GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy has been standing behind Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers for weeks. With the season now over, McCarthy continued his strong support for Capers.
Despite the Packers’ defense ranking 25th in the NFL in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed, Capers appears to have completely avoided the hot seat.
"Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach," McCarthy said at his season-ending press conference. "I’m not going into this looking to make big changes."
Capers has been a target of ridicule from a section of Green Bay’s fan base for months, and there were plenty of statistical reasons for it. The Packers fell from the league’s third-best run defense near the midpoint of the regular season all the way down to 25th by the end of the year. For multiple weeks throughout the season, Green Bay was last in the NFL in interceptions, needing a mini-surge late in the year to crawl up to 26th in that category.
From McCarthy’s standpoint, though, that blame isn’t going to fall on Capers.
"I think Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach," McCarthy later repeated, "and I’m glad he’s on our staff."
Capers, a 63-year-old who’s been coaching in the NFL since 1986 and just completed his fifth season with the Packers, is still years away from being ready to retire.
"I have no plans of not coaching, I’ll say that," Capers said.
Capers is aware of the criticism of his job performance, but he’s maintained all along that he doesn’t worry about it.
"It’s part of the business," Capers said. "I don’t get involved a lot what other people say. I know from the time I started in this business. I tell the players, if you commit every day and you do the very best job that you’re capable of, then you can always hold your head up high and know you’ve done the best you’re capable of doing, that’s what we ask the players to do. There’s going to be times things go your way, there’s going to be times things go against you. If you know that you’ve done everything you can, then you can move on."
After Green Bay clinched the NFC North, McCarthy said "I love our defense." But it was a defense ravaged by injuries, which is an important factor in evaluating Capers.
An already young and experienced defense was without Clay Matthews for six games, didn’t have Morgan Burnett for the first three games of the season, lost Johnny Jolly for the final three games and battled injuries at other key spots at different points, too.
A key defensive moment in the Packers’ playoff loss to San Francisco, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambled for a first down on third-and-8, the two players closest to making a stop on the play for Green Bay were Andy Mulumba, an undrafted rookie outside linebacker who was playing on one leg after an earlier injury, and Jarrett Bush, who is only used on special teams when the defense has all of its players healthy. Perhaps that is as telling a sign as any that Capers didn’t have the players to work with to have a successful defense this season.
Plus, on that play, McCarthy was pleased with Capers’ defensive play call to rush seven players at Kaepernick.
"The empty pressure where Kaepernick gets out of the pocket, that’s the right call," McCarthy said. "It was a call I wanted because it was important to keep him in there and decrease the time clock of that play and he gets out. That was obviously a huge play that gave them the first down there."
However, stopping Kaepernick has been a struggle for Capers and his group regardless of which players have been available for the Packers’ defense. For the third time in a calendar year — including two postseason exits for Green Bay — some aspect of Kaepernick’s game has picked apart the Packers. And McCarthy certainly noticed that.
"Stating the obvious, the one common thread is we haven’t stopped the quarterback," McCarthy said. "The quarterback’s had three big games against us with his three opportunities. We need to do a better job there. I think that’s the one common thread that jumps out at you."
Unless McCarthy has a change of heart and decides to fire a coordinator whom he twice referred to as "outstanding," Capers will be back in Green Bay next season.