By all accounts, this was a successful season in Green Bay. After falling to 4-6, the Packers ran the table, winning 6 straight and becoming division champions in the process. They beat the tar out of the New York Giants and eked out a win over the Dallas Cowboys in Jerry World before running into a buzz saw in the form of the Atlanta Falcons.
Sure, we’d all love to be making plans for Super Bowl parties right now, but to make the NFC Championship Game – even if you lose it in convincing fashion – means you had a successful season. This is especially true given how poorly they played during their 4-game losing streak and how inconsistent they were before that.
I have to give kudos and eat a little crow here before I continue. At 4-6, I was looking for answers to the question “Why keep Mike McCarthy after the season?” and I was coming up blank. I had lost all faith in his ability to run this team and was ready to move on. Then he did the inconceivable. He rescued the season; along with Aaron Rodgers of course. He orchestrated that 6-game (8 if you count the playoffs) win streak beautifully. I’m proud to have McCarthy as head coach of the Green Bay Packers and won’t be losing my patience with him again anytime soon.
Now to the matter at hand. There is a deeply concerning lack of accountability in this Packers organization. Of course, I’m happy that the Packers err on the side of patience instead of hiring a new GM and head coach every two years like the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers. But to see this defense fail year after year under the same regime is infuriating, and it doesn’t make any sense.
There are two schools of thought as to why the defense struggles, and based off of my completely non-scientific observations, the fan-base is split down the middle. One side would tell you that Ted Thompson has failed to deliver quality players for Dom Capers to work with, and the other side would say Dom Capers isn’t doing enough with the talent he’s given. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.
On Thompson’s part, he’s spent his last 5 first round draft picks on the defensive side of the ball and done a good job of finding mid-round talent, as he tends to do. In my humble opinion, the problem hasn’t been talent acquisition; it has been talent retention. In the last two off seasons, they’ve let Davon House and Casey Hayward walk, lost BJ Raji to retirement, and Sam Shields to concussions.
On to Dom Capers. He runs a complex defense that he’s unable or unwilling to simplify enough for young players to operate effectively. His zone coverages consistently yield 5-10 yard pockets for opposing receivers to occupy, no matter who is playing at corner. His players looked confused all year long, and with a few exceptions, he was outcoached all year long.
His blitz packages yield inconsistent results, and his defense as a whole only works when forcing turnovers. It’s okay to rely on turnovers against the Bears or Lions, but to rely so heavily on turnovers to beat quarterbacks like Matt Ryan is a strategy that won’t get you very far, as evidenced by Sunday’s events in Atlanta.
The problem I see is that these two just aren’t a fit for each other. Ted Thompson believes strongly in drafting and developing. Dom Capers runs a complex defense that’s more effective when being executed by veterans, but constantly has to rely on rookies to fill big roles.
Either way you look it, these two have failed to put a competitive defense on the field. We’ve seen glimpses of what they are capable of. What this defense did to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in week 14 was incredible. But the overall product leaves a lot to be desired, and too many playoff runs have ended with defensive lapses during Dom’s tenure.
Now to the heart of the problem in Green Bay. While both men are at fault for the failures on defense, it appears both will be retained for another year. This is not a plea to fire Dom Capers or Ted Thompson specifically. It’s not a plea to fire both. I guess you could say it’s a plea to fire one of them. Someone needs to be held accountable for these failures. Allowing both of them to return next year sets a dangerous precedent; one where you can do your job poorly with no repercussions. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, that mentality will reach the players and complacency will reign.
Based on quotes from Mike McCarthy’s season-ending press conference, it appears both men will be back. When asked about Ted Thompson’s future, considering the rumors surrounding Eliot Wolf, McCarthy had this to say:
Ted is back. I don’t know where the heck some of these articles come from. I don’t see any change in him, as far as his vision.
He made it perfectly clear that Thompson will be back. Fine. So you’re saying Dom Capers had more to do with the defensive failures, then? I guess not. Here are some of McCarthy’s comments on Dom Capers:
We’ll go through the process like we always do, the coaches will be off next week, and they’ll come back the Monday after the Super Bowl. We’ll have evaluations for each and every one, and then we have contracts to do and so forth. This is no time for drama. Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. That doesn’t change. He had a tough challenge in front of him this year. Once again, the coaching staff dealt with a lot.
Mike didn’t come right out and say that Dom would be back like he did for Ted, but he strongly implied it. I guess the same excuses are still applicable for Mr. Capers. As long as there are some injuries, his defense is allowed to be below average. Even terrible.
So, in all likelihood, the Packers will stick to the status quo yet again. Even though this dynamic has proven ineffective, we will persevere. Hope for change, but don’t expect it. If Ted refuses to use free agency and make a real investment in this defense, and if Dom can’t scheme to accommodate the talent at his disposal, 2017 will be another year where the Packers go as far as Aaron Rodgers can carry them.