I have been watching a lot of football these past two weekends, and I think the only NFL game I didn’t watch at least part of was Denver vs. New England. (Really, was there a point to seeing that one?) And while I’ve cached away a lot of observations, there are a couple big things that have stuck with me. The most impressionable of these, I believe, was the way the San Francisco 49ers defense handled the New Orleans Saints.
If any of you watched this game, you should know what I am talking about. To put it succinctly, I rather enjoyed watching their physical play, discipline, and unrelenting attacks on the ball.
But if you asked me to name more than three players from that unit, I don’t think I could do it.
Which made me think . . . what is wrong with the Packers’ defense, then? They have what I believe to be a group of fairly solid players that compliment some big talent, yet they never played like it this season. Last season they did, and it won them quite a few games where the offense sputtered.
Now, we could easily turn this into a “blame game” and start pointing fingers, and I guess I will be depending on how you look at it. What I really want to know, though, is where and how this group needs to improve.
After Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, I noticed a significant number of fans voicing their extreme displeasure with Dom Capers. Let him go. Reggie McKenzie can take him to Oakland. Or just let him be on his way.
Of course, others retaliated to this, mostly mentioning his lack of playmaking defensive linemen and linebackers.
Now, both sides do have valid points. On the one hand, the loss of Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins could have been the right recipe for disaster. Take away your biggest asset from the line, then subtract your best safety valve in the secondary, and what are you going to end up with? Nobody was really able to replace either of these two like some of the injured players were last year. Their loss was felt all season, and it was extremely painful to watch the amount of time Eli Manning had in the pocket.
And yet there’s still a part of me that thinks this could have been overcome with better coaching. I’m not even talking about the play-calling here, I’m talking about the actual coaching of these players.
As I mentioned earlier, I find it difficult to name some of the players on the San Francisco 49ers defense. Maybe I just haven’t followed them as closely as other teams, but I don’t think that’s really it. When I was watching them play this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice how the cornerbacks and safeties were almost always in a position to make a play on either the ball or the receiver. Can that be said about the Packers’ secondary? Hardly.
So in many ways, I do believe this comes down to coaching. There is some legitimate talent on this defense; unfortunately, they did not play up to their potential. These guys are good at studying their opponents and doing their homework. They push each other in practice and the veterans serve as positive role models to the younger players.
But like it or not, their (dare I say it) fundamentals have been way off.
Matt Bowen of the National Football Post recently posted some thoughts from Sunday’s game, and had this to say about Eli Manning: “I saw a QB that exposed a secondary that looked confused at times, gave up far too much cushion (distance between CB and WR) and couldn’t defend the middle of the field.”
To me, this comes down to coaching.
With that said, though, there is still one quandary to sort through. Does Dom Capers carry the brunt of this, or is it the assistant/position coaches who should be responsible? Or is it a combination of the two?
Quite honestly, I’m not sure of what the answer is. My gut tells me that the assistant coaches should be the ones disciplining these guys on leverage and footwork and angles in covering the field. I also believe, though, that it is ultimately Capers’ responsibility to make sure these things are getting taken care of.
Regardless, I don’t believe it’s time to give up on Dom Capers or his staff.
Things will probably get shuffled around this offseason with so much coaching movement around the league. Super Bowl champions are usually the ones picked apart first, so it would be no shock to see a different set of coaches come next season. So maybe that will breathe some fresh air into this unit.
We also need to see if Ted Thompson can acquire some more talent up front. Despite the pleas from fans last year, he didn’t really find a good replacement for Cullen Jenkins or a capable OLB to complement Clay Matthews. Last year’s draft was pretty offense-heavy, so I can only imagine the defense will get some of the focus in 2012.
Jumping the gun in looking for a new defensive coordinator is a very risky move and, quite frankly, an unnecessary one. But this unit can play better, and it’s up to Dom Capers and his staff to make it happen.
I want to see a team that is focused, fundamentally sound, and communicating well.
I want to see a defense that is physical and always has a bead on the ball.
I want to see players who are sure of their assignments and know the right angles to take.
From the players on up to the coaches, let’s see some positive changes during this offseason. The buck stops with all of you, so make it happen.——————Follow @ChadToporski