Packers Defense Not Built to Stop the Run All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Colin Kaepernick, Packers-49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was out of the Green Bay Packers’ reach all game.

Colin Kaepernick killed the Green Bay Packers defense on Saturday night. It was a one-man show, and he was unstoppable.

“We thought that passing-wise, we would be alright, regardless of how he was throwing,” said veteran safety Charles Woodson, as quoted by Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin. “What we didn’t anticipate was him running and getting out of the pocket the way he did. Those things killed us. Broke our backs.”

He also seemed to break their souls, sucking the hope right out of the defense. Every time the defense would make good stops on first and second down, Kaepernick would come right back and burn them on third-and-long. The 49ers were 8-of-13 on third down, for a 62% conversion rate.

On the eight third down conversion, each play went for at least 12 yards. In total, the 49ers made 153 yards for an average gain of 19.1 yards. Five of them were running plays, and two of them went for touchdowns. And in looking at yards-to-go, five of those eight third downs needed at least 8 yards to convert.

The big question on everyone’s mind is: Why couldn’t the Packers stop Kaepernick and his running attack? Whether it was the option read or a scramble, he gashed them repeatedly for gigantic chunks of yardage.

Many people are pointing the finger at Dom Capers, and rightly so. His play calling and game plan did nothing to stop what the 49ers were doing. In fact, it almost seemed like he was completely unprepared for what Kaepernick was capable of. Spies were used minimally, and when the blitz was called, there was no one left on the back end for clean-up duty when Kaepernick escaped.

But was it all Capers’ fault? Our own Adam Czech suggests that this problem goes beyond the defensive coordinator. San Francisco, he writes, was simply “bigger, stronger, faster and tougher than the Packers.” And he’s right. The 49ers out-muscled Green Bay’s defense the entire game.

Let’s take a trip back in time, though. Think back to last season and what we were saying about the Packers defense. While the offense was having an historic season, the defense was struggling to be even mediocre. They kept getting burned by veteran quarterbacks and made the rookies look like veterans. The defense relied on the turnover to make their stops and was otherwise a sieve through the air.

The season came crashing down on this fact when Eli Manning and the New York Giants took Green Bay to task in the Divisional playoff game. In that game, Manning threw for 330 yards, three touchdowns, and just one interception.

When the offense struggled, the defense didn’t have the ability to keep the game in reach.

Thus, the offseason was ripe with fans who wanted Ted Thompson to add some talent to the defense, in particular some pass rushers. Bring in an outside linebacker to pair up with Clay Matthews, pick up a defensive lineman that could get some push up the middle, and grab a couple other players to round out the unit. Improve the pass rush, we said, and the rest would fall into place.

And to our delight, Thompson delivered. In the first two rounds he signed Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, and Casey Hayward. Not stopping there, he added an extra lineman in Mike Daniels, a hard-hitting safety in Jerron McMillian, and a linebacker prospect in Terrell Manning.

This was exactly what the fans were looking for. Despite some question marks about “effort,” these players showed great potential.

Here’s the problem, though. Immediately after the draft ended, people started analyzing Thompson’s moves as a desire to add more “speed” to the defense. Additionally, people questioned whether the players were right for the scheme.

Jerel Worthy epitomized these questions. Would he be able to handle double-teams and eat up blockers like 3-4 lineman are supposed to? He was scouted as having a quick first step, which caught glimpses of this year, but did he have the strength and size to make it count?

Then there was Nick Perry, who many saw as a better 4-3 defensive end than a 3-4 outside linebacker. He was also given credit for his initial burst off the line, though unlike Matthews, his strength lay more in the bull rush.

The kicker, of course, is that very few of these draftees were playing on defense during Saturday’s embarrassment. Nick Perry was placed on injured reserve earlier this season, and Jerel Worthy was ruled out for the playoffs after an injury in Week 17. Mike Daniels played just 30 of 80 defensive snaps against San Francisco, Jerron McMillian had three snaps, and Terrell Manning had zero.

Casey Hayward saw the most action as the third cornerback with 32 snaps.

So while this year’s draft class had little impact on the Packers’ final game of the season, it still illustrates the larger picture. The Green Bay Packers have been bolstering their defense in response to the league’s increasing focus on the passing game. Dealing with division quarterbacks like Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford is only the first concern when considering guys like Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and even Tony Romo in the NFC. Then there’s the AFC, who among others has the top two quarterbacks of their generation in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

The focus of Dom Capers, especially in response to what happened last season, was certainly on the passing game. In fact, this trend can be followed all the way back to 2009, when despite boasting the top rushing defense, the Packers were eaten alive by veteran quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre gave them fits during the regular season, and few will forget the way Kurt Warner surgically cut them apart in the Wild Card game at Arizona.

Here is a quick look at some statistics from the past four years when it comes to the defensive production:

Green Bay Packers Defensive Production, 2009-2012
Year Avg. Passing Yds./Game Avg. Rushing Yds./Game
2009 201.1 (5th) 83.3 (1st)
2010 194.2 (5th) 114.9 (18th)
2011 299.8 (32nd) 111.8 (14th)
2012 218.2 (11th) 118.5 (17th)


With the exception of 2009, the Packers’ rushing defense has stayed fairly average. This year took a bit of a drop, but if you consider Adrian Peterson’s two games against them, it might actually be a bit skewed.

What this chart really highlights is the change in passing defense. In 2009, the passing defense was great against average quarterbacks but had a lot more trouble against the good ones. Things got significantly better in 2010, which was a big reason for their push in the postseason and Super Bowl victory. Then 2011 came along, and with it the calls for Dom Capers’ firing.

Now here we are in 2012. The passing defense has improved significantly. A better pass rush combined with the increased performance in the secondary (particularly Casey Hayward and Sam Shields) has made it tough for quarterbacks to rip apart Green Bay through the air. Turnovers have been down in comparison to recent years, but overall play has improved from last season.

The only problem is that we have been so focused on fixing the passing defense, that the running game has been left vulnerable. It’s almost like 2009’s version of the pass defense. The Packers have actually done well against most running backs, but big hitters like Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore have gashed them.

And now we’ve also seen the true Achille’s heel of this defense during the postseason. Not only have strong running games been problematic, but Dom Capers and his unit have had no answer to the option quarterback. Minnesota’s Joe Webb had some good success in the Wild Card round running the option reads, and of course there’s no forgetting what Kaepernick was able to do in the Divisional round.

If this is going to be the new breed of quarterback, then the Packers will need to find an answer – and quickly. They’re unlucky enough to be in the conference that is really grooming this style of offense. Cam Newton and the Panthers, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Green Bay will be dealing with them all in the coming years, whether in the regular season or postseason.

Future success will be dependent on their ability to handle these offenses, as well as building on their success against the passing game. They might be able to handle a loss or two during the season against the option offenses, but when it’s “one and done” in the playoffs, they will need an answer.

Unfortunately, we now have a couple more weeks of offseason to start figuring it out.


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


20 thoughts on “Packers Defense Not Built to Stop the Run

  1. My thoughts exactly in regard to the new wave, dual threat, QBs in the NFC. The Packers must take these QBs into consideration and build a balanced defense

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. Running QBs have been in the NFL for years. Cunningham, Young, Vick,etc…

    The coordinator needs to plan for that. Dom didn’t. I don’t know what disconnect is with the total team strategy, but MM needs to ( or TT or ???) get everyone one the same page.

    When the few times the D did stay in the lane, Kap couldn’t breakout the long run. It’s about developing a total game plan and GB didn’t.

  3. Chad – good comments as usual. I that the Packers are, to some extent, the victims of their own success. They have built the team via the draft and develop approach. Generally I agree with this approach. The results have been 4 straight playoff seasons, 2 division titles and 1 SB win for a record of 51-21 including playoff games (09-12). However, they are drafting in the second half of each round (usually 24th or higher) year after year. Compared with teams like SF, Seattle and the Redskins which lost for years until recently. Those teams are reaping the benefits of their higher choices now. I am not saying the Packers should have some losing seasons but I am saying that they need to consider being more flexible towards free agency to make up for their weak spots. Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett have worked well as free agents. We need a few more on each side of the ball. Our coaches do a great job of developing our players, regardless of the draft position, but the flaw in the approach comes in the playoffs and with inconsistent play overall. Last night we had late round drafted players against early round players and it showed. The situation is compounded when you have injuries, e.g. Nick Perry. We would not even have Rodgers if he did not drop to 24 during his draft. Driver, Saturday, and Woodson are probably done, let’s sign some free agents in their place. Maybe trade Tramon Williams and Hawk for some picks. Tramon has not been the same player since his shoulder injury and Hawk looks lost out there. Thanks, Since ’61. See ya in September.

  4. The answer is really two things, you need defensive players who are smart enough and disciplined enough to do their job on every single snap. And then those players need to be athletic or talented enough to make the play. Walden was terrible last night, Hawk was his usual invisible self, and Jones was also not very good. The 3-4 defense is built for the LB’s to be the play makers, the Packers had one legit starting LB last night. Hawk takes false steps on every play and seems to have no football instincts at all, zero anticipation skills, he has to go if you want to get back to playing championship defense. Bishop and Perry would have helped last night or even DJ Smith, but Thompson should draft at least two more LB’s this year and a true 3-4 DE in the 6’5″ 290 pound range wouldn’t hurt either.

    1. I totally agree. Outside of Justin Harrell, AJ Hawk has been TT’s biggest bust. All that money for a #5 pick who is 7th round talent at best. Sure, he gets tackles, but only after 5 plus yards are gained.

      1. totally agree, I always laugh when they talk about Hawks tackle totals for a game, but they never mention its mostly after 4, 5, or 6 yards, he has been hurting this defense for years. Get rid of him!

  5. If you go back and watch the defensive tape from last night, you will see an abundance of plays where GB either had a man in the right spot or had a good def play call and one or two players just did terrible job. I told my friend before the game that GB needed to do 2 things, one stop Kap from running make him throw to beat you, and two they needed to take away Crabtree on all that short little dinky passing stuff. They did neither, so not to let Capers off the hook, his gameplan was bizarre, often calling overload blitzes where guys were wildly rushing up the field like they were playing Bernie Kosar at QB, and then single coverage or no coverage on Crabtree when it is obvious that he isn’t going deep on 90% of his routes should be easier to take away.

  6. As lombardi would say, “What the Hell is going on out there”! I saw alot of bad football. It looked like the defense was playing in mudd. Slow is the best word. Slow to react, slow to compensate, etc. I watched with a group of loyal packer fans and we all called most of the plays correct each time Capernick ran we called it before the snap? I do not pretend to be a Football expert, nor do I make Millions to be one but come on, how out of touch are these coaches that they were “Surprised”? It is time to hand out some pink slips….

  7. I remember after the 2008 season when Mike McCarthy fired Defensive Coordinator Bob Saunders and interviewed Dom Capers for the job, The first question he asked Dom Capers was “Can You Stop The Run”

    1. I would have to believe his answer was along the line of “Yes,yes I can…if I have the players to do so with”.

      The history of Capers defense failing in the 3-4th years isn’t just about his scheme,it also has to be considered with the loss of players whether via long term injury or leaving in FA.

      1. Who have we lost to free agency on the defense? Jenkins? Jolly got busted but was a great run defender. Collins was hurt. Maybe your right and there’s several more but I can’t think of them right now. The point is, you can’t defend Capers career stats after his stay is longer than 3 or 4 years. I believe it goes deeper than just Capers but I ask myself this question. Pittsburg runs the same defense, is LaBeau just that much better to make adjustments during the game? If not then it falls on personal. With the exception of CMIII, Hayward, and Raji, there’s not a player I wouldn’t hesitate to replace. Jones played very well this year and I wouldn’t mind seeing him paired with Bishop.

      2. Bullshit! Packers won a SB with 16 players on the IR two years ago. Capers (I’m a legend in my own mind) did not show up to the game prepared and did not make adjustments at the half. This was an embarrassing repeat of last year, only last year he had two weeks to prepare and blew it! The Packers didn’t just lose to the Giants and the 9ers, they were embarrassed. I just don’t want to hear about injuries. That excuse has been abused all season.

        1. Why can’t you blame a portion of this on injuries? Who says? One superbowl win with with players on injured reserve now gives you the right to say that a team should win without talent? That SB win was lightning in a bottle. It’s rare. Don’t accept it as the norm. Injuries are a part of the reason. Nobody said it excuses the loss, but it is a factor. How can it not be? Take a few of the best players off any team and expect them to win? Talent-rich and healthy teams have a better chance to win. Chance.
          Yes they got embarrassed. Many factors play into this. Offense could have played better, allowing the defense to have a break. Coaches could have done better homework before the game, etc.

          My burning question still remains, why go man-to-man with a running QB?

          1. Lucas, I agree with your burning question. But as a Defenseive coach with injured starters, you go with what you have. But if the defense is failing, you change the startegy at the half. If a dback keeps getting burnt (Tramon) you put someone else in his place, and if the QB keeps running, you change the strategy again. In my opinion, althought he offense did play up to its potential, the defense lost the game and the coach of the defense is the biggest blame.

  8. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that this falls on Capers. The personality and/or attitude of a business or a team starts at the top, and I for one am tired of hearing every week that the problem is “Fundamentals, and we can correct that”!! Yes, the fundamentals, the X’s, and the O’s are all important, but in the words of Mike Holmgren when the Packer first started their rise in 1994 by beating the 49ers in the playoffs, “Football is about kicking somebody’s A$$, look across at the guy opposite you and kick his A$$”, and that’s how you win football games. The Packers do not have the personality, or the killer instinct to play like that, and that starts at the top, not with the assistants!

    1. This is consistent with something I’ve pointed out many times since MM’s arrival in Green Bay. There isn’t any “fire in the belly,” or a willingness to pull a player in the middle of a game when he isn’t performing. The most glaring example was during the Johnny Jolly days. MM doesn’t have the internal makeup to confront a player in that manner. It’s needed from time to time and he doesn’t do it.

      His in-game adjustments also leave a lot to be desired. His desire to “go long” is too predictable. His tendency to abandon the run game, even when it’s productive, is too well known. If I can accurately predict when the Packers are going to start going three-and-out, GB is in trouble.

      I didn’t think GB would miss the things Joe Philbin did as OC, but I do. He seemed to bring some continuity to game planning that Tom Clements doesn’t. This season, I noticed Aaron Rodgers being a little more vocal with MM than in past seasons. Could this be an indicator of some disagreement with play calling and/or gaame planning?

  9. Excellent article. I have to admit that seeing the graph on the D makes me question my knee-jerk reaction to want the team to fire Capers. We got abused by great passing teams last year but improved dramatically this year. This article convinces me that Capers deserves another shot. But remember, we have to stop Calvin Johnson with Detroit and Marshall with the Bears. These teams have classic pocket passers and we have to evolve to stop running QBs while not losing ground to divisional opponents. Additionally, the 49ers are loaded with pro-bowl talent and we aren’t. Superior athletes coached well are tough to beat.

  10. Reading through most of the posts, and the great article I would like to point to 3 things from what I can tell.

    Being agile. Not in the physical sports perspective, but in the game planning. Being able to adapt to things you didn’t see coming, but should have since they have every tape on everyone these days. Dom Capers has NEVER shown to be agile. Change things if they aren’t working, Capers can’t or won’t do it. This also applies to McCarthy and by extension his OC, short pass on 3rd and long, deep pass on 3rd and short.

    Players playing football. I have yet to see consistent hard playing, players on the field on either side of the ball with the exceptions of the stars. Every single player, barring the Oline, has someone they can look to and try to emulate, DB’s = Woodson, LB’s = Mathews, Dline = Raji/Picket(when fresh), WR’s = Jones, RB’s = Harris(Love this kids heart) play hard or go home. I know physical ability is going to vary, and I am not talking about that, but get some effort into the game.

    Staff. TT known for really hitting the jackpot in the draft, has let the team down with several positions being neglected or being filled with byproduct.

    Yes I have been a hater on Capers for a while, and would joyously celebrate his firing, even if it got worst in the short term. His stats, as has been pointed out forever, are horrible after 3-4 years, in our case we got one good one.

  11. Embarrassing being outcoached by Jim Hairball. C’mon MM and TT get your crap together and just say no to the EGO….

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