Capers wouldn’t say Friday how many years he has remaining on his contract with the Packers, but it’s thought that he may be in the final year of his deal. A league source said last year that Capers had one year remaining on his contract, and it’s unclear whether McCarthy added a year after last year’s ignominious playoff exit. If not, and this is the final year of his deal, it would make it easier for McCarthy to make a change if he were so inclined.
“I don’t give it any thought because I know what Dom is, I know his system and how it works,” said safeties coach Darren Perry, who played for Capers in Pittsburgh. “Have we played up to our level expectations this year? No. We’ve had our moments where we’ve looked good, but we haven’t been consistent enough. But that’s not a reflection on coach Dom. I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for him.
“You don’t become a bad coach because of a not-so-good season and when things don’t go the way it’s planned. We’re always subject to criticism when things don’t go well in this profession. That comes with it, and all of us know that and understand that. That’s part of our profession.”
That’s not to say the Packers’ defensive performances haven’t merited criticism under Capers, especially their recent playoff exits.
During Capers’ first three seasons in Green Bay, the Packers finished seventh in scoring defense in 2009 (18.6 points per game), second in 2010 (15.0) and 19th in 2011 (22.4); finished second in yardage allowed in 2009 (284.4 yards per game), fifth in 2010 (309.1) and 32nd (dead last) in 2011 (411.6); were tied for 11th in sacks in 2009 (37), tied for second in 2010 (47) and tied for 27th in 2011 (29); and led the NFL in takeaways in 2009 (40), were sixth in 2010 (32) and tied for first in 2011 (38).
Last season, they finished a respectable 11th in scoring defense (21.0 points per game), 11th in total defense (336.8 yards per game), fourth in sacks (47) and tied for 19th in takeaways (23).
But the Packers’ three postseason exits have been ugly under Capers. In the 2009 playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals scored 51 points (the final six on an overtime touchdown return of an Aaron Rodgers fumble) and rolled up 531 yards in an NFC Wild Card victory over the Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium. In the 2011 playoffs, the top-seeded Packers gave up 420 yards – including a backbreaking Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half – as the New York Giants scored 37 points in an NFC Divisional round victory at Lambeau Field. And last January, in a 45-31 NFC Divisional loss at San Francisco, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for an NFL single-game quarterback record 181 yards, including a pair of touchdowns, and the 49ers finished with the fourth-most total yards ever gained in an NFL postseason game in league history (579).
This season, the defense showed promise during the first third of the season but has bottomed out since. Through seven games, the Packers were 11th in yards allowed per game, fourth in rushing yards allowed per game and 16th in scoring defense. But entering Sunday’s game, they’re 24th in total defense (376.4 yards per game), 26th in rushing defense (125.9 yards per game) and 23rd in scoring defense (25.4 points per game).
“(The criticism) definitely bothers me because I do love him and I care for him,” said outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who played for Capers in both Pittsburgh and Carolina. “He’s going to be consistent. He’s not going to point fingers. He’s going to take the heat like a man. Just a few weeks ago, I thought we had a top-10 defense, or at least close to it, and top five against the run. It’s not like Coach Dom came in and changed the game plan and put a whole new system in. We’re doing the same things here. It’s not like he’s putting us in just a horrible position that we’re going to fail. Our defense just needs to play together as a unit. When they have the opportunity, they just need to make that play. You need to fit together.”
During the defensive free-fall, star quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been on the sideline, recovering from a broken collarbone suffered Nov. 4 against Chicago – the game that began the defensive tailspin. Since Rodgers went down, the Packers have gone from being plus-26 minutes 24 seconds in time of possession in the seven games Rodgers started and finished to minus-34 minutes 56 seconds in the five games since. The Packers, of course, are 0-4-1 in those games, but Capers wouldn’t use Rodgers’ absence as an excuse for his group’s play.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with us. We’ve got to look at ourselves and we’ve got to take care of our business on defense,” Capers said. “The one thing you can’t do in this business is ever concern yourself about areas you have no control over, and you’ve got to have total focus on what can I do to get better to get my job done the best of my ability.”
At this point, it doesn’t appear Capers has lost the faith of his players, either. While their endorsements may not have been as resolute as those of McCarthy, who pinned much of the blame on the players themselves for defense’s poor play in their 40-10 shellacking at the hands of the Detroit Lions, there was no sense of a mutiny afoot.
"We absolutely believe in (Capers’ scheme). So we're going to keep doing what we're doing,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “We know it's worked in the past. We just have to get back to it.
“It’s the NFL. It happens. You have to get back to the basics. That’s all we can do. Atlanta is coming in here licking their chops. They’re not feeling bad for us. They’re pretty happy with what they’re seeing on tape. We just have to do what we can to get back to where we were as being the dominant run team, run-stopping defense. We have all the guys. The same players in the room, so there’s no reason we can’t do it. We just have to do it. The time is now.”
Whether the clock is ticking on Capers, only McCarthy truly knows. Asked if he thought the players still believed in him, Capers responded, “I would hope so. I can’t speak for them. But I think we’ve got a number of guys there that have seen us go win a Super Bowl with this defense. We’ve won a lot of games here and played pretty good defense.”
Told of Pickett’s comments, Capers seemed genuinely touched. But he also made it clear that he understands that it’s his responsibility to turn things around.
“It means a lot. To me, as long as you stay strong from within, then you’ve got a chance to pull yourself through the thing,” he said. “Every team in the league is going to go through tough stretches. But if you don’t, if you come apart from inside, you really don’t have any chance. So you’ve got to stay confident in what you’re doing. You’ve got to make sure that you point out to guys where we have to get better.
“Everybody has to accept responsibility. My responsibility is to get this defense better, to get us where we want to be. You never feel good after when you’ve had a couple of performances like we’ve had.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.