Capers dealing with defensive deficiencies

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers defensive back Kentrell Brice (29) gives up a long reception to tight end Delanie Walker (82) against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN Sunday, November 13, 2016.

GREEN BAY - The trademark of a Dom Capers news conference is the monologue that precedes questions and answers from the media. Each week, the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers offers a detailed review of his unit’s performance from the day before. He always starts by breaking down the positives.

This Monday was different. The Tennessee Titans incinerated the Packers one day prior, and to begin with so much as a shred of positivity was to ignore the painfully obvious.

“Well, obviously there’s a lot to learn from the game yesterday,” Capers said.

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Lessons were plentiful in the aftermath of a 47-25 loss to the Titans, who thrashed the Packers for the most points since the Arizona Cardinals hung 51 in the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs. The Titans scored 28 points in the first 22 minutes to ensure the learning experience was as thorough as it was painful when the Packers watched film Monday morning and afternoon.

Most importantly, the Titans became the biggest exploiters of what has become an Achilles’ heel for the Packers: They allow far too many points far too early in the game.

“Traditionally, we’ve been a pretty fast-starting team, a pretty fast-starting defense,” Capers said. “And I think it’s always accentuated on the road as well. But it comes down to yesterday, the first play and then third down we had a hard time stopping the pass game, probably the first 10 passes that they threw.”

Where the special teams cracked a week ago, as Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Todman returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, the defense fissured almost immediately at Nissan Stadium. Defensive end Mike Daniels jumped offside on the very first snap, and one play later the Packers trailed in a game they never led.

Daniels vacated his lane on a simple running play off left guard, and tailback DeMarco Murray split a gaping hole and outran the defense for a 75-yard score.

“There were a number of things that happened on the long run, but it’s certainly not the way you want to start the game,” Capers said. “I do believe that first play had an impact on us the next few series. The next five third downs, we didn’t get off the field. That enabled them to extend some drives and score points early.”

By scoring touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, the Titans underscored a concerning trend for Capers’ defense. Beginning with a lopsided loss to the Cowboys, the Packers’ defense has yielded the first score in each subsequent defeat. Three of those teams — the Cowboys, Colts and Titans — manufactured double-digit leads in before halftime.

Across the locker room, explanations for the early lapses were hard to come by Monday. Posited theories included the following: no correlation from week to week; poor fundamentals translating to various errors; communication failures triggering blown assignments.

Capers said flawed communication enabled the 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Tajae Sharpe midway through the third quarter. Cornerback Quinten Rollins, who lined up opposite Sharpe on the right side of the formation, either did not know the coverage or was not privy to a check at the line of scrimmage. Rollins acted as if the Packers were in zone coverage with help over the top, but the only things behind him were Sharpe, who was wide open, and a clear path to the end zone.

While still unsettling, mistakes of this nature might be attributed to injury-related substitutions. There were changes at cornerback, where Rollins and Demetri Goodson were in and out of the game opposite LaDarius Gunter. There were changes at inside linebacker, where Jake Ryan missed nearly the entire game. Rotations at outside linebacker are fluid in the absence of Clay Matthews.

“Yeah man, we made some mistakes,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said of the communication problems. “Guys have owned up to them. They learned from it just 30 minutes ago watching the film. Every guy has taken part of his ownership of what he’s done wrong and what he could have done better. We’ve just got to come together and connect and continue winning.”

Perhaps most puzzling was the seismic shift of the final 25 minutes. The Titans managed only 95 yards in the third and fourth quarters combined. Consider the first- and second-half numbers: 162 rushing yards and 37 rushing yards; 14 first downs and five first downs; 5-for-7 on third down and 2-for-7 on third down.

It was, as Capers said, a maddening tale of two halves. Now try to make sense of that.

“You’ve got to take and build on the things that we did in the second half,” Caper said. “Get back to finding a way to play winning football.”

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