Dom Capers or the 3-4: Who’s to blame? All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Many have called for the head of defensive coordinator Dom Capers (whose head ironically can’t be taken since his contract expired). However, some have argued that the problem goes deeper than just Dom Capers and really its that the 3-4 defense is inherently flawed and that the Packers should switch back to a 4-3 scheme.

This is actually a pretty interesting question: to put it another way, is the 3-4 defense something like the wildcat offense?  What I mean by that is the wildcat offense took the league by storm in 2009 with the Miami Dolphins, but when the rest of the league had proper time to analyze and defend against it properly it slowly faded back into obscurity (see Tim Tebow).  It could be argued that the “Blitzburgh” 3-4 defense run by both Dom Capers and Dick Lebeau took the league by storm when the Packers played the Steelers in the 2010 Super Bowl and perhaps the league has caught up and has finally figured a way to beat the 3-4 defense.

To look into this I’ve used some statistics available from Advanced NFL Stats (great site by the way) and Football Outsiders (also another great site) to look at defensive efficiency for the 2012 regular season.  Just as a little primer on the metrics we’re looking at, Advanced NFL Stats’ dEPA (Defensive Expected Points Added) looks at how many favorable positions a team puts itself in regard to scoring points (i.e. getting a 1st down at your own 10 yard line is nets less EPA than getting a 1st down at the opponent’s 1o yard line since the chances of scoring at your opponent’s 10 yard line are significantly higher than at your own 10 yard line).  For Football Outsiders’ dDVOA (Defensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, should it be Defensive Offensive-adjusted Value Over Average?) it’s a metric that attempts to normalize defensive efficiency in regards to offensive efficiency faced.  To put that in lay terms, some defenses get lucky every year by playing poor offenses/poor divisions and/or injured offenses and should not have higher efficiencies than defenses who perhaps perform worse against a far superior offense.  Each has it’s own merits; football is a situational game (which is measured by Advanced NFL Stats), while even the best defenses will struggle with the best offenses in the league (measured by Football Outsiders).  With all that said, for defenses negative numbers are good (I’ve reversed the y-axis to reflect that)


4-3 Defense


































































3-4 Defense






































So on the outlook it does appear if in actuality 3-4 defenses perform slightly better than 4-3 defenses, but I’ve run unpaired t-tests on both metrics (dEPA p=.3629, dDVOA p=.4322) and neither is statistically significant (in other words it’s almost a coin flip in terms which defensive scheme is more efficient).  Overall you see both defensive schemes all over the efficiency metrics.  Dominant defenses like Arizona and San Francisco run the 3-4 while Seattle and Chicago run the 4-3.  On the other end of the spectrum, Jacksonville and New Orleans run the 4-3 while Kansas City and Indianapolis run the 3-4.  So really, the conclusion is probably that both schemes are equally effective, and really it’s about other factors like player talent, experience and coaching.

So going back to Dom Capers, you can argue that he’s not coaching his players right or not getting the most out of his players, but it’s not the 3-4 in itself which is the issue.  Personally, I attribute Caper’s dismal playoff performances to getting stuck playing the wrong quarterback at the wrong time, just like Atlanta got stuck playing Aaron Rodgers in 2010, Capers got stuck trying to plan against Eli Manning in 2011 and Colin Kaepernick in 2012.






Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


38 thoughts on “Dom Capers or the 3-4: Who’s to blame?

  1. Has anyone done an analysis of the number of plays over 15 or 20 yards given up by these defenses? I can’t help but wonder if there’s a meaningful difference in big plays given up, and those numbers have to be out there somewhere.

    1. Not to my knowledge, but I would assume that there isn’t a significant difference in “big plays” between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Again, you probably don’t see many “big plays” against Seattle or San Francisco but you would against Kansas City or Jacksonville. Traditionally, it’s been assumed that 3-4 defenses are better against the pass but worse against the run since they substitute a down linemen with a outside linebacker, who is likely faster at better at pass coverage. Whether this is actually true is up for debate.

  2. Ultimately, you need the players to execute any scheme. We still don’t have enough talent to be a top ten defense. If the linebackers are suppose to be the stars of the 3-4, then we obviously have trouble. And if the D-line is suppose to eat up the blocks, then we better have some big bodies and depth to let that happen. I don’t see either of these with today’s Packers. Get the players, then you can blame the coach and his scheme.

    1. One thing I was thinking about is that it does seem like the better 3-4 defenses have a dominant 3-4 DE, like Justin Smith (SF), JJ Watt (HOU), Haloti Ngata (BAL) or even Cullen Jenkins in 2010.

      1. I would agree. In Arizona, Dockett and Campbell on the defensive line is one reason they have a strong defense.

  3. Completely agree Razer. I think it’s lack of talent up front more then scheme. Capers had guys in the right spots on many of the big plays by Kaepernick. They just simply couldn’t make them when in those spots due to lack of athleticism. I’m not saying Capers has no blame in this, but there’s no way you can say this all falls on him when you have Hawk, Walden and Jones as 3 of your 4 starting linebackers.

    1. That does appear to be one overlooked aspect of this year’s defense, the linebacking core was essentially on plan C or D with only Matthews being a preferred starter (you could argue that Hawk was a preferred starter, but Bishop was usually the lone ILB when they went for coverage)

    2. Both Walden and Jones have been starters for this team. They should know what to do. So my opinion is Capers is to blame! You can blame players if they have a bad game, but the whole defense was horrible! Every level was pathetic. That folks is very, very bad coaching!

      1. Just because a player is a starter doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing, I mean Jamarcus Russell was a starter for the Raiders and that didn’t mean anything. I have heard that Walden was not responsible for Kaepernick for the play where he got turned around, so you can argue that he didn’t diagnosis the play right or didn’t figure out what was going on quick enough, but he was playing his correct assignment.

      2. Knowing what to do and having the ability to perform the task are 2 completely different things. Walden and Jones forced Capers to call plays differently than if Capers had better players available.

        If healthy the Packers have top 10 Defensive talent, that much was proven this year. Need a couple pieces primarily at Safety and an ILB to step up. I think Manning is the ILB we need but can’t say I feel the same about McMillan at Safety. I would draft a Safety high this year. A DE that can hold the Point of Attack vs the run would help too. Have some inside pass rushers who can develop to help Matthews and Perry in that regard.

    1. Finding players is tough, and every GM makes mistakes, it cost Bill Polian his job and Ted Thompson managed to fleece Bill Belichick once (for CMIII). But really, it’s also the job of the coaches to get the most from who they have, I think everyone would love to have a 3-4 D-line of JJ Watt, Vince Wilfork and Justin Smith, but it’s just not going to happen with the salary cap.

    2. I’m not sure who said something on the order of…
      “A coach cannot win a game, but he can certainly lose it.”
      So, assuming that’s true, players win games but cannot lose them?

      1. If a kicker misses an easy game winning field goal at the end of regulation, is it the coaches fault?

  4. When the GB 3-4 plays aggressively they play well. When they play soft they are awful. If it’s all the players they should be equally good/bad playing either style. As Al pointed out in his great analysis of “spying” the coaches have a lot to do with aggressiveness or lack of.

    While last year tackling and coverage were the big problems, this year it was the run. SF used not only their RB’s but their QB to run, run, run. Against Atlanta they played a ball control passing and run scheme. They game planned GB’s big weakness – poor LB play and no penetration by the Dline. Poor LB play is all on the players and the Dline is coaching. They are more interested in gap control than penetration of the opponents Oline.

    Improvement in player quality and coaching are both required to address the issue of playing the the big nasty physical teams. Against the remaining 75% they will do well. Getting to the playoffs is pretty much a given. Advancing in the playoffs is where the focus must be for the defense this year. That means getting better in personnel and caoching qulaity.

    1. “If it’s all the players they should be equally good/bad playing either style.” I’m not sure I agree with this statement, would Clay Matthews be as good of a WLB or DE in a 4-3 scheme? I would argue that one of the big reasons that many big name free agents become busts is because they excelled in the system they were in but couldn’t translate that into production in other schemes. Take for instance Asomugha, he was lights out in Oakland when he only covered one side of the field, but with the Eagles they tried to make him another Charles Woodson and it backfired terribly for them.

      1. I think by ‘either style’ Ron meant the ‘hard’ 3-4 (man D and lots of blitzes) or the ‘soft’ 3-4 (zone D and gap control against the run.). So CMIII (for instance) as a 34 OLB, should be equally good at pass rush, setting run gaps, or dropping into coverage. And he mostly is.

        The issue for GB this year was that the injury replacements simply weren’t good enough. In 2010, losing an older, slower Nick Barnett opened the way for a really talented Desmond Bishop. This year losing Bishop left us with a significantly less talented DJ Smith (sorry guys, he is too short to cover modern TEs) and when he got hurt too we needed to start a journeyman in Brad Jones.

        People who think that sort of drop off in talent shouldn’t matter or can be ‘coached up’ are fooling themselves. One spot (or the first backup) maybe, but not half your LB corps down to the 4th string, and you are using a backup safety (MDJennings) as your nickel cover guy.

        They had a good run, but did’t have the same kind of depth this year that they had in 2010. That’s eventually what happens when you pick no higher than 20th for a few years in a row.

  5. Appreciate the time you put in Thomas,but,no matter how many or different ways this is sliced,diced,grated..there is but one common thread as to the problem…our players don’t have the talent or we have the wrong players for the scheme…both is about the players.

    An ‘I C U’ defense as to the front seven.

    1. I would argue that the Packers have one of the most talented defenses in the NFL. While that hasn’t translated into success as of yet, I think they’ll get there in the next couple of years. Another thing you have to consider is that there were some pretty big losses on the defensive side of the ball, Bishop was out for the year, Perry was a rookie and also landed on IR, Woodson was out for most of the season etc. The talent level will be much higher almost by default this offseason.

  6. Ron LC says: “Improvement in player quality and coaching are both required to address the issue of playing the the big nasty physical teams. Against the remaining 75% they will do well. Getting to the playoffs is pretty much a given. Advancing in the playoffs is where the focus must be for the defense this year. That means getting better in personnel and caoching qulaity.”

    I totally agree with this.

    1. Haha, that’s about the extent of my statistical knowledge, I’ll let Chad get into regression curves and X2 tests.

  7. Certainly the 3-4 is not comparable to the wildcat and it stormed the league way before 2010 and I would argue not we lost to a hot qb but we allowed the Qb to be hot. Watching love and replay our entire LB group was out of position and yeah maybe they didn’t listen but the coach and players to blame not scheme!

    1. I agree that the 3-4 is not a “fad” like the wildcat ultimately turned out to be, but there was a time where the 3-4 was the hottest thing out there (I think the NFL network claimed it was the biggest NFL innovation ever). While I don’t think it goes that far, it definitely is a legitimate scheme and has its distinct advantages.

  8. Obviously SF kept running the ball with kaepernick becasue our defense didn’t take it away. Hard to say if they knew this coming in or it just developed as the game progressed (annoouncers said that SF OC didn’t expect to be able to run inside tackles with Raji & Pickett in there, but Raji was a nonfactor). In Atlanta game, the Falcons took away Kaepernick’s runs & held 49ers to 200 yards less total offense than we did.

    1. Chances are pretty good that the Falcons saw what Kaepernick did and took a good look at how to stop him, while the Packers probably did this as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers plan was to rattle Kaepernick early and force him to scramble in more of a “panic” mode than a “designed option” run. Either way, I don’t think anyone can say that the Packers D did a good job against him.

    1. I think they should get players that can play defense first, then worry about the scheme. They need players that are fast and can tackle. They can’t run the defense they have now.

    2. Dom Capers is a 3-4 defensive coordinator and to my knowledge he’s never coached the 4-3 professionally. If people are arguing he has no idea how to call a 3-4 defense, do you really want him to try calling both a 3-4 and a 4-3 in one game?

  9. Who’s to blame? Who was to blame in 2009 when the Cardinals hung 51 on us. Warner threw more TD’s than incompletions! Who was to blame last year against the Giants. We had an extra week to prepare, and the defense looked like they never played defense before. ONLY gave up 37 points! This year. The 49ers gained 579 yards and scored 45 points. In the biggest beatdown in the playoffs I’ve seen in quite a few years. Capers just doesn’t have it. Or the players are really bad. It’s one or the other. Either TT cannot draft, or Capers cannot coach. I also don’t want to hear about injuries, the defense wasn’t injured much last year or in 2009.

    1. “…the defense wasn’t injured much last year..”

      Bishop, Perry, DJSmith, all on IR

      Woodson, Wilson, House, Shields, CM3 all missed significant numbers of games.

      6 starters and two main backups out of 11 positions missing games in ‘not injured very much?” Really??

  10. Not the scheme or the coach, completely the players. The problem throughout the season was the way the “Ladies” were tackling for a large part of the time this season. In the words of the Late Grate Vince Lombardi, Grabbin, Grabbin, Grabbin, nobodys tackeling out there!

    1. That is a bigger issue, and right now has to do with the limited number of full contact practices they are allowed to have after week 11or so. Just when you get to the part of the season where being physical really pays off, the coaches can’t teach it properly.

      The only answer would seem to be getting players who are more physically oriented on their own (like SF, Seattle, Giants, and, as much as they suck and I hate them, Chicago).

      That will be tough shift in focus for GB.

      1. Contact practices are limited even in training camp. Its severly limited the amount of hitting/tackling drills throughout the season. The CBA and players union are to blame for that. And all the lawsuits being filed against the NFL could potentially ruin the game. I’m of the opinion that players knew what they were signing up for, and thus have no right to file lawsuits!

  11. I find it odd that nobody’s mentioned the Green Bay defense finished 7th best in the league by dDVOA and about 15th by the dEPA statistic. I know we are all hurting from the loss to the Whiners, but the D was actually pretty good last year except for 4 games or so. Yes, they were very important games, but lets not go overboard here. This calls for re-tooling (a tougher safety, a better, younger DE, getting Perry and Moses developed to help CMIII, a faster ILB), not dumping the whole program in the trash.

    1. love this comment Ed…. we as packers fans in general are victims of having a great team to cheer for. we are never happy unless a lombardi trophy is brought home to GB. Our defense improved so much from last year which all in all makes me pretty happy! unfortunately when it comes to building a better team it is not always a quick fix one year affair… it takes time. we went from being the last ranked defense in the league to being about middle of the road on the year. that is progress! you have to look at the whole picture when you evaluate these things… anyone can say you should have put a spy or a double spy on durring the playoff game. you don’t have to be a genius to figure that out. that lack of adjustment does leave one scratching his head but on the whole the year was not a complete failure. we need to quit calling for capers’ head on a platter… remember it was not but 2 years ago that most on this site were praising dom as a genius… one of the great football minds in the game today. take a step back folks and exercise some patience. we still have a bright future ahead of us!

  12. We had Reggie, Jones, Gilbert, and Dotson…..that was a GREAT front 4, so our corners looked like world beaters….now we rush 3, and when 2 are 325 PLUS and the other is 300 PLUS that is not gonna work!! I think our d-line is built for 4-3 but our LBs for 3-4, because our MLBs are average or worse. Let Clay be a linebacker and he will dominate!! He is not a down lineman, we are wasting this guy…..

  13. I am an A.J. Hawk fan but You need athletes or what they call downhill players in this defense. Hawk gets tied up to much does not shed blocks well and rarely has a sack. Cullen Jenkins was a loss that they have been unable to fill since he left. Nothing wrong with 3 4 defense you just need athletes.

Comments are closed.