It might be a year or two too late for some Green Bay Packers fans, but it seems head coach Mike McCarthy has finally put his foot down and had it up to here with shortcomings on the team’s defense.
His message to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, especially in the wake of last week’s NFL Draft, is crystal clear: the defense has to get better in 2014…or else. An increasingly loud section of the Packers’ passionate fan base has been calling for Capers’ dismissal at the conclusion of each of the past two seasons, but McCarthy has stayed steadfast in his support for Capers.
Until now, or at least it seems that way.
The first cracks in the steady wall of support McCarthy has had for his defensive coordinator began to show this offseason when the head coach said his season ending conversation with Capers was “harder” than it had been in the past. That was the first sign Capers was being put on notice for 2014 but it wasn’t the last.
General manager Ted Thompson then went out and brought in free agent Julius Peppers to help shore up the pass rush in a very rare move for the Packers. Peppers is 34 and does not fit the profile of a normal free agent the Packers would look at signing. Perhaps this was McCarthy speaking through a personnel move that a lack of a pass rush is no longer going to be tolerated?
As if that weren’t a clear enough signal, Thompson added even more talent on defense via this spring’s draft. With the selection of HaHa Clinton-Dix in the first round, the Packers have now spent three straight first round draft picks on defense and each pick helped a layer of then defense (Nick Perry for the linebackers in 2012, Datone Jones for the defensive line in 2013 and Clinton-Dix in 2014 for the safeties/secondary).
With the addition of Peppers and this year’s draft class, it is truly “put up or shut up” time for Capers in Green Bay.
McCarthy also mentioned he was taking more of a hands-on approach on the defensive side of the ball this season. Since the head coach is normally so focused on the offense, this is a big warning sign for Capers. When your boss suddenly takes a hand in what you are doing, you are usually on the brink of being let go.
With McCarthy taking on a larger role with the defense, the Packers also seem to be shifting away from the traditional 3-4 they have run since Capers arrived in 2009. One just has to look at their new additions to see proof of that. Peppers has never played in a 3-4 and will be playing the “elephant” role with the Packers meaning he will be moved around the front seven.
The Packers also drafted Khyri Thorton in the third round of the draft to help the defensive line and he is smaller than the defensive lineman Green Bay has had the past few seasons. Combine that with McCarthy reiterating after the draft that the Packers will be very multiple on both offense AND defense and suddenly the team has an out if they want to change schemes–and coordinators after the season.
The fact that Carl Bradford, taken in the fourth round this year, is an outside and not inside linebacker shows the Paxkers are at least somewhat thinking about a scheme change. The pieces are in place for Green Bay to move to a 4-3, or even a more hybrid-style base defense without too much difficulty.
Oh, and when McCarthy says part of his team will be improved and that we can write it down “in big letters,” you know he means business. McCarthy said the same about the running game last year and it worked out pretty well and that was even before Eddie Lacy was drafted
It’s taken longer than many would have liked but the writing is finally on the wall for Capers. McCarthy will never come right out and say it but in this case, where there is smoke there is definitely fire.
Capers had better hope his unit improves in 2014 or that fire will burn him right out of Green Bay.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke