This week, the Lions will go up the Green Bay Packers, who had the second best defense in the NFL last year, and the best defense in the NFC. As usual, a lot of their success on defense can be attributed to their defensive coordination Dom Capers, who in my mind doesn’t get enough credit as a coach.
He started his professional coaching career with the New Orleans Saints in 1986, and was their defensive backs coach until 1992, when he was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as their defensive coordinator. It was during his years with Pittsburgh that began the Steel Curtain era, and he gave the right type of players to future defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to develop the zone blitz scheme (which Capers also runs). After his stint with the Steelers, Capers went on to be the head coach of two expansion franchises in Carolina and Houston, and was relatively successful with both of them.
Now, I say that Capers is one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL is because he never gets mentioned with the likes of Dick LeBeau or Rex Ryan when talking about great defensive coordinators of this era. In 23 years of coaching, Caper’s defenses have finished top 10 in scoring defense 14 times and top 10 overall ten times. Don Capers has led the NFL in sacks with three different franchises (New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay). Also, he has coached four Defensive Players of Year (Pat Swilling, Rod Woodson, Jason Taylor, and Charles Woodson).
As I stated above, Dom Capers runs a typical 3-4, zone blitz defense that was devised in the 90’s with the Steelers. I explained the basics of the concept with my fanpost of the Steelers defense back in preseason. I’m going to take a more in depth look at it with this post. A lot what I’m going to explain here comes directly from Mitchell_M’s post last year over at Acme Packing Company, so hats off to him for the help. Below is a diagram reproduced from his post.
Essentially, the defensive lineman, a nose tackle, and two defensive ends, are responsible for six gaps that are formed from tackle to tackle, so each defensive lineman is responsible for two gaps each, and their main job is to eat up blockers so the linebackers can get to the quarterback, and so that the running are clogged. Generally, the inside linebackers are used to either cover or run support, which means that they need to have very good speed and tackling abilities. In essence, the most suitable inside linebackers in a 3-4 are really outside linebackers in a 4-3. The outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme, as most of us know, are usually hybrid defensive ends that both rush the passer and cover.
From what I see of him, I don’t trust Gosder Cherilus (or even Jeff Backus) to be able to block him by himself. I think the best way to block Matthews would be to bring help from the fullback position, and lineup tackles or Brandon Pettigrew as a tight end and use that guy to block him along with Cherilus. The good thing is that the Packers don’t have any other big time pass rush threats, so if Matthews is taken care of (big if there), then the Lions front line should be able to provide enough protection for the quarterback. The other thing I think the Lions should do is run the ball straight at Matthews, especially with a fast, shifty back like Jahvid Best, and that brings me to my key players for the offense.
I think the biggest key player has to be Brandon Pettigrew. The Lions use ‘Grew quite a bit for blocking purposes and this is one week where I think his blocking skills will come in more handy than his pass catching skills. Neither of Green Bay’s outside linebackers (Frank Zombo being the other) are very big, but both are great athletes, so you need an sizable, athletic player to block guys like them, which fits Brandon Pettigrew’s MO perfectly. As far as the game: its going to be a loss. I think the Lions will score more than the 10 points they scored last week, but I think the offense will score in the 14-21 point range.