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Dom Capers must align Packers’ defense with his players’ strengths

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Capers is calling a defense like it’s 2012 again.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers
Capers has never had athletes like Josh Jones, and it’s becoming increasingly clear, he doesn’t know how to use them.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

No Green Bay Packers fan will soon forget watching Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers make a fool out of Dom Capers in the playoffs en route to a rushing record.

The indelible image from that game, one seared in the minds of Cheesehead Nation: Kaepernick scampering into the end zone not just outrunning Charles Woodson, but putting distance between them.

Green Bay had one of the worst defenses ever in 2011 and wasn’t much better in 2012. They busted coverages, gave up enormous chunk plays, and struggled to corral athletic quarterbacks, or teams with any modicum of speed.

So Capers scrapped — or at least limited — the amount of bump-and-run coverage he played so effectively with Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, and went to a more vanilla zone coverage scheme as the Packers struggled to find a pass rush, exposing a secondary and linebacking unit with speed or athleticism.

That’s not this defense anymore.

Kenny Clark, a 330-pound nose tackle, ran down Alvin Kamara in the open field on Sunday. Blake Martinez, from zone coverage in the middle of the field, broke on swing passes to make open-field tackles.

Their Nitro package features a linebacker who runs 4.4.

The Packers, when Haha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett are healthy, boast one of the top safety duos on football.

Why all have these athletes on the field at once if not to cover, run and chase? All three of Capers’ top corners run under 4.50. Two of the three are 6’0 or taller. All three are at their best in the face of opposing receivers.

Davon House and Damarious Randall each made outstanding interceptions on Drew Brees blanketed in man coverage. House had a pair of passes defended in critical third-down situations in man.

King, torched by the Saints by any standard, was drafted to bring an athletic, physical presence to this defense. He tackled well on Sunday, filling hard and making plays at the line of scrimmage despite consistently losing his coverage battles.

That’s what happens to rookies. Sometimes they make mistakes.

Josh Jones, the aforementioned 4.4-running linebacker, was consistently out of position against the Saints, but his speed on a sloppy track showed up over and over as he ran down plays sideline-to-sideline.

Capers has to stop calling this defense like it’s full of the non-athletes he used to have.

There’s still far too much soft zone where no one is covering anyone.

On a fourth-and-2, he called a trap zone coverage that left Michael Thomas wide open underneath. What is he afraid of? What’s the point in having special athletes if they’re in space reacting to the action rather than constantly in motion forcing the action?

This defense vacillates between too aggressive and too soft. It’s the Goldilocks of defenses.

Green Bay has been the best team in football at forcing teams to drive the ball and not giving up big-play touchdowns. Most fans -- and coaches — would probably trade a few big-play touchdowns if it made making more consistent stops.

On the Damarious Randall interception, Kentrell Brice was defending no one in the deep half. Coincidentally it was Brice who let Thomas run free, but why is he playing slot corner?

House and Randall excelled Sunday while King struggled (including YAC, King’s man accounted for nearly two-thirds of all Brees’ passing yards on Sunday).

Stop being worried about having a linebacker covering a running back on a wheel route, even though the wounds of the 2014 NFC Championship game burn deeply to this day. Josh Jones can run with that guy. Blake Martinez too.

Let Clinton-Dix, who played single-high at Alabama almost exclusively, defend the backend and erase mistakes as best he can. Morgan Burnett can roam and use his instincts to make plays.

Every once in a while, it’s OK to call cover-zero, blitz a team to near death, and give up a big play. It happens. Every team does it, even one with a good defense. Ask the Giants about it with Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin last night.

How many times have divisional opponents locked down Green Bay’s potent offense even with dreadful corner talent? Guys like Nevin Lawson and Cre'von LeBlanc, whose name I literally had to Google, have helped stifle an Aaron Rodgers attack simply by being aggressive at the line and plastering receivers in man coverage.

If Kevin King and Damarious Randall can’t play as well as those two guys, just cancel the season. But they can.

When Randall excelled as a rookie, Green Bay confidently played man coverage with Sam Shields and Casey Hayward in the slot. This secondary might not be as good right now, but they have more natural talent and gifts. Let them go prove it. And don’t look now, but after the bizarre bench situation for Randall, he has a pick in three straight games even if two came off tips.

Let’s not even start with the prevent nonsense. It seems as though Capers is calling the game for a defense he used to have, not the one he has currently.

That or he’s so afraid to fail, he’s unwilling to do what it takes to succeed.

Either way, something has to change.