Sailing the Seas of Cheese: It’s a Brand New Season
Keeping with tradition, I don’t do Post Game Post Mortem after a playoff loss. Quite frankly, I can’t be too objective. It’s like writing a eulogy and, well, I just don’t. I just know it would be a bunch of emotional, completely subjective rantings and mourning. So, like I said last night, the new season starts today as players pack up their lockers and start making plans to head to their off-season destinations whether it is where they call home or just a well-deserved break from living in the tiny fishbowl of Green Bay.
Where do we go from here? There is obviously a lot of unfinished business, and if last night proved anything it’s an ever-evolving game. Weren’t the pundits just saying not even two years ago that the NFL had become a passing league? Well it’s not. I wish the coaching staff would realize that and stop planning and scheming like it is about 2002 and stop pretending that the Wildcat, the Pistol or whatever else is going to forward a QB-driven running game will never advance out of the college ranks.
I think this may be what is the biggest problem with the Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He is an old school coach who had some very good ideas. Not to draw a stereotype of the grumpy old man that likes to harken back to the days when he walked to school uphill both ways in a blizzard with no shoes on day after day because that’s what you did back then and you liked it, but I’m totally going to. Capers incapable–or unwilling–to adjust his plan. And, sure, this defense may have looked absolutely unstoppable in the past, but it hasn’t evolved one bit. If fact, it seems to have taken a step backwards. Watching the game last night, it almost seemed like Capers was unwilling to concede that Colin Kaepernick is very much a running QB. It was almost as though they game prepped against a more immobile Alex Smith that would stay in the pocket. Yes, it worked well when Sam Shields picked Kaepernick off and ran one back for six points.
The 3-4 defense is best used when defending the West Coast Offense. Remember that offensive package? Remember when it was at its zenith. That would be 1997 and everyone was doing it. yet look at this year. You have throwing teams like the Packers and the Patriots, but that new generation of QBs named Griffin, Wilson and Kaepernick make it an equal opportunity league for quarterbacks that like to run. You simply cannot cram a square peg into a round hole.
Meanwhile, the 49ers adjusted and really, I mean really, unwrapped their QB running game after that. But it seemed like Capers was just waiting for another pass thinking he was so brilliant with Shields, that they would keep throwing his secondary balls to pick off. After about three of Kaepernick’s runs or fakes, it became obvious that his body language is entirely different than if he is dropping back to actually throw or hand off to Frank Gore–he turns ninety degrees, and performs a very exaggerated fake hand-off where he extends his arms fully to where the ball almost touches his thighs. He did it every time. Did Capers see that? Did he tell his spy to watch for that? Was anyone watching the body language and translating it to an adjustment in the defensive scheme?
Or what about Tramon Williams? Was anyone pulling him aside to help him adjust how he was defending Michael Crabtree or did they just hope he’d pick an interception out of the sky like he did during the playoff run of the 2010 season. After all, it worked well then. Why would you want him to do anything different?
Assuming the defense was so awesome in the past and that magic spark of a playoff run would be all that the defense needs is a horrible way to prepare. The past is only that–the past. Something that happened once and will never be created in the future no matter how hard one tries. When there is zero adjustment after the half, I begin to wonder if that is what Capers is thinking: it was so brilliant last time, of course it will work this time. Unfortunately, in the real world that never works and such a plan is quickly buried by the forces of inertia.
Capers isn’t all that the team needs to consider.But they simply cannot succumb to inertia. Of course there will be goats after a bad game. But perhaps it is time to put this old goat out to pasture and consider someone from the college ranks to be our next defensive coordinator. If teams are going to import college offensive packages to compliment the skills their QBs bring to the game, perhaps it is time to match that with defensive preparation that is well versed in these more up-to-date schemes.
My high school soccer coach wasn’t one for making you run laps if you blew a game. He wasn’t for pulling someone to shame them like a Jeremy Ross. He pulled you from the field to teach you so that you don’t reinforce bad habits with each bad play. There was no pouting on the bench. You didn’t get to lick your wounds. He made you stand on the boundary line next to him.
And the first thing he would say is, “Watch.”
It was uniformly a teachable opportunity. He’d point out what your opponent was doing with the ball and point out the boy’s body language and his footwork. He showed you how he consistently faked to the right when you came at him a certain way. He pointed out how the kid always passed the ball if you came at him another way. And only when you understood that and conceptualized those sometimes very simple adjustments before sending you back into the game. Don’t you think Tramon Williams could have benefited from some guided observation instead of him repeatedly fail to cover
Yes, there many advantages to a defensive coordinator sitting up in a booth watching the plays evolve. He can take in the big picture. But has anyone ever considered that Capers has removed himself one step further from the game by having no immediate contact with his players. When the DC is in the booth, that burden is passed on to the position coaches. But what happens when that distance becomes a burden. Perhaps it is time for the DC to come back to the sideline and provide that immediate feedback to the players instead of playing a glorified version of telephone with the coaches on the ground and take out the middle man to optimize communication.
In the past two years the mobile quarterback option has crept into the NFL. It is simply no longer a passing league. Teams are adopting their quarterbacks’ alma mater’s offenses to help rookies hit the ground running. Defending against the a scheme that has been fazing out over the past decade really isn’t keeping with the times. If Dom Capers is waiting for the latest Bill Walsh acolyte to trot out the latest version of the West Coast offense, he will be waiting quite a long time.
Perhaps it is time to take a page from teams that are adopting college offensive packages. The coaching fraternity in the NFL has always been a small, incestuous cadre of players that seem to circulate in a never ending merry go round. Perhaps it is time to instill new blood into the Packers’ defensive leadership. If they want to conquer the Colin Kaepernicks and RGIIIs of the league, perhaps their next defensive coordinator should come from the college ranks. With him they may be able to over come inertia and allow their defense to evolve.