, I might add – they seem to be clicking at just the right time. During the stretch of four losses the Packers were giving up over 38 points per game (PPG). To find a four game stretch where the Packers defense played worse, you’d have to go all the way back to the 1950s.
But life comes at you fast, and the Packers are suddenly playing very well on defense. During the current three game win streak, they’re allowing a paltry 12 points per contest, a remarkable turnaround in a short period of time. Here are a few things I believe contribute to this impressive and required turnaround for Dom and this Packers defense.
Quinten Rollins. Damarious Randall. Jake Ryan. Clay Matthews. All of those guys are important pieces of this defense, and there was a stretch where every single one of them was on the sideline. They have all returned, and even though Clay has basically been playing with one arm, the difference is noticeable.
Having these key players back has elevated every other player’s level of play around them. Ladarius Gunter has returned to a far more suitable role as the team’s third cornerback. With Jake Ryan back in the middle, Clay Mathews goes back to his role as pass rusher. Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have more trust and confidence in the corners they are accustomed to, which allows them to focus on their jobs instead of compensating for poor cornerback play
Players returning to health has had a trickle down effect, improving defensive quality dramatically. Even though the defense has returned many key players, it is important to keep in mind that they still are not at 100%. Sam Shields is done for the season, but you can expect linebackers Blake Martinez and Nick Perry to return to action at some point in the final weeks of the season.
Dean Lowry, Jayrone Elliott, and Christian Ringo have made the very most of their opportunities in December. After countless injuries and a recent suspension to defensive lineman Mike Pennel, the Packers were looking desperately for some role players to step up. These three young guns were there to answer the call.
The stat lines don’t represent all-pro caliber production, but what these three role players have been able to provide during this three game win streak was exactly what the Packers needed. On limited snap counts, rookie Dean Lowry has recorded a sack in each of the last two Packer victories, Jayrone Elliott has a sack and 6 total tackles, and Christian Ringo in a forced fumble and 2 total tackles. The consistency may not be there, but they’re making key plays at key times.
The fact that all three are seeing an uptick in snaps at such a critical time in the season stands as proof that they’re doing something right. Coach McCarthy has praised all three in recent weeks and for good reason. They allow the starters to get much needed rest at times and have shown enough to give the coaching staff confidence that there is not much of a drop-off in production.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Micah Hyde have all forced turnovers during this winning streak. It has been a tale of two seasons for this group. During this run of wins they have accounted for seven turnovers alone (six interceptions and one fumble recovery). Those turnovers have been an instrumental part of this turn around. Take into account the offense only turning the ball over one time during that same time frame, and you have yourself two extra possessions per game on average; that’s a massive advantage when you have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers thanks the five of you and encourages the continued turnover success.
Dom Capers may have been the scapegoat earlier this year, but I must say one thing: there is a common theme above, and it is the players. Dom Capers can only do so much from up in the box. He can also only do so much with limited amount of talented players due to injury.
When the Green Bay Packers defense is close to full strength they can play with anyone. Dom Capers doesn’t have as much to do with the defense’s failures or successes as the players do. Thankfully, most of them are back, and there are few young guys and role player types answering the bell in crunch time.
With the resurgence of this defensive unit – accompanied with the offense clicking on all cylinders – the Packers are a team no one wants to see should they squeak into the tournament. Honestly, I don’t think I would have it any other way.