Aaron's Answers: Where does blame lie for defense?

Aaron Nagler
Packers News
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Throughout the season, I’ll be answering reader questions in a weekly mailbag here at PackersNews.com. If you’d like to submit a question in the future, just email me at anagler@gannett.com.

We may be heading into the Packers bye weekend, but that doesn’t mean Packers fans don’t have questions about their team. Luckily for you guys, there are no bye weeks here at PackersNews.com, so I dipped into the mailbag to answer some some of your questions. Let’s get to it.

From Robin Haworth:

I apologize in advance for the length of this question.It seems like there are two camps out there when it comes to deciding why yet again the Packer defense is subpar — those who think that Dom Capers is incompetent, and those who think Ted Thompson hasn't given Capers enough talent to work with.  

Given that we have nine years of data points to look at, we can see that Capers' defenses are almost always below average, despite a changing cast of characters.  Now, you could argue that Thompson and Co. have consistently not given Capers talent to work with.  

The difficulty that I have with that argument is twofold — 1. Significant draft capital has been expended towards the defense, when you consider the rounds that these players were drafted in, and 2. These same scouts seem able to provide us with a significant amount of offensive talent (despite being drafted in lower rounds typically).  

So the question is, which of these two options is more likely — that the scouting department that keeps unearthing gems on offense has totally missed the mark with defensive picks over the better part of a decade, or that Dom is failing to coach and scheme adequately?

I'm not part of the crowd that calls for people’s heads after every bad play or game or season. I think that coaches and players can improve over time and typically deserve far longer than teams/fans are often willing to give them.  But even if we try to set aside the passions of gameday, we're left with the fact that we're at year 9 now with Capers, and it seems like more of the same every year.  

Based on the above arguments, I find it far more likely that Capers & Company are more of the problem than Thompson & Company.  Would you agree or disagree?

Aaron’s Answer:

First of all Robin, congrats on the first 307-word question here at the weekly mailbag. That is truly impressive.

As for the question itself, well yes, it’s complicated, so I understand why you needed all those words.

Capers has been in the crosshairs of disgruntled Packers fans for years, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not. One thing that I think has really hung over his head most offseasons is the way the Packers have bowed out of the playoffs, often after being torched by some talented quarterback. Not always, but often. Probably too often.

Last season, I was more than willing to give Capers a pass because, for the most part, I thought he wasn’t handed a very talented squad, and that was before injuries hit.

Heading into this season, my major concern was the pass rush. All summer long I maintained that Capers would most likely have to count on pressure calls to get to the quarterback, and as this season has gone on, I think that’s starting to bear itself out.

With that said, I do think Capers has been given more to work with this year. Kevin King and Josh Jones have been good additions. The late acquisitions of Ahmad Brooks and Quinten Dial were fortuitous. Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez have made big jumps from their first to second seasons.

But despite all that, the Packers continue to look lost at times on defense. Frankly, the continued communication issues on defense and the simple inability for the defense to even line up on time and to be ready for the snap of the football is downright embarrassing. This is a professional football team, not some rag tag collection of guys playing a pickup game in the park. Yet week in and week out, we see guys running in late, looking around for a call or, worse yet, a defense trying to defend the run with 10 men on the field.

That’s happened twice in the last three weeks and McCarthy having to blow a few precious timeouts is the only reason it hasn’t happened a few more times.

That doesn’t speak to talent level or evaluation of players.

That speaks to coaching. That speaks to leadership. Right now, there’s precious little evidence of either on the defensive side of the ball.

From DJ Schwier:

Can you ask Mike McCarthy why they won't go to any faster receivers than Nelson, Cobb, and Adams. It seems game after game they can't get open consistently and Aaron Rodgers would throw them open into a tight window or extend plays for them to find an opening in coverage. Yet the Saints had fast receivers wide open all game and countless other teams we play.

Now that Rodgers is injured I think the problem is that the receivers lack of speed and ability to get themselves open is hurting the offense and McCarthy refuses to play the faster players (Allison, Davis, and Janis). I would love to hear McCarthy answer this because I believe this issue has continued for a couple years now.

Aaron’s Answer:

No problem, next time I’m at a McCarthy presser, I’ll bring it up.

My two cents? The front line guys, Nelson, Cobb and Adams, are much more talented than the “fast” guys you’re talking about in Davis and Janis. (Not sure why you included Allison. He’s no faster than the starters.)

I’d caution you, however, when you say guys “just weren’t getting open” due to their speed. On many of the plays designed to go downfield against the Saints, there were often only three guys out in passing routes with a tight end and a running back kept in to help in pass protection. When that happens, and the defense only rushes four guys, well, you’re essentially asking three guys to get open while they’re being covered by seven defenders. This is why Rodgers has often spoken about wanting fewer blockers and more guys out running routes. It gives the quarterback more options.  

For Hundley’s first start, it sure seemed like McCarthy wanted to err on the side of caution when it came to protecting his first time starter. We’ll see if he gives his young signal caller more options next Monday night against the Lions.

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