|Eric Gay / Associated Press|
|Dom Capers had his guys ready for the Steelers, but more importantly, he adjusted when key defenders went down.|
Rodgers' three touchdown passes were undoubtedly vital to the Packers' 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it could be argued that Capers' defense was, at the very least, equally important to the outcome, and possibly even more responsible for the Packers' win.
You could sum up the brilliance of the job Capers did in what easily was the finest hour of his 25-year NFL coaching career with the following stat line: Three Steeler turnovers resulting in 21 Packers points.
Yet, there was much more to it than that.
Capers had to overcome losing two cornerbacks, veteran Charles Woodson and rookie Sam Shields, to shoulder injuries before halftime. That merely extended a trend of injury adversity with which the Packers had to overcome all season. Capers had to adjust his game plan in the second half to fit the lesser coverage skills of the replacements.
He had to figure out a way for the Packers to, once and for all, put to rest that 51-45 wild-card-playoff loss to Arizona last year -- Capers' first as their defensive coordinator -- that stands as the most points Green Bay has ever allowed in the playoffs. That game raised questions about just how well the Packers had made the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. There was clearly much more that their defenders had to learn about Capers' scheme, and the burden was on him to get them fully up to speed for what was widely expected to be a strong Super Bowl run.
"Going into that Arizona game, we knew we were a good team," defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. "We did not play like it, especially defensively. Offensively we did, but defensively, we did not step up. I think we took a lot for granted, and I think missing that opportunity really hit a switch in us, and we learned from that."
Capers made certain the lesson stuck on the way to the first Super Bowl victory of his coaching career.
The Steelers did manage to claw their way back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit and give the Packers plenty to worry about late in the game. But they ultimately couldn't overcome Ben Roethlisberger's interception that Nick Collins returned for a touchdown in the first quarter ... or Big Ben's second interception that set up another Green Bay touchdown in the second quarter ... or Rashard Mendenhall's fumble that produced yet another Packer TD in the fourth quarter.
And when the game was on the line with 1:59 left and the Steelers taking over at their own 13-yard line, Capers' unit responded in a way that a championship-caliber defense should, forcing Pittsburgh to turn the ball over on downs with 49 seconds left. It was here that Capers was at his very best. He made certain, first, to take away the potential for deep throws while also eliminating Roethlisberger's outside threats.
"You're kind of stuck with very limited options there with that much time left and (one timeout)," Roethlisberger said. "We just had to try to do what we could do."
Which wasn't much. Roethlisberger managed to complete a 15-yard pass over the middle to tight end Heath Miller, and then a 5-yard throw to Hines Ward. After that, he tried three passes to the outside -- two deep and one short -- that were all incomplete.
On the last two, Capers called fire-zone blitzes that left the middle of the field open (which the Steelers were unlikely to attack) but allowed the Packers to generate substantial heat to prevent Roethlisberger from being able to wait for longer patterns to develop.
"A year ago, we played them (in Pittsburgh), we had the same situation, and they scored on the last play of the game to beat us," Capers said. "So it was a great feeling to see the (final) play get made. That's the best feeling in the world."
With Woodson and Shields sidelined, Capers began using more zone coverage in the final two quarters, "because we just didn't want to lock some of our other guys up into one-on-one situations."
Throughout a long and illustrious career as a defensive coordinator for four teams (including the Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins) and an unsuccessful head-coaching stint with the Houston Texans, Capers has always managed to remain humble.
He was no different after the Super Bowl when someone asked him about what he thought about "genius" being inserted before his name.
"I know you're never as good as people think you are when you're doing well," Capers said. "We won a championship and, believe me, all the credit goes out to those players who were out there because they got it done when they had to get it done."
As did their coach.
Packers fan: "You know Brett Favre was not happy about that one."
Packers fan: "Desmond Howard."
» I was one of the 16 media members who voted for the Super Bowl MVP.
Our ballots had to be submitted with five minutes left, meaning we all had to give two choices depending on the outcome. Rodgers was an easy pick for the Packers. Choosing a potential Steelers MVP was a little trickier.
Roethlisberger had those two killer interceptions, and no one else really stood out. But on the assumption that a Steeler victory would have required Big Ben to lead a dramatic comeback, he was my Pittsburgh MVP.
» Soon after we boarded our flight home from Dallas, the pilot proudly introduced himself as "an owner of the Packers" and drew a fairly loud ovation from the many passengers wearing green and gold. My sense was that a fair number of shareholders from the league's lone community-owned franchise also were aboard.
» I'm not saying this just because I was part of the selection process, but I think the 44 voters got it right with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
I was surprised that our meeting on Saturday morning lasted nearly 7½ hours, but that was a reflection of the thoroughness of the discussion of practically all 17 finalists as we whittled down the list to seven inductees. The biggest surprise is that Deion Sanders wound up being the topic of one of the longest conversations. He was, by far, the one player who should have been viewed as an automatic first-ballot choice. The NFL has never had a better cover cornerback or returner, for that matter.
The three wide receivers on the list -- Andre Reed, Cris Carter and Tim Brown -- also took up a significant chunk of the meeting. Unfortunately, none got in. Reed did make it to the final 10 for the second year in a row, but I honestly don't know what can ultimately get him over the hump.
My sense is that Reed, Carter and Brown simply are facing too much opposition from Hall voters who simply don't believe that receivers in the era the three played are deserving because their great statistics were achieved after NFL rules were altered to allow teams to more easily produce passing yards and, therefore, points.
» Before and after the game, the Packers and Steelers fans I encountered were remarkably polite to each other. At the airport Monday morning, the Packers fans I saw seemed sincere in offering condolences to the Steelers followers. And the Steelers fans seemed equally sincere in offering their congratulations.
For the most part, the Cheeseheads and members of Steeler Nation seemed to agree that Pittsburgh giving up 21 points in turnovers was the story of the game, regardless of which team you rooted for.
Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.