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Thursday, December 5, 2013
Players defend Dom Capers, scheme

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can find people willing to criticize Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers in a variety of places.

On talk radio.

In internet chats.

Dom Capers
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had his share of woes in trying to stop explosive 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
And perhaps most vocally on Twitter.

But you'd have a hard time finding many in the Packers' locker room.

From young players to veterans alike, Capers' players defended him this week as the Packers' non-winning streak -- and their defensive struggles -- have continued.

When asked whether the players still believe in their defensive coordinator and his 3-4 scheme, 34-year-old Ryan Pickett -- the most-veteran player on team -- used the word "absolutely" twice without hesitation.

Then, he added: "We absolutely believe in it, so we're going to keep doing what we're doing. We know it's worked in the past. We just have to get back to it."

Just five weeks ago, the Packers defense was on the verge of cracking the top 10. It was ranked 11th in total yards allowed per game and had reached as high as third against the run. The swoon to 24th in yards, 26th against the run and 22nd against the pass coincided with quarterback Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone.

When the Packers needed their defense the most, it crumbled.

Nevertheless, in the middle of their 0-4-1 stretch without Rodgers, coach Mike McCarthy defended Capers recently by saying, "I'm very comfortable in our coaching staff. I think it's definitely one of the strengths of our program."

However, Capers still might be on the hot seat. He's believed to be in the final year of his deal, although the Packers don't reveal details of coaching staff contracts.

If he is on the hot seat, it probably isn't because his players have lost faith in his scheme. Another veteran, cornerback Tramon Williams, spoke with some hesitation on Thursday but in the end offered his support for his defensive coordinator of five years.

"Um, I mean it's been good," Williams said of Capers' scheme. "Obviously we won the Super Bowl with it. It's been around for a while. When you're struggling, you don't know what to think about it, and that's anybody. That's just part of the frustration going on with things.

"We're still buying into what's going on. It's going to be a struggle from both points -- coaches and players. It's not going to be one of those things where we're going to point fingers at the scheme or it's this. We're not going to do that."

Capers came under fire last season, when his defense allowed 579 yards and looked lost against the San Francisco 49ers' read-option offense in the playoff loss, but he survived. The 63-year-old Capers, along with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, is considered one of the fathers of the 3-4 defense.

"You've seen a lot of other teams in the NFL running it," said Packers second-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels. "Like I said, people are going to have an opinion whether you're winning or you're facing adversity."

And the players have certainly heard those opinions.

"You've got to kind of block that out," Pickett said. "Of course you hear that stuff and things like that, but you have to block it out, man. We know what's wrong. We're just not playing good. We're not playing good enough. It's not just one single thing. It's multiple things."

One thing that Capers has always hung his hat on is creating turnovers. In his first four seasons as defensive coordinator, the Packers led the league in interceptions with 103. They have only six this season -- a total cornerback Casey Hayward had by himself last season. Two of those came as part of a four-takeaway performance against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Yet that 40-10 loss was arguably the Packers' worst defensive performance since the 49ers game. The Lions gained 561 yards, including 241 yards rushing.

That dropped the Packers seven spots in one week, to 26th in the NFL in rushing defense. They haven't finished a season that low since 2008, when they were 26th the year before Capers took over.

"I haven't seen any guys pointing fingers at all," Williams said. "That's the good thing about it. That's the truth. A lot of guys come up in here and say, ‘We're not going to point fingers. We're not going to do that.' Then behind the scenes the first thing you see a guy do is talk about something. But it hasn't been like that around here. Guys still feel that we can get things done. We know we're not down and out of it yet."