Packers puttin’ on the blitz
By Bob McGinn, the Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – Dom Capers has blitzed a lot more this season, especially in the last two games, than he had to in his first two years as defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.
It’s a response to the scarcity of pressure from the defensive line and the mediocre results of the straight four-man rush.
“You might say that, yes,” Capers said early in the week.
Green Bay ranks 17th in sack percentage, down from third last season and 12th in 2009. The Packers rank 31st in passing yards allowed and 27th in total yards, numbers that reflect not only disappointing coverage by defensive backs and linebackers but also the disappointing pass rush.
After the Packers elected not to re-sign Cullen Jenkins, Capers hoped Mike Neal would develop into a suitable replacement as a No. 1 pass-rushing defensive lineman.
Neal, however, hasn’t played a snap because of a knee injury, and none of the others has elevated his game.
Still, coach Mike McCarthy isn’t overly displeased by the pass rush. McCarthy hired Capers to replace Bob Sanders in January 2009 because he trusted the fire-zone scheme, and Capers’ ability to manufacture pressure almost regardless of personnel.
“We’re a scheme defense,” McCarthy said. “We’re not a my-guy-is-better-than-your-guy deal. We’re trying to create matchups with different combinations.”
Tracking the blitz can be a subjective process. In most schemes, linebacker and secondary players must juggle coverage responsibilities against rushing. They’re counted as rushers depending on the perceived degree of their rush commitment.
Since 1998, the Journal Sentinel basically has used the same criteria to identify who is blitzing and who isn’t. By definition, a blitz occurs when five or more players rush. Running plays have never been part of the breakdown.
After rushing five or more 27% in his first season (playoff games included for all Packers’ statistics) in Green Bay and 33% in his second, Capers is at 39.6% through seven games this season. Until Capers’ arrival, Green Bay’s highest blitz ratio since 1998 had been 30.9% under coordinator Jim Bates in 2005.
The insertion of a fifth rusher in the nickel packages that Capers employs about 80% of the time isn’t considered overly risky by blitzing standards. Capers never calls so-called “zero” blitzes in which there’s man-to-man coverage without a safety standing guard in the middle of the field.
Capers really can’t countenance rushing more than six. This season, he has rushed six or more 5.7%, which is up from 4.5% in 2009 and 3.7% in ’10 but not even close to the risk-taking adventures of coordinators Emmitt Thomas (12.4% in 1999), Bob Slowik (10.6% in ’04) and Bates (12.5%).
Sanders, Capers’ predecessor, blitzed five or more 24.5%, 21.8% and 19.9% from 2006-’08. However, he rushed six or more slightly more than Capers all three years.
Ten days ago against St. Louis, Capers broke his record in Green Bay by rushing five or more 55.1%. Then he broke it with 56.8% in Minnesota. His previous high this year had been 40.7% against New Orleans.
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