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As another promising season ends due to a high profile failure on defense it’s natural to question whether the Packers have the right defensive coordinator. The improvements made on defense this year despite major injuries make this a difficult question to answer.
Dom Capers may be the most controversial of all four of these coaches being reviewed this week, and it’s not hard to understand why this controversy surrounds him. The Packers’ defense ended the season on an ominous note, giving up the most rushing yards to a quarterback ever. Just as a reminder, that’s not just playoffs…I’m talking ever. This also happens to be the second year in a row where the defense suffered a high profile failure in the playoffs. Despite these rather glaring failures, Capers has also finished a season where he drastically turned around the Packers’ standing in key defensive statistics (such as yards per game, yards per play, points per game, and third down percentage) while dealing a litany of injuries. So in the final analysis do we look more at the improvements the defense had while playing third and fourth string players? Or do cut to the bottom line and see how when season was on the line the defense failed….again?
Motivation/Discipline – D+
For the first two reviews the focus of this analysis fell mostly to penalties because there were not many indications of motivation issues one way or another. The defense did not suffer this, but a larger question looms this offseason….has Capers lost the locker room? After the embarrassing performance in San Francisco the Packers’ defenders were not in agreement in their assessment of the situation. On one hand, Charles Woodson came out and criticized a lack of adjustments in that game. On the other hand, Desmond Bishop has come out and said that Capers is a "great coach." It is not a good sign when a coach may have lost the respect of even some of his players. An offseason may help mend fences, but if the behavior of the Packer defenders after the 49ers game is any indication, these questions will linger.
Player Development – B+
The most drastic displays of player improvement came on the defense in 2012. Sam Shields not only returned to his 2010 level of performance, but also showed a tougher attitude and greater willingness to tackle. Brad Jones not only made a successful transition to ILB, but he was arguably the best ILB the Packers put on the field this year. Morgan Burnett showed the ability of being a good field general even though is production was still average. Mike Neal even displayed why the Packers have stuck by him so long once he came back from suspension. All of this without any radical regression makes for an impressive year in player development on the defensive side of the ball.
X’s & O’s – C+
This is going to be high for some people who are going to point to a lack of adjustments in San Francisco, questionable play calls throughout the year, and the mortal sin of thinking Jarrett Bush could be a starting cornerback at the beginning of the year. I understand all of that and share many of those same concerns, but his ability to put together a defense despite the hardships faced raises this grade dramatically. The best way I can sum this point up is by pointing out that Clay Matthews missed a quarter of the season. During those four games the Packers went 3-1. The fact that Capers was able to put together a defense that can help a team win three games without its two biggest stars and has a LB unit of Erik Walden, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, and Dezman Moses is nothing short of amazing.
Overall Grade – C+
Right now the highs are high and the lows are low with Capers at the helm of the defense. Capers and his defense still baffle offenses around the NFC North, especially the Bears. This unit even has the ability to be a top end unit. That same defense though has really only put together one great year, 2010, and has shown significant weaknesses every other year (weak against the pass in 2009 and 2011, weak against the run in 2012). This year is probably not the best year to make a change at the DC position since Capers has shown an ability to develop young talent and the Packers have a wealth of this on defense due to the 2012 draft. That said, if the defense cannot become a championship level defense next year it may be time upgrade this particular coaching position.