This idea might sound crazy, but it’s crazy enough that it might work. But like any good idea, there’s multiple parts to it. I feel that this could turn around the Packers defense for years to come.
Step 1: Hire Dom Capers.
The vacancy Bob Sanders left at defensive coordinator is particularly glaring for the Packers. The defense, although ravaged by injuries, always seemed to be a step behind the offense in certain games, most notably the Packers 51-29 defeat against the New Orleans Saints. After a 2007 season where the defense was fantastic, the Packers defense looked old and out of sync in 2008. The schemes were stale and bringing in Capers would add a breath of fresh air.
But if the Packers want Capers, they will have to move quickly. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys also have interest in Capers as the Giants lost Steve Spagnoulo to the St. Louis Rams and Dallas fired Brian Stewart. The Cowboys could be an enticing option for Capers, as owner Jerry Jones has deep pockets and the Cowboys already run a 3-4, Capers’ preferred scheme. Capers also has ties with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, making the Giants look like a good option to him. However, Dallas is currently a cesspool of unrest and the personnel in New York is more suited towards a 4-3 defense.
The Packers have been a 4-3 team for as long as I can remember, but head coach Mike McCarthy has said that he is open to changing the scheme to a 3-4. A 3-4 defense could work pretty successfully in Green Bay with the right personnel. Which brings us to…
Step 2: Sign Julius Peppers.
"Four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers has decided he won’t sign a long-term deal with the Carolina Panthers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent Feb.26. Peppers, who grew up in tiny Bailey, N.C., starred in college at North Carolina and was the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2002, believes Carolina’s defensive system is not for him – even after recording a career-high 14 1/2 sacks this season."
"Agent Carl Carey said Peppers wants to play in a 3-4 defence. The Panthers use a 4-3 alignment."
The key to this is that last line. “Peppers wants to play in a 3-4 defence.” Bringing Capers up to Green Bay and inserting the 3-4 would make an inviting situation for Peppers. The Packers had difficulty getting pressure on the quarterback this season. Aaron Kampman was steady as always, but Cullen Jenkins was ill-suited to be a defensive end before his season-ending shoulder injury, leaving the Packers with Jason Hunter, Michael Montgomery, and rookie Jeremy Thompson to get pressure on the quarterback, which was not too successful.
Signing Peppers would allow the team to move Jenkins back to defensive tackle, allowing him to team with Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett, and Colin Cole, and push injury-riddled super-bust Justin Harrell out of the lineup until the Packers can finally figure out what’s wrong with him. Teaming Peppers with Kampman would give opposing offensive lines and offensive coordinators headaches for weeks. Peppers, being the freak athlete he is, could be used as the fourth linebacker as well, adding more versatility to the defense. The Packers would be able to have their top four linebackers, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Brady Poppinga, and Brandon Chillar, on the field at the same time. Young Desmond Bishop would also get more time to see the field.
The catch to this is that I don’t see Peppers signing with the Packers unless Capers and the 3-4 is in place. This would mean that the Packers have to move fast on signing Capers, giving Peppers time to see that Green Bay would be a welcoming scenario for him.
Peppers will command a lot of money, but he would be a big splash for a team that has been quiet on the free agency market for the past few years. Even the signing of Charles Woodson was low-key, but has turned into a great move for the team. Ted Thompson can’t be afraid to make a move right now. It’s not the end of the world if the Packers miss out on Capers and Peppers, but it would most definitely turn the Packers into a contending defense.
Some of you will argue that the Packers need to shore up the secondary before they can focus on the front seven. Sure, Woodson and Al Harris are aging, and Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, and Pat Lee aren’t the best options out there, but teams in the past, most likely the Super Bowl XLII Champion New York Giants showed that a great pass rush can help cancel out shoddy defensive backs. Did you really think that Corey Webster and Sam Madison would be Super Bowl Champion corners against an the explosive New England Patriots offense? Not really. But the relentless pass rush of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck turned a decent defensive backfield into a Super Bowl Champion defensive backfield.
Don’t underestimate what the addition of Capers and Peppers could have on the Packers in 2009.