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McCarthy gets defensive about Capers

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January 8, 2014

Anyone expecting fireworks, change, a firing somewhere were treated with a replay of last January.

Another playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Another season-review news conference featuring Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy standing by his defensive coordinator.

“You guys did this to me last year, OK,” McCarthy said to reporters Wednesday. “I'm not going into this looking to make big changes.”

Staff evaluation is ongoing. But all signs point to McCarthy sticking with Dom Capers. Quite possibly, Green Bay will lose an assistant coach or two to promotion elsewhere. But internally, there's a confidence in Capers and the staff as a whole. The Packers aren't breaking up their coaching staff following Sunday's 23-20 playoff loss to the 49ers.

Said McCarthy, “I think Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach, and I'm glad he's on our staff.”

Capers was not given the keys to a Corvette this season. In his fifth year as the coordinator, he manned a young, injury-plagued defense, one that finished with undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba lumbering toward Colin Kaepernick on a sprained knee. Yet while McCarthy did say Wednesday that statistics are “for losers,” those statistics aren't pretty.

The unit ranked 25th in yards allowed (372.2), 24th in points allowed (26.8) and 25th in opposing passer rating (95.9), a statistic that Capers often cites. The Packers forced 22 turnovers (11 fumbles, 11 interceptions), well below Capers' 33.3 average in Green Bay.

Assistant coaches work through this week before getting time off. McCarthy plans to meet with all coaches, and Capers will meet with everyone on his staff.

This defense got off to a fast start. The run defense was ranked as high as No. 3 in the NFL. The back half of the season, a team strength eroded into a glaring weakness. LeSean McCoy (25 carries, 155 yards), Matt Forte (46-235), Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart (40-237), Reggie Bush/Joique Bell (39-211), DeMarco Murray (18-134) and Le'Veon Bell (26-124) all were knives through butter.

Meanwhile, turnovers weren't bailing the unit out of jams. As Capers said, “that's not a good combination.

Added Capers, “Really, the basis of our philosophy is being able to stop the run, make the game one-dimensional, try to create situations where we can take the ball away.”

The new “wave” of playmakers Capers was counting on in August never emerged. Thus, the losses of Clay Matthews (thumb, six games) and Casey Hayward (hamstring, 14 games) were magnified.

“I've always believed this,” Capers added, “to be a real top-notch defense, you have to have two or three guys that basically are what I consider difference-makers where sometime within a 60-play game you're going to see two or three plays that really have an impact and influence the game.”

Right now, Capers is planning to lead the defense into 2014.

“I have no plans of not coaching, I'll say that,” he said.

“There's going to be times things go your way, there's going to be times things go against you. If you know that you've done everything you can, then you can move on.”

One coach was not present at Wednesday's final session with reporters—Ben McAdoo. The quarterbacks coach was busy interviewing for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position. There are several young coaches on staff who might get a chance at being a coordinator elsewhere. Seasons past, Packers assistants have had interviews blocked by McCarthy. Under contract, with the team still alive, they haven't been allowed to interview elsewhere.

Maybe now, young assistants such as Edgar Bennett, Joe Whitt Jr. and Darren Perry will get a chance.

McAdoo already is a hot commodity.

“I think we have a very talented coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “I would anticipate interest throughout, Ben McAdoo in particular. He's prepared himself for opportunities potentially that are out there. I think the world of Ben, I've been with Ben a long time and seen him diligently prepare himself to move forward.

“So whatever opportunities that do come by, he'll do a phenomenal job.”

While Capers is expected to be back, he might be looking at different team—by Ted Thompson standards—when players report in the spring. B.J. Raji and Sam Shields are both free agents. Upgrades wouldn't hurt elsewhere.

For the Packers' defense to rise again to its 2009 and 2010 standard, Capers said the Packers first must see who they have.

Too many moving parts caught up with the defense in 2013.

“And then we'll design what we do based off what our group is going to be,” Capers said. “You're always hoping you can get a group together, keep them healthy and have them play together. One of the things that we had to respond to consistently this year was different combinations of people. That certainly has an impact on what you can do and what you can't do.

“The amount of experience you have on the field, the amount of reps the guys have invested in what you're asking them to do.”

The Packers have several months to piece together the defense. It appears they'll do so with Capers running the show.



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