clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Credit Dom Capers: Why the Packers' Bad Run Defense Might Not Be a Concern After All

New, comments

Despite a shoddy run defense, Dom Capers is making this defense work.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have noticed, the Packers run defense this season has been, how do I say this? A friggin' train wreck. They're last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 24th in yards per rush. But as our pal Tom Silverstein from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote in this smart article from last week, that might actually be somewhat by design. That's not to say the Packers are purposely defending the run like crap. It's just they might not care that much.

As Silverstein points out, the Packers have actually put far more emphasis on stopping the pass this year and here's the thing - it's working. Through last week, the Packers rank as the 6th-best team in the league in passing yards allowed per game. That's impressive when you consider three of the five teams they've faced feature passing offenses that read like a fantasy football roster: Wilson, Harvin, Stafford, Megatron, Marshall, Cutler, Jeffery. Sure there's been a few hiccups along the way (see also: Sam Shields turning into a pile of jell-o). But still, ranking 6th in yards allowed is solid work.

Of course, that statistic doesn't account for other variables like yards gained in garbage time blowouts so it's not the most telling. How about we look at turnovers? The Packers rank 2nd in the NFL in interceptions with seven through five games, trailing only the New York Giants' eight. As the cliché goes, the NFL is in fact a, "passing league."

While yards allowed and interceptions might not be great indicators of a team's overall defensive effectiveness, they does have a correlation to a category that is a better measure of complete performance:

Points allowed.

In that, the Packers rank a totally respectable 10th in the NFL in points allowed per game at 21.2. That's not quite Houston or Baltimore territory (both of whom allow fewer than 17.5 points per game), but more than good enough when you have a touchdown machine like Aaron Rodgers on your sideline.

So is this simply a matter of Dom Capers selling out the run in the name of stopping the pass? Even if it was, it'd be hard to argue with. Yes, gassing your defense by allowing long, run-heavy drives is a risky proposition. But if you're the Packers, are you really worried about a good running back outpacing Rodgers and his SEAL Team of receivers?

By itself, turning games into a "your rushing attack vs. our passing attack" is a solid strategy, but I think that oversimplifies what Dom Capers has actually done this year. Consider the Jets and the Vikings. Both teams featured quarterbacks who have produced more memes than wins in their careers, and because of that, the Packers were able to focus more on the running game, limiting each team to just over 100 yards on the ground. Again, it helps when you're facing a team with an awful quarterback (and in the Minnesota game, going up by 14 early) but it's also the same thing that people have praised Bill Belichick for doing for years - taking away what the other team does best.

We've seen how that can play when facing a well-rounded team like the Seahawks, but teams with that level of talent on both sides of the ball are a rarity. For teams with more exploitable offenses, Capers' approach is one that not only works, but when contrasted with Mike McCarthy's ‘balance for the sake of balance' offense, looks downright enlightened. Maybe the game isn't passing him by after all.

Capers has certainly been a popular (and at times, well-deserved) piñata around these parts, but this is one area that he deserves some credit. His defense still leaves plenty to be desired and may never be the most creative or deceptive, but hell, it's working for now. So maybe we're the ones who have been fooled.