Nobody absorbed more of the criticism for the Green Bay Packers’ 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in last January’s NFC divisional playoffs than Dom Capers.
In many realms, the long-time NFL defensive coordinator was seen as the fall guy for a Packers’ defense that allowed 579 offensive yards to the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick’s NFL-record 191 rushing yards by a quarterback and the 45 points that measured the totality of the loss.
You’d think Capers would look at this Sunday’s rematch with the 49ers like many of the players in the locker room – as an opportunity to exact some sort of revenge.
But you’d be wrong.
Calm and deliberate in his responses on Friday afternoon, the even-keeled veteran is concentrating on playing the game in front of him rather than reliving the one in the past.
“Anytime you have an opener, you’re going to prepare for that opener, so our focus has been on trying to put together the best plan and go play the best we can against this team in the opener,” Capers said. “You can’t let it linger in your mind. Every week’s a new game and obviously we’re disappointed in the way we played there, but we’re looking forward to the challenge this week.”
Capers has plenty of ties to the 49ers’ staff, hiring defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and special teams coach Brad Seely in the same role during his stints as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans.
The same San Francisco offense that toasted the Packers in the playoffs is led by second-year coordinator Greg Roman, whom Capers hired as his assistant strength and conditioning coach/defensive quality control coach in Carolina.
It all makes for plenty of familiarity between the two sides, but Capers doesn’t feel he needs any level of atonement to make up for January’s shortcomings after the defense invested an offseason into snuffing out the read-option that caused them so many problems eight months ago.
“Well, frankly you can’t let these things get personal,” Capers said. “If you do, you’re making a big mistake. Like I say, all three of these guys, they've all been with me when I was a head coach. I know what kind of coaches they are; they’re excellent coaches. So we know we're going to have our work cut out for us. We’re going to have to go in and play our best and that’s what makes this game exciting.”
This past week, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh engaged in a battle through the media regarding the terminology of what you can and can’t do to a read-option quarterback when he’s carrying out a fake.
Matthews’ understanding, confirmed with league officials upon their camp visit to Green Bay, appears to have won out as the NFL office said this week that quarterbacks are eligible to be hit legally when carrying out a fake.
The key for the Packers will be keeping containment on Kaepernick and a 49ers’ offense that can bust through at a moment’s notice.
The Packers didn’t make any wholesale changes to their defense after the loss, but seem better equipped for whatever San Francisco might through at them with a deeper defensive line consisting of first-round pick Datone Jones, utilizing Mike Neal at outside linebacker and adjusting some of their gap assignments.
“The big thing we have to do is keep these quarterbacks in the pocket,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “That’s probably the biggest thing that hurt us in this last game that we played them. We had them in a lot of advantageous third down situations and he scrambled against us. We have to do a better job with that.”