Robert Hammen is a friend of TTSO and appears today as a guest writer. You can follow him on Twitter and comment below to let him know that you liked his contribution.
After the Packers’ most recent playoff exit, there are many fans calling for the end of Mike McCarthy’s coaching tenure in Green Bay. But, is it possible to justify firing the man who has coached the Packers for the past 10 years, leading them to the playoffs 8 times (including the last 7 consecutive years), to 3 NFC Championship games, and a Super Bowl title?
The team’s lack of sustained playoff success in the 5 years since Super Bowl XLV has many fans up in arms. (I wonder if Patriots fans felt the same way about Bill Belichick’s 0-2 record in 2 Super Bowl appearances from the 2005 through 2013 seasons).
In the opinion of this author, getting rid of McCarthy is crazy talk. For fans who cheered for the Packers in the 70s and 80s, the thought of firing a coach for getting to the playoffs 8 times in 10 years and “only” winning one Super Bowl is ludicrous. (Cleveland Browns fans would gladly trade places with Packers fans, and so would Minnesota Vikings fans).
The news out of Green Bay recently has not been good for two members of the Packers’ offensive coaching staff. Running backs coach Sam Gash and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot (who’s been on McCarthy’s staff since 2006) were released from their coaching responsibilities. Without sugar coating it, they were fired.
Will any more coaches be terminated? We’ll find out in the next few days. However, there is one name that should be added to the list of former Packers coaches: defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Wait a minute. Didn’t the Packers defense play very well in the regular season in 2015, and helped carry the team while the offense struggled?
Indeed it did. However, the defense wilted once again in the playoffs when it mattered the most. This has been a recurring pattern under Capers. Let’s take a look at the how the Packers’ playoff run has ended each year in the last 7 that Capers has been the DC:
2009 season: The Packers lost a Wild-card thriller to the Arizona Cardinals 51-45 on an Aaron Rodgers fumble in overtime, but the real problem in this game was that the Packers defense couldn’t stop anyone. Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes than incompletions, and the Cardinals were one step ahead of Capers’ unit all game.
2010 season: On the road, the Packers defense stopped final drives by the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, and Pittsburgh Steelers, en route to becoming Super Bowl XLV Champions.
2011 season: The Packers offense was out of sync after nearly two weeks off, plus the death of Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin’s son the week before the game. These factors appeared to affect the team both in game planning, preparation and focus. That year, the Packers defense couldn’t stop anyone and was only saved in most games by the team’s explosive offense. The defense surrendered a Hail Mary touchdown to the NY Giants just before halftime and, after a 15-1 regular season, the Packers lost at Lambeau in the Divisional round.
2012 season: The Packers defense was run over by Colin Kaepernick to the tune of 181 rushing yards and 579 total yards in the Divisional round in San Francisco. The defense was not at all prepared for a mobile quarterback like Kaepernick, running the read-option.
2013 season: At Lambeau, the Packers defense played hard, but, with the game tied, could not stop San Francisco late and the 49ers drove for a game-winning field goal as time expired.
2014 season: In Seattle, the Packers defense played hard, but couldn’t stop Seattle, aided by the infamous Brandon Bostick brain-fart special teams miscue, at the end of the regulation or in overtime. Aaron Rodgers never got onto the field in the extra period.
2015 season: In Arizona, the Packers defense played hard, but couldn’t stop Arizona at the end of the game or in overtime. Aaron Rodgers never got onto the field in the extra period.
To summarize, in the last 7 years, the Packers won the Super Bowl once and Capers’ defense was arguably responsible for 5 of the 6 playoff losses.
Once you look at the history in summation, it seems readily apparent that it’s beyond time for Capers to retire or be relieved of his defensive coordinator position.
When it matters, Capers’ defenses continually have come up short, even when they perform valiantly for most of the game. It’s time for a new leader of the defensive coaching staff. It’s time for someone unwilling to settle for a bend-but-don’t break defense. Someone who will not play safe and send three-man rushes at the end of games. Someone who won’t change from man coverage (which had shut down the Cardinals potent offense) to zone (which was not successful, as Larry Fitzgerald demonstrated repeatedly in the 4th quarter and overtime). Someone whose schemes aren’t so predictable and obvious to veteran QB’s (Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers had their best games of the season playing against the Packers and Capers’ defense).
If the Packers want to win a Super Bowl anytime soon, now is not the time to change defensive schemes away from the 3-4 because of the personnel changes the scheme change would require. Continuity is likely the best approach, which means promoting one of these highly-regarded defensive assistants: cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, safeties coach Darren Perry, linebackers coach/assistant head coach-defense Winston Moss, or defensive line coach Mike Trgovac (who has previous defensive coordinator experience when on John Fox’s Carolina Panthers staff).
Mike McCarthy has demonstrated over the past 10 years that, while he can often be stubborn and slow to affect change, he is a good motivator, excellent game planner and arguably very good play-caller. The changes he made this offseason which included giving up playcalling, promoting Tom Clements to assistant head coach-offense, Edgar Bennett to offensive coordinator, and adding responsibility for wide receivers to quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt all failed to provide positive results. Most of these changes either have already been undone or appear as if they soon will be.
While the Packers have some obvious personnel needs, they aren’t as far off from returning Super Bowl Championship status as many think. The offense will be better off next year. With the return of weapons like Jordy Nelson, and the end of the failed play calling experiment, we can expect more games like we saw in Arizona and less of the offense sputtering.
While the defense may appear to be on the cusp of greatness, if a change in defensive leadership is not made, expect the Packers to be competitive again but not champions. The status quo isn’t good enough. Capers’ schemes, which date back to his time with the Steelers in the early 90s simply aren’t getting the job done in the modern game. The Packers need to make a change. In a league where NFL might as well stand for “Not For Long” (just ask 49ers fans), time is wasting.
Go Pack Go.