Healthy, happy Capers sees no end in sight
Dom Capers' ritual remains the same after every game. Win or lose.
As the fans disperse and players shuffle out, the Green Bay Packers' 64-year-old defensive coordinator slinks away into his Lambeau Field office and reviews the game. When the team is on the road, the statistical breakdowns usually begin on the plane ride home.
For three hours, Capers goes through his calls play by play regardless of whether it's a noon start or a night game. Before he ever turns on the tape, the veteran coach critiques himself before turning to his players.
"I like to try to get a feel for how the game flowed and how it went," Capers said. "The best way to do that is immediately after the game to sit down before I even grade the tape and you know what calls you have for certain situations.
"It gives me a feel for how well we've been able to match that up and what calls you'd rather not have in certain situations. It gives you an idea of how the game flowed. I'd much rather do that before I even watch the game."
This is the only world Capers has ever known. His love for football has been a running joke during in-season holidays for years. His wife, Karen, will interject when she begins to notice her husband's mind start to wander back to football.
"Why don't you just go back in the office?" she'll ask.
Next year will be Capers' 30th year in the NFL. Yes, he speaks in the future tense. The Packers' sixth-year defensive coordinator eyes another season in the sun. What started as a tumultuous season for his defense has quickly turned to a renaissance over the past nine games.
Mixed with some in-season adjustments in scheme and personnel, the run defense has gone from allowing a league-worst 153.5 yards per game through the first eight weeks to one of the NFL's stingiest units during the second half of the season (86.2 ypg).
The Packers tied for ninth in sacks (41), seventh in interceptions (18) and seventh in opposing passer rating (82.0), one of Capers' favorite statistics. As defensive back Micah Hyde points it, Capers' defense breeds playmakers.
It's a scheme versatile enough to incorporate proven stars like Julius Peppers, while producing budding play-makers such as Mike Daniels, Sam Shields and five-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews.
"He's done a great job of keeping things interesting, mixing guys in and out, and not staying the same, giving guys a different look," Peppers said. "It's been, he's done a good job of mixing it up, and that's pretty much what I expected when I came (to Green Bay)."
Yet, the NFL is always changing. There's no truer example of that than the recent departure of former Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, whom Capers played a role in hiring as defensive backs coach in 1992 when he was serving as the Steelers' coordinator.
Together, the two brought the Blitzburgh defense to life, their own take on the zone-blitz. Earlier this month, the 77-year-old LeBeau resigned the coordinator post after 13 seasons in that role (non-consecutive) and 16 overall with the organization.
While the Steelers promoted long-time linebackers coach Keith Butler in his place, LeBeau maintains that he wants to keep coaching. He's been linked to the Arizona Cardinals, who have run a 3-4 defense in the past.
"I've got as much respect for him as anybody in the coaching business," said Capers of LeBeau. "He's a tremendous football coach. Very intelligent. As good of a coach as he is, he's an even better person. If you think about it, I don't think there's anybody else who's done what he's done.
"He's been in the league for 56 years. Fourteen as a player, 42 as a coach. When I look and think about, next year will be my 30th year in the league. I can remember back when we hired Dick in Pittsburgh. I think he was 55 or 56 then. To think about here is, he's been going strong ever since then."
Coincidentally, Capers' six seasons in Green Bay is not only the second-longest tenure for a defensive coordinator in franchise history, but personally is tied for his longest consecutive stint in one place.
He's seen the game transform before his eyes since starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Kent State in 1972. Capers earned his first job in the NFL as defensive backs coach in New Orleans in 1986 and is the only coach in league history to head two expansion teams (Carolina, Houston).
When asked earlier this week if he has any aspiration to make a run like LeBeau, Capers made it clear that decision comes down to two factors: his health and his enjoyment of the game.
He currently has both in Green Bay.
"If you have a love for the game and you enjoy what you're doing and the good Lord gives you your health," Capers said. "I certainly feel healthy and enjoy what I'm doing."
So Capers will keep burning the midnight oil at Lambeau Field, churning through statistics and trying his best to keep up with a game that's constantly evolving.
"We're all creatures of habit," Capers said. "Once you get in a routine, you hate to break that routine."
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Capers' defenses by year
2014: 15th overall, 23rd run, 10th pass
2013: 25th overall, 25th run, 24th pass
2012: 11th overall, 17th run, 11th pass
2011: 32nd overall, 14th run, 32nd pass
2010: 5th overall, 18th run, 5th pass
2009: 2nd overall, 1st run, 5th pass