GREEN BAY—Dom Capers and his NASCAR defense are the toast of Packernation today, and indications are the acquisition of Julius Peppers in the offseason made it possible.
"He gives you great diversity. He can rush, he can drop. Clay (Matthews) has always been able to do that. Julius gives us another guy," Capers said when asked on Monday if Peppers has been the difference maker on a defense that is showing more schematic creativity.
In Capers' NASCAR defense, Matthews and Peppers are joined by Nick Perry and Mike Neal in a four-linebacker front. It's a passing-downs defense meant to rush the passer and disguise coverage. It was one of the stars of yesterday's 38-17 over the Carolina Panthers. Peppers was credited with 1½ sacks, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hurries on Sunday.
When did Capers get the idea for the NASCAR set?
"We had talked in the offseason about getting those four guys on the field. It worked well for us yesterday," Capers said.
"You never know where these terms come from," he added.
Peppers and Neal are former defensive ends, and Perry played defensive end at USC, so Capers' creativity is likely the result of those three players' versatility. Peppers, it would seem, was the missing link.
"I like the combination of those four guys. We think it puts our most athletic guys out there," Capers said.
The NASCAR defense's playing time was increased on Sunday because the Packers offense scored on each of its first three possessions, gave the defense a 21-0 lead to protect and put the Panthers in a must-pass situation.
"Carolina was No. 1 in the league in 10-play drives. We were able to start with three three-and-outs," Capers said.
A third of the Panthers' total yards were gained in the fourth quarter, long after the issue had been decided. It was Capers' lone lament that his defense didn't finish the game as strongly as it started it.
Asked if he had ever used an all-linebacker front previously in his career as a defensive coordinator, Capers said, "We used to put all-linebackers out on the field in Pittsburgh, about six of them."
The Packers defense is currently No. 19 overall, No. 6 against the pass and No. 1 in opponent passer rating. The run defense's ranking, 31st, is holding down the overall ranking, and the run defense ranking is largely the result of a start to the season that will take a lot of weeks of stopping the run to overcome.
What's the difference between last year's defense and this year's?
"We've got better depth," Capers said. "You've seen Ha Ha come along. Sean Richardson made a couple of nice knock-back hits. Our depth at cornerback has been tested. I just think we have more options. We're more athletic with our down guys. Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion did a nice job of knocking their guy back.
"I've seen very encouraging signs," Capers added. "The last two games, I'd take the first half in every game. We've got things to build on and we're going to need them this week."
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 20