Whether it was actually the chicken or the egg that came first is the question that has perplexed the greatest scholars – including us who follow the Green Bay Packers.
All kidding aside, and now that the Packers‘ season is finished, I am perplexed with a very similar question regarding the defense. Is the problem with the defense the coaching, or is it the players?
Many fans will say that it is a combination of the two and that we need to be factoring in injuries. However, in this case, I want to remove those factors from the equation. Would better coaching mean improved play or would better players result in a better-coached defense?
According to NFL.COM, the Packers ended the season with the 25th-ranked defense in the NFL. Breaking that down, the finished 24th in points allowed at 26.8 per game, 25th in allowing 372.2 yards a game and they allowed 247.2 passing yards and 125 rushing yards a game, ranking them 24th and 25th, respectively, with their peers.
Looking at production from the defense, when it came to stopping teams from converting third downs, the Packers were only able to do so 38 percent of the time. Fourth down conversions were allowed 59 percent of the time.
One aspect of the defense that always seemed to kill this team were big plays. Sam Shields alone gave up 10 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Finally, the Packers only forced 17 fumbles this past season. For a team that relies on this as a cornerstone of the defense, the inability to create turnovers prevented this team from stopping the opposition.
Where does that then leave the defense? Was it the coaching or was it the players who were at fault for the failures this year? Personally, I have to put the blame on the coaching staff (and I am going to include Ted Thompson in that definition of staff). The reason for this is based on two factors. First, did Ted Thompson obtain the best defensive players available for this team. The answer is a resounding, NO.
We all know that Thompson relies on the draft to retool and that with those picks, it takes time for development and to see the end result. Well in looking over those draft picks and how they developed, it is evident that the quality and performance of those choices has been lacking. Secondly, the failure of Thompson to address the defensive needs of this team through free agency has made the situation worse. To be the best you must have the best or better than what you have. The failure of Thompson to do just this has handicapped the defense from meeting even average expectations.
Moving past the failure of personnel moves, the remaining failure then falls to the rest of the coaching staff. Starting with Dom Capers, the inability to develop a game plan with the personnel that exists and utilize them to the best of their ability has continued to hamper this team. You have to be able to work with what you have and Capers has not been able to do this.
Capers may have the ability to establish a solid defense when afforded quality players, but he has shown an inability to develop anything with what he has. It appears based on the failings of this season that he does not have the skills or tools to take the players he has and teach and develop them. He has had the time to take what he has been given and mold that into something that was feasible, workable and competent to some degree. He was not able to do so and the end result has been a defense that has not gotten better and in the eyes of many, has gotten worse.
In 2009, Capers led the defense to a ninth place ranking in the league. In 2010, they ranked second, in 2011 they fell to nineteenth, they improved slightly in 2012 to finish as the eleventh best defense and then this year twenty-fifth. So from start to finish the defense under Capers has fallen twenty-three places.
That fact alone clearly establishes that under his watch, the defense has not gotten better or even maintained a level of quality that would be acceptable. In the real world, when an employee does not perform or maintain acceptable standards they are replaced because the bottom line is performance with the tools and equipment provided.
Where does that leave the defense as we look toward free agency and the draft?
That is a good question.
Based on all of the factors, we know as fans that what has been tried over the past few seasons has not worked well. Many of us would agree that a new approach is needed, whether that means adding free agents, drafting better players, or replacing the coaching staff – that all remains an open book.
I thinks as fans we can all agree on one thing, however: This defense resembles both the chicken and the egg.
Either it is cracked and broken or each week it gets fried.
Maybe next year things will be sunny side up?
GO PACK GO!