Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) leaps for and misses a pass with Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) defending during the second half at Soldier Field. Green Bay won 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers defense: Who is to blame?

The Packers' defense quit at the end of the game

Is the failure of the defense the fault of the coaches or the players? Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph


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.

Sam Shields gave up more plays of 20 yards or more than any other member of the Packers in 2013. USA Today Sports photograph

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.

Can Ted Thompson pull the trigger and get what the defense needs or will things remain the same? Photo Credit: USA Today

Can Ted Thompson pull the trigger and get what the Defense needs or will things remain the same? Photo Credit: USA Today

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.

Can Dom Capers return the Defense to excellence or will things remain the same? Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Can Dom Capers return the Defense to excellence or will things remain the same? Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

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?




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Tags: Dom Capers Green Bay Packers Ted Thompson

  • Don

    The front office is to blame. They let everyone walk, then the team has no leaders.

  • Vvait Fang

    Darryl, you seem to forget that there’s such a thing as a salary cap. Draft and Develop is the only sensible way to stay within the cap, and continue to produce a very good team. We ALL want to see Super Bowl wins, but every team does, and only 1 wins. The fact that the Packers have won the division and gotten into the playoffs so much isn’t enough, but its a huuuge statement about the persistent quality of the personnel and coaching.

    What we really need are 2 or 3 more impact players on defense, and replacements for those that will leave. For the Packers, that means far better than average players, but they don’t necessarily have to be stars.

    Finally, the “blame” for our results the past couple of years is injury. We’ve been decimated by it. And try as one may, you can’t fire anyone for players getting injured. Its not the fault of a conditioning coach, nor a position coach, not a coordinator, not even the front office. This game leads to injuries, and there’s apparently no way around it. Personally, I would favor increasing the roster to help counter it, but that would radically change the entire balance of roster size — salaries — salary cap — ticket and other pricing — profitability, and probably a few other factors that are no less significant in this balance.

    It does hurt to see how many “almosts” they have lined up trying to be Clay Matthews’ tandem on the other side. That position weakness hurts more than almost any other, because it, more than any other, could change the entire face of the defense on nearly every single play.

    • Mike King

      You cannot blame injuries as every team has them. I don’t have an issue with draft and develop, but Ted continues to miss in his first round picks. Two years in a row his first round pick has done nothing to help the D. Throw on last years second round pick that has done nothing in either year also continues that trend.

      The past 2 years he has drafted players that were going to have to learn a new position. He cannot afford to do this again this year. The Packers need an impact first year player in round 1. No more projects.

      • Vvait Fang

        Oh, in our era of instant gratification, we’ve come to expect, no… demand!! that players become pro bowlers and superstars their rookie year. Sheesh… get real people – in the majority of cases, it takes some time to develop into a top tier NFL player. And yes, some rookies do shine, such as Lacy, but reality is – not everyone can be so special. Appreciate the special ones for being just that.

        Transitioning to NFL caliber play DOES take time. I remember people screaming to get rid of Daniels last year, “he had no impact”… and look at him this year. Nick Perry started to come into his own, as has Mike Neal. Injuries again stopped their momentum, but it is highly logical to assume that if they’re in GB next year, they will make a difference.

        And I for one anticipate seeing a real body of work from Datone Jones.. maybe he won’t feed your instant gratification demands, and maybe you’d like to dump him for not becoming an instant superstar, but the league is full of stars who started to shine in year 2 or 3. Your … run of the mill, even pedestrian superstar…. :)

  • Rick Giovengo

    How you can continually fail over three years astounds me. Name a job where you can fail and keep your job? I guess as the defensive coordinator you can because you are labelled a genius. There is no intensity on defense. There is no “I will take your skin off” intensity that current Superbowl contenders currently have. I have heard that Capers is defensive genius – then let’s see it! Defensive genius’s know how to bring out the best of players. Currently I see no “genius” on defense, I see mediocrity. If the Packers keep Capers as the DC, I see a dismal season in 2014 – mark my words. All teams have injuries – Packer’s injuries appear to be more pronounced.

  • Steve

    As a Packer fan I commend you for having the courage and insight to write this article. I only wish we had this type of reporter for the Milwaukee Bucks .

  • Steve

    Unlike his predecessor who brought Reggie White to Green Bay, Thompson draft and develop approach only gets you so far. The defense as it currently is, is soft and fragile. This is not Capers fault. AJ Hawk is a liability, he is not a play maker nor impact player. In fact there are no first selection all pro’s on this team. Dominant offensive and defensive lines win Super Bowls.