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Super Bowl XLV Preview: In Just Two Seasons Under Dom Capers, the Packers Defense Has Joined the Steelers as One of the NFL's Elite Units

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Prior to the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 playoff run several weeks back, I meticulously charted the three year statistical rankings of Dick LeBeau's defense in several prominent categories. In case you missed that post, I'll include the Pittsburgh Steelers totals in 2008-2010 once more.

However, this post aims to look at the difference Dom Capers has made on the Green Bay Packers defense since joining Mike McCarthy's staff as the defensive coordinator in 2009. So, let's do the same three-year comparison we did with the Steelers, and pay special attention to how the statistics may or may not have improved from 2008, the last year Bob Sanders coordinated the Packers D.


Green Bay Packers Three-Year Defensive Stats Comparison

Stat 2010 (Rank) 2009 (Rank) 2008 (Rank)
Points/Game 15 (2nd) 18.6 (7th) 23.75 (22nd)
Yards/Game 309.1 (5th) 284.4 (2nd) 334.3 (20th)
Yards/Play 5.1 (9th) 4.8 (2nd) 5.3 (17th)
Passing Yards/Game 214.1 (12th) 201.1 (5th) 202.8 (12th)
Rushing Yards/Game 114.9 (15th) 83.3 (1st) 131.6 (25th)
Yards/Rush 4.7 (31st) 3.6 (t-2nd) 4.6 (26th)
Yards/Pass Attempt 6.5 (t-5th) 6.4 (t-5th) 6.5 (t-6th)
Completion % 56.2 (4th) 54.4 (2nd) 55.4 (3rd)
Sacks 47 (t-2nd) 47 (2nd) 27 (25th)
Interceptions 24 (2nd) 30 (1st) 22 (5th)
Forced Fumbles, Recovered 15 (t-12th), 8 (t-24th) 12 (t-22nd), 10 (t-16th) 14 (18th), 6 (t-28th)
3rd Down % 36 (9th) 36 (t-7th) 38 (t-12th)
Penalties 98 (t-19th) 107 (t-26th) 89 (t-18h)
Time of Possession/Game 28:47 (10th) 26:57 (1st) 28:56 (9th)
QB Rating 67.2 (1st)
68.8 (4th) 71.9 (4th)
-10.8 % (2nd)
-14.0 % (2nd) 1.4 % (12th)
Pass. DVOA,
-17.9 % (1st) 
-13.8 % (4th)
-8.2 % (7th)
Rush DVOA -1.8 (16th) -14.4 (5th) 11.2.7 % (28th)



  • The Packers defense under Capers now operates out of the 3-4, whereas Sanders deployed a 4-3 scheme. When Capers was hired, many wondered how he'd be able to install his system with the players Green Bay had. However, it's worth noting that Capers coordinated a 4-3 defense while in Jacksonville; and he devised a sort of hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme both in Miami and in New England. So, it's not too surprising that Capers was able to make the transition in '09 without needing a year or two to retool the personnel.
  • In terms of points and yards allowed per game, the Packers went from a middle of the pack defense to a top-flight unit in just two years. That's all you can ask for, is it not?
  • Even though several stats dropped slightly this season, the numbers were still outstanding across the board this year. What it makes it more impressive though is how many injuries the Packers suffered on the defensive side of the ball. I believe they have started six different right outside linebackers, for example. More later on the Packers resiliency in terms of plugging in guys following injuries, but somehow, the Steelers injury situation this season pales in comparison to what the Packers have had to endure.
  • When you pressure the quarterback, good things happen. Look at how the sacks totals have jumped since Capers and his aggressive brand of play-calling arrived. Of course, it helps that he has a standout pass rusher in Clay Matthews, but as we know in Pittsburgh, the scheme matters almost as much, if not more, than the players.
  • The early prognosis for the Super Bowl is that it will be a high-scoring affair with plenty of explosive plays in the passing game. However, looking at the Packers' numbers stopping the run, I'm wondering if the Steelers won't again try to grind out a win on the ground, much like they did against the Jets. More on that later.
  • And finally, I'll wrap things up for now by saying that Ben Roethlisberger will have to be smart with when he takes chances down the field. The Packers have a number of ball-hawking defensive backs that are sure-handed. Their interception totals the past two years certainly confirm that assertion. So, that means Arians will have to do a great job designing plays that get guys open rather than merely hoping that Big Ben will be able to make guys miss, force the ball down the field, and allow his diminutive wide receivers to outplay the Packers' secondary for the ball. 

Just for reference's sake, here's the Steelers three-year totals so that you can compare how the two teams finished defensively the past several years.

Pittsburgh Steelers Three-Year Defensive Stats Comparison

Stat 2010 (Rank) 2009 (Rank) 2008 (Rank)
Points/Game 14.5 (1st) 20.2 (t-12th) 13.9 (1st)
Yards/Game 276.8 (2nd) 305.3 (5th) 237.2 (1st)
Yards/Play 4.5 (1st) 5.1 (10th) 3.9 (1st)
Passing Yards/Game 214.1 (12th) 215.4 (16th) 156.9 (1st)
Rushing Yards/Game 62.8 (1st) 89.9 (3rd) 80.2 (2nd)
Yards/Rush 3.0 (1st) 3.9 (t-5th) 3.3 (t-1st)
Yards/Pass Attempt 6.1 (1st) 6.9 (16th) 5.4 (1st)
Completion % 61.2 (16th) 58.2 (7th) 56.5 (5th)
Sacks 48 (1st) 47 (2nd) 51 (2nd)
Interceptions 21 (5th) 12 (25th) 20 (t-6th)
Forced Fumbles, Recovered 24 (3rd), 14 (t-5th) 14 (18th), 10 (16th) 12 (t-23rd), 9 (t-18th)
3rd Down % 34 (t-2nd) 42 (28th) 31 (1st)
Penalties 89 (9th) 102 (21st) 91 (t-20th)
Time of Possession/Game 28:34 (6th) 28:21 (7th) 28:42 (7th)
QB Rating 73.1 (2nd)
83.4 (15th) 63.4 (2nd)
-18.7% (1st)
-2.1% (9th) -26.9% (1st)
Pass. DVOA,
-13.0% (2nd) 
4.0% (14th)
-31.0% (1st)
Rush DVOA -27.7% (1st) -11.1 (9th) -21.7% (2nd)