Category Archives: Dom Capers

22

July

Cory’s Corner: Packers’ 2014 D Begins and Ends with Raji

With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a snice year.

With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a nice year.

I gave B.J. Raji a lot of grief last year.

After setting career lows in total tackles (12) and tallying no sacks for the second straight season, it was completely warranted.

Raji’s argument was that he barely played his true position as a bona fide nose tackle. He dabbled in playing end and also spent time as a three-technique lineman that is more prevalent in a 4-3 scheme.

True position or not, his production nose-dived to the point that many — including myself — were surprised that the Packers didn’t let him walk in free agency.

But then Julius Peppers signed.

Which of course means that Raji will be going back to his usual perch at the middle of the defensive line as the team’s nose tackle. The fifth-year pro should be ecstatic about getting help on the outside to assist him bull-rushing up the gut.

And there’s another twist that makes it even better for the Packers: Raji signed a team-friendly deal this past offseason. Of course, there’s no way Green Bay can lose when Raji turns down $8 million a season. Now the 28-year-old is operating under a 1-year $4,000,000 deal.

Will Peppers have a big year? He may surprise a lot of people, but even if he plays like an average 34-year-old, the Packers will be OK.

And the reason is because Green Bay will be playing to the strengths of the guy that was one of the best run-stoppers in the game in 2010.

Is it a gamble? Sure. First of all, Clay Matthews cannot get hurt again. A consistent pass rush must be executed from each side in order to give Raji space up the middle.

In more ways than one this is Raji’s year. He needs a big year for a big payday, but he also wants a solid year to end the criticism he took all of last year for giving up on plays early. Obviously, there is no excuse for loafing and there’s no reason to do that no matter what position you play.

Raji cannot be satisfied with how he played last year. I mean he was tied for 540th in the league in combined tackles. He will need to be more of a ball hawk this year because the Packers take on eight teams with a dominant running back.

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16

June

Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson

Safety Sean Richardson. Photo credit: Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

No one will argue that the safety position was a major deficiency for the Green Bay Packers during the 2013-14 season. They didn’t generate a single interception and they frequently looked lost in coverage. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 campaign, it’s poised to be a position of strength.

For starters, gone is M.D. Jennings, who is now competing for a roster spot in Chicago. Entering is first-round draft selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who, according to many, fell as a gift to the Packers at the 21st spot.

Also garnering headlines is versatile defensive back Micah Hyde. Last year, he played mainly in the nickel substitution packages or covering the slot receiver. However, during the most recent OTAs, he took first-team reps at safety alongside Morgan Burnett.

With the combination of Clinton-Dix and Hyde competing for playing time next to Burnett, it appears the Packers are set at the starting safety tandem.

Third-year player Sean Richardson would beg to differ. His career almost never got started when he sustained a serious neck injury during his 2012 rookie campaign, but now that he’s fully healed, he’s poised to make some noise in the defensive secondary as he enters another season in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.

It’s easy to forget about Richardson because he went undrafted in 2012 and then free missed extensive time during the most crucial first two years of a young player’s developmental window.

However, his measurables cannot be ignored. When compared to Clinton-Dix, he is bigger (6’2″ and 216 lbs. to 6’1″ and 208 lbs.), faster (4.52 secs to 4.58 secs in the 40-yard dash), stronger (22 reps to 11 reps at the bench press), more explosive (38.5″ to 33.0″ inches in the vertical jump and 128″ to 119″ in the broad jump), and more agile (7.01 secs to 7.16 secs) in the 3-cone drill).

These aren’t knocks against Clinton-Dix at all because he is considered a first-round talent and should make an immediate impact.

It simply means we can’t forget about Richardson because he is a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.

Richardson has elite measurables, but he simply needs time to develop his game. He went undrafted because scouts thought his coverage skills fell short of what his athleticism should dictate.

9

June

Xs and Os: The Three-Deep Zone Defense (Cover 3)

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

Continuing with our series of defensive coverage shells, this week we’ll take a closer look at the three-deep zone defense, which is more commonly known as the cover 3.

Previously, we looked at the cover 1 and cover 2 defenses.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers predominantly prefers the single-high safety look, but he has deployed the cover 2 shell frequently over the years.

However, the Packers don’t use the cover 3 all that often, but it’s a defense that every NFL team must have in their arsenal because what it brings to the table.

Of course, this article comes with my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only.

Cover 3 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense usually divides the area vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half usually extends 15-20 from the line of scrimmage.

In the three-deep zone defense (cover 3), the free safety and both cornerbacks play zone defense and each guard a third of the deep half. They must cover any receiver entering their respective third of the field and drive towards to the ball once it is in the air. Additionally, they must carry the receivers vertically all the way to the goal line.

The GIF below highlights the assignments.

output_SaDK67

Strengths of Cover 3

There is no perfect defense in football. If the defense sells out to stop the run, they are extremely vulnerable to the pass. Likewise, setting up a strong back end to guard the pass makes them susceptible to the pass.

The cover 3 is a compromise defense of sorts. Because the deep third is covered by the free safety and both cornerbacks, the strong safety is free to align in the box.

This means the defense can play eight in the box to stop the run. The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) are in the box in addition to the strong safety.

In a nutshell, the cover 3 allows the defense the flexibility. It can be considered a “jack of all trades” defense. It is a very popular run defense, with pass flex, in the NFL because it allows the defense to pack eight in the box and still drop seven into zone pass coverage.

2

June

Xs and Os: The Double-High Safety Defense (Cover 2)

The cover 2 defense has two safeties splitting the deep half of the field.

The cover 2 pass defense has both safeties splitting the deep half of the field equally.

Now that the Green Bay Packers presumably have two capable safeties roaming the back end of the defense in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will probably be playing more cover 2, which is a staple at all levels of organized football.

The cover 2 is a necessity in modern football defenses because the game has evolved into a passing aerial circus. By placing two safeties deep in the defensive backfield, the defense has more protection against deep passes.

This article breaks down the basics of the double-high safety defense, which is more commonly known as the cover 2. As you’ll see, there are different flavors of the cover 2.

Of course, this article comes with my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only.

Cover 2 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense typically divides the area vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half usually extends 15-20 from the line of scrimmage.

In the double-high safety defense (cover 2), the free safety and the strong safety play zone defense and each guard half of the deep half. They must cover any receiver entering their respective half of the field and drive towards to the ball once it is in the air.

The GIF below highlights the assignments.

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Strengths of Cover 2

Football teams that face passing offenses usually must play cover 2 during some point in the game. It is an effective defense against the pass because it allows the defense to drop seven defenders into pass coverage. By having the safeties play zone in the back end, the deep half of the field has two defenders guarding against deep throws. This is a more conservative pass defense than the single-high safety (cover 1) defense.

The safeties are there to bail out cornerbacks on deep balls or to double cover more skilled receivers running deep into the formation.

Weaknesses of Cover 2

Since the cover 2 usually drops seven defenders into pass coverage, it means it is primarily a pass defense. In other words, when running the cover 2, the defense typically cannot place eight defenders in the box to guard against the run.

26

May

Xs and Os: Rolling Safety Defense

First round selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an excellent rolling safety.

First round selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an excellent rolling safety.

When the Green Bay Packers selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 draft, they were hoping they found the last missing defensive back needed to bring defensive coordinator Dom Caper’s single-high safety defensive blueprint to life.

Last week on our No Huddle Radio podcast, Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq on Twitter) from Optimum Scouting briefly discussed how the Packers may use Clinton-Dix, particularly because he’s very good at rolling in coverage.

Clinton-Dix played in Nick Saban’s pro-style defense at the University of Alabama. The ability to roll safeties is one hallmark of a pro-style defense. Both schemes of Capers and Saban roll safeties, making Clinton-Dix a logical draft pick.

We now know two very important aspects of Capers’ defense:

  1. He prefers to play a single-high safety coverage. I previously wrote about it here.
  2. He, and Clinton-Dix’s University of Alabama, likes to roll the safeties in coverage.

For this article, we’ll look briefly look at what rolling safety coverage is.

What is rolling safety coverage?

As is par for the course in this column, we’ll approach this topic as an oversimplification for illustrative purposes.

Essentially, rolling safeties means they are not “locked” into playing one area of the field, one player, or one zone responsibility on defense. They must be able to move around the field and match the formation and/or the pass pattern deployment the offense runs.

In other words, they “roll” match some aspect of the offense.

We will use the cover 1 defense as our current example to discuss rolling safeties. Keep in mind, however, there are near-infinite ways a defense can roll their safeties. Since we’ve only previously broken down the cover 1, we’ll stick with that as our example.

In the cover 1, there are two main ways the defense can roll the safeties:

  1. Roll to the strength of the formation (formation matching defense).
  2. Roll to the depth of the pass patterns (pattern matching defense).

1. Roll to the Strength of the Formation

In the cover 1 defense, the deep safety (usually the free safety) is responsible for the deep half all by himself. He needs to cover anyone entering the zone and drive towards the ball once it is in flight.

Cover1-Fig1

15

May

Dom Capers’ Time of Reckoning Has Arrived

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Packers defense, Dom Capers, Mike McCarthy, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Packers fire Capers, Fire Dom Capers

Dom Capers will have Mike McCarthy looking over his shoulder more frequently in 2014.

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.

6

May

Xs and Os: The Single-High Safety Defense (Cover 1)

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

In the 2014 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers will most likely target a free safety to help out strong safety Morgan Burnett.

Selecting a starting-caliber free safety is paramount because defensive coordinator Dom Capers relies heavily on a safety to play single-high coverage (cover 1) in many of his defensive alignments. No one will argue that safety play was suspect, at best, during the 2013-2014 season.

Many draft pundits believe that selecting a free safety will help strong safety Morgan Burnett play a more comfortable and natural role within the defense, which is closer to the line of scrimmage. The new free safety can patrol deep center field. Doing so will greatly improve the overall defense.

This article breaks down the basics of the cover 1 defense. In a nutshell, it combines aspects of zone and man-to-man coverage. You can get refresher about man-to-man coverage here and zone coverage here.

Cover 1 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense typically divides the field vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half extends 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

In the single-high (cover 1), the free safety plays zone coverage, guarding the deep half all to himself. He is responsible for any receiver that enters the zone. He must make a play on the ball as it enters the zone. The GIF below demonstrates his assignment.

Cover1 Fig1

No matter where the free safety lines up at the snap of the ball, if the play is a pass, he must backpedal to the landmark, which is usually between the hashmarks about 15-17 yards deep. Typically, he lines up on the open side (away from the tight end). The whole time his eyes are looking forward at the play. He isresponsible for the deep half, which includes assisting someone else cover a receiver entering the area or guarding anyone who is potentially uncovered. See the GIF below.

Cover1 Fig2

The underneath half may be man-to-man, zone, or a combination of both.

Why Play Cover 1?

The single-high safety defense is an aggressive defense. Generally, it allows for more defenders near the line of scrimmage that can attack the offense.