Capers' creative blitz schemes make Packers' D dangerous

Mention the Green Bay Packers and the conversation quickly turns to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When you study the Packers, however, it is Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews jumping out of the tape, and coordinator Dom Capers setting Matthews and the defense up to shine.

Capers has been a head coach for the Carolina Panthers and the Houston Texans in the past, but he built his reputation on defense -- specifically on pressure defenses in the mold of the Steelers and their defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau. Capers' pro career started in the USFL in 1984 after 12 years on the college level. He broke into the NFL in 1986 with the Saints and his next stop was at Pittsburgh in 1992.

Before I break down some of the clever pressure calls he used last week against the Cowboys, I need to discuss two other issues Capers has had to deal with this season. One is injuries, and the other is the frequency of his blitz calls.

What's impressive about Capers the teacher is how well he builds his whole defensive roster. From top to bottom, guys execute what appears to be a complicated scheme with precision. As A.J. Hawk told me this summer out in Lake Tahoe, Calif., "Coach Capers has answers on the sideline during games, and we know he's going to put us in the right position."

The Packers have had more than their fair share of injuries this season. Inside linebacker and signal-caller Nick Barnett is on injured reserve as well as linebackers Brady Poppinga, Brad Jones, safety Morgan Burnett, and defensive lineman Justin Harrell. The Packers have been so thin on the defensive line at times that an offensive lineman has had to pitch in for the short-yardage defense.

Safety Atari Bigby, who just came off the physically unable to perform list, should provide a boost.

Pressure frequency is an interesting dimension to Capers' play-calling. He has always been known as a coach wjo makes many zone-blitz calls and man-blitz calls, but now it looks like he's heating things up more than ever. The Packers have 28 sacks from 12 different defenders this year. Nine and a half have come from the defensive line, 16.5 from the linebackers and two from the defensive backs. Take a look at the chart to the right to get an idea of how often he uses his pressure calls in Green Bay compared to his other stops.

Since arriving in Green Bay, Capers has hit the attack button approximately 335 times, and the outcome has been 10 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 31 sacks, and a passer rating of 61.5 for opposing quarterbacks.

Drafting and developing Matthews as the perfect cornerstone to this scheme has put the Packers on the fast track to being a menacing defense. In 21 starts, Matthews has 20.5 sacks, and he's on pace for 21 sacks this season. Knowing how Capers works and the way he thinks about pressure calls, Matthews will not only get his chances, but he also will act as a decoy for others.

Here's a breakdown of two pressure calls that drove the Cowboys crazy last week.

'Four weak' blitz (Diagram 1). Matthews (No. 52) is lined up as the outside linebacker opposite the right offensive tackle, and there are three receivers to his side. The running back (Felix Jones) is lined up on the opposite side and has his eye on No. 54 Brandon Chillar. If Chillar blitzes, then Jones blocks him; if Chillar drops, then Jones releases. The alignment and assignment of Jones tells the Packers that the center is going to block towards Matthews' side to give the Cowboys three blockers. If Green Bay brings four from that side -- and they will -- then inside receiver No. 3 is the "hot" receiver and the ball should be delivered quickly to him before the pressure gets there.

It's a third-and-10 situation and the Packers are in a nickel defense with Charles Woodson (No. 21) lined up over the "hot" receiver. That never looks inviting to a quarterback, so on the snap of the ball Kitna looks the other way and the trap is set.

Matthews rushes up field and gets the offensive tackle to open up with him expanding the gap between the tackle and guard. B.J. Raji (No. 90), the defensive lineman over the guard, has a very important job as he crosses the face of the guard, occupies him and prevents the center from helping out on the blitzers. In a flash, there is a big hole for Woodson and A.J. Hawk (No. 50) to run through and blow up Kitna.

Why didn't Kitna throw the hot route?

He liked the matchup away from Woodson better, but that side of the defense held up just long enough with Tramon Williams in coverage and Desmond Bishop (No. 55) dropping quickly to hold off a slant route. When the Cowboys looked at the pictures of that play after the sack by Woodson they made the mental adjustment to throw that hot route the next time the situation presented itself.

Here's a breakdown of two pressure calls that drove the Cowboys crazy last week.

The problem was that the Packers knew the Cowboys would come back to the hot route, and the next time Green Bay showed that blitz to Dallas (Diagram 2), Matthews grabbed the interception and scored a touchdown as Woodson and Hawk were flying in at the quarterback. Jones tried to come across the formation to help the protection, but he was too late and the damage was done.

Finally, Capers has hundreds of these pressure calls and what makes them look so good is the synchronization of the 11 defenders -- some creating an illusion of blitzing, some running from far-away spots to cover up the blitzer and still others acting as the decoy.

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