CBs are key difference in Packers’ 3-4 defense

I have some experience with the two defensive coordinators in Super Bowl XLV, dating all the way back to the 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers. Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator of that team, while Dick LeBeau was the defensive backs coach and Marvin Lewis was our linebackers coach in Bill Cowher’s first season at the helm of the Steelers.

I was there!

Capers and LeBeau run near-identical defenses, even utilizing the same calls. But if there is a difference between the two defenses — and I think there is — it’s the talent of Packers cornerbacks Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. That trio is much better in man coverage than the Steelers’ cornerbacks, and I think it’s an advantage.

Just look at the Packers’ three playoff games so far as a sample: They have five interceptions in three games, and all were big plays. Shields had two in one game against the Bears. Williams had two against the Falcons, plus the interception that finished the Eagles. While we’ve seen plenty of big plays from the Packers cornerbacks, the Steelers cornerbacks did exactly the opposite in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets. Confusion and miscommunication helped allow key touchdown receptions to Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery on a pick route.

If there’s anywhere the Steelers’ defense is vulnerable, it’s outside on the perimeter, exactly where the Packers possess the weapons to exploit it.

Both Capers and LeBeau use the zone-blitz as a base defense. But because of his talented cornerbacks, Capers can choose to play man-to-man, and do it effectively. The Steelers play more zone behind their blitzes as their cornerbacks aren’t real bump-and-run, lock-down-coverage-type players.

I wouldn’t suggest Capers’ defense is more confusing, it’s more about being effective. Quarterbacks can read man-to-man coverages more quickly, but have to wait for receivers to get open. Because the Packers are so effective in man-to-man coverage, it gives their pass rush time to get home. The Packers aren’t winning because they’re tricking anyone, they’re winning because they’re executing better, particularly in man-to-man.

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