GREEN BAY, Wis. – In his starting front three, Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has size, experience and wisdom.
Together, the group weighs exactly 1,000 pounds if you go by the team’s listings. It has 20 seasons of NFL experience. Its average age is 30.
If Capers is going to have the kind of 3-4 defense that wins championships, he needs that group to form a foundation so immovable that no matter what demands he piles on it, the result is the same.
It must stop the run.
The Packers have more depth on the defensive line then they’ve had in coach Mike McCarthy’s entire tenure, but starters Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly will be required to do the heaviest lifting this season.
It was evident in the 34-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday when Raji played 50 of 77 snaps (65 percent), Pickett played 49 (64 percent) and Jolly, making his debut following a 3-year suspension, played 35 (45 percent).
They are in there for one reason. It has been drilled into them since the day they arrived for off-season workouts, and it will continue to be drilled into them until the final play of the season.
They must stop the run.
“It’s a job,” Jolly said. “You have to take care of business. If you don’t do your job, you won’t be out there. Do your job, do it because they ask you. Have faith in what they’re giving us.
“That’s a big part of it. I think Dom gives us a great scheme, so we have to go out and execute.”
Against the 49ers, the three slugged it out with one of the most physical offensive lines in all of football, a unit that guided San Francisco’s run game to top-10 rankings each of the past 2 years (fourth in 2012 and eighth in ‘11).
Their job was to eat up blocks, to make sure they held their position, even when double-teamed, and make it difficult for the offensive linemen to reach their linebackers. In other words, they sacrificed themselves for the good of the defense.
The result was impressive.
After giving up 323 yards rushing in an NFC divisional playoff loss in January, including an NFL-record 181 by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the defense held San Francisco to under 100 yards and a dismal per-carry average of 2.6 yards.
“We’ve played good run defense around here before, but if you would have told me before the game that they would have 34 rushes for 90 yards, including Kaepernick, I would have told you the outcome would be different,” Raji said. “Their No. 1 objective was to run the ball. They continued with the read-option; we took that away.”
It would have been a spectacular display had the 49ers not destroyed them with their passing game to the tune of 412 yards and three touchdowns. It was a victory in one sense of the word, but a defeat in a much bigger arena.