Is Dom Capers Done in Green Bay?

The Packers suffered yet another catastrophic defensive collapse in the playoffs. Is it time for them to move on with their coordinator?

There’s something admirable about defiance in someone. When the world tells someone to do one thing or act one way, and they proudly stand up and declare who they are and that it won’t be changed, that can be an admirable trait. It’s a sort of Wild West mythological, cowboy attitude that this person will not be shaken from their position because they would rather be wrong and be individual than be right as a member of the herd.

Well, Dom Capers, I’m here to tell you: you may once have been a cowboy, but you’re now just as unique as every other sheep. And what do we do with sheep? We shear them and put them back in their pen.

That folksy idiom got weird.

My point, however, is that Dom Capers –- defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers -– has a reputation of having been a defensive genius that appears long outdated. Every year, fans and writers alike call for Capers’ job as Packers defenses get shredded by the opposition. But is that fair? Is Capers still the rootin’est, tootin’est defensive sheriff in town, or is he truly one of the final frontiers of the coordinating old guard?

The Good, the Bad, the Really Ugly

Dom Capers has been in the NFL as a coach or coordinator nearly every year since 1992. Think about that. The last time he had only a position coaching gig, the live-action/CGI Casper movie had just come out –- and it was incredible. Since then, though, Capers has worked for seven different teams in those 22 years, and that’s actually not that stable when one considers that he’s spent six of those alone with the Green Bay Packers.

So, why does he keep getting high profile jobs if he’s repeatedly fired from his previous ones? We turn to our signature metric here at numberFire, Net Expected Points (NEP) to answer just that question. NEP is a measure of how a team’s effort on the field truly affected their chances of winning, by looking at expected points and win probability instead of just examining yards and points.

The numbers we’ll look at today are not raw NEP numbers, they are adjusted for opponent; with Defensive NEP, the more negative it is, the better. I took each year that he was a defensive coordinator or head coach, going back to 2000, and plotted it out below. How does “Door County Dom’s” defensive history hold up when we look at his Adjusted Defensive NEP?

YearTeamAdj. Def NEPAdj. Def Pass NEPAdj. Def Rush NEP
2000JAX-15.73 (17th)13.52 (21st)-26.79 (13th)
2002HOU-30.53 (9th)-8.68 (11th)-5.82 (14th)
2003HOU53.72 (26th)40.56 (26th)34.17 (30th)
2004HOU-33.87 (8th)-5.54 (11th)-11.20 (14th)
2005HOU123.54 (32nd)69.95 (30th)46.92 (32nd)
2007MIA76.49 (30th)47.55 (24th)33.88 (31st)
2009GB-84.24 (3rd)-27.44 (7th)-37.61 (4th)
2010GB-70.26 (2nd)-52.61 (1st)-1.49 (18th)
2011GB63.10 (24th)58.11 (25th)38.45 (30th)
2012GB38.37 (19th)17.12 (11th)12.65 (23rd)
2013GB94.96 (27th)77.03 (27th)25.68 (27th)
2014GB36.52 (15th)39.51 (15th)8.63 (22nd)
Last 5 YearsAvg.32.54 (17th)27.83 (16th)16.78 (24th)

Look, it’s not as though Capers has been bad over the course of his career. With the Houston Texans, he had two years out of five that he made an expansion team (read: bottom-of-the-barrel talent) into a top-10 defensive unit by Adjusted Defensive NEP. That’s absolutely impressive. Upon coming to Green Bay as well, he took a unit that had ranked 29th in this metric in 2007 and 31st in 2008 and helped them achieve two top-five finishes in the next two years.

The problem with Capers’ history is that these turnarounds are hardly sustained. Along with the two top-10 seasons he cobbled together in Houston, his other three years were bottom-quarter of the league production. In his final year with the Texans, they were dead last in Adjusted Defensive NEP. Similarly, in Green Bay, they plummeted from second in the league in 2010 to 24th in 2011, and the Packers haven’t risen into the top half of the league since then.

Dirty Dom

So, what does a Dom Capers defense look like exactly? A former defensive backs coach, Capers, by far, is much better at scheming to defend the pass than the run. In his 12 seasons that we have NEP data for, Capers has had two top-10 defenses by Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, and just one by Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. He also has had just four top-half season against the run, and six against the pass. He thrives on these spectacular seasons that force a great amount of turnovers and blitzes, but those tend to be inconsistent and unsustainable from season-to-season.

The most disturbing thing in all this is how many bottom-quarter units in both phases of defense he’s had. Five of his seasons in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP have ranked in the bottom quarter of the league; he has been either mediocre or atrocious for the most of his career in his strong phase. For the rushing side, it’s worse: six seasons have seen his unit in the bottom quarter of the league, putting his run defense fail spectacularly for half of his career.

The hallmark of a Dom Capers defense is inconsistency. As any Packer fan will tell you, there will be games like the 2014-15 NFC Championship where the secondary will pick off a bundle of passes and the pass rushers will drop a ton of sacks on an opposing offense. The problem is that then there will be a long string of games like the 2013-14 NFC Divisional Round game against the 49ers, where opposing quarterback Colin Kaepernick will run for more than 150 yards on your defense, and somehow still throw for 250-plus. It’s a model of inconsistency on a game-to-game and season-to-season basis, and the numbers bear that out.

Riding Off Into the Sunset

Capers has never been an elite defensive mind like Dick LeBeau, or Rex Ryan, or any of the modern marvels in those roles since the dawn of the 21st Century. Genuinely, his reputation seems highly undeserved, as his playmaking defenses –- while spectacular to watch, and satisfying when they succeed –- are prone to rapid collapse and unsustainable production.

In just one season has Capers had a top-10 defensive unit by both Adjusted Defensive Passing and Rushing NEP, and that was his initial year with Green Bay, a defensive unit he largely inherited. In only three seasons has he even had a unit with top-half marks in both phases of the game.

Not only should Capers be done as a defensive coordinator, he should have never been hired by the Packers. I respect him for the unit that got the team to the Super Bowl, which was a squad of interception-snagging, fumble-forcing, sack artists, but he’s survived in the position on the laurels of that one season for far too long. It’s time for this old cowpoke to hang up the spurs and call it quits in the NFL.