When the Packers offense has the ball on Sunday and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers pushes back in his press box seat and watches the Cardinals play defense, he’ll likely see a reflection of his career.
The schemes and blitzes he’ll see the Cardinals use will be those he and some of the most fertile defensive minds in football history invented nearly 30 years ago, dating back to Capers’ days with the Philadelphia Stars of the old USFL. It was there Capers, Vic Fangio, Jim Mora and others on the Stars staff laid the foundation to what is popularly known as the zone blitz.
“I always like to watch them on tape,” Capers said of the Cardinals defense when he was asked what he thought of the Cardinals stealing his blitzes. “They’re talented. They do a nice job. I know one thing: They run that cross blitz up inside.”
The cross blitz is one of the signatures of Capers’ blitz playbook. It’s a particular blitz Capers helped make famous during his “Blitzburgh” days, when the inside linebackers running that scheme were LeVon Kirkland and Chad Brown.
This Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers will use that cross blitz scheme with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, but probably not as much as the Cardinals will use it with Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon. It’s one of the Cardinals’ defensive staples, and it’s helped Washington register eight sacks and Lenon two.
“We did a lot of replacement zones. We’d rush a defensive back and drop a lineman out,” Capers said of his early experimenting with the zone blitz. “We did the same thing in New Orleans. In Pittsburgh, we started doing more. It kind of grew.”
From those humble roots, the zone blitz has grown into one of the most renowned defensive schemes in football history. The branches of its tree are named Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau, Marvin Lewis, Jim Haslett, Tim Lewis and more. One of the branches off those branches is named Ray Horton, the Cardinals defensive coordinator, who learned the zone blitz scheme from LeBeau at Cincinnati.
“We couldn’t beat people one-on-one up front, so we started doing more and we picked up our sack total late in the season,” Capers recalled of his first season in Pittsburgh. “The third year is when the ‘Blitzburgh’ stuff started. That’s when it really took off.”
Packers defensive assistants Kevin Greene and Darren Perry were members of the “Blitzburgh” defense, and now they are also branches off the zone blitz tree.
Well, all these years later, the Packers and Cardinals are tied for the league lead in sacks. Apparently, the tree still bears fruit.
“If I was a betting man, I’d bet their terminology is similar,” Capers said of the Cardinals. There was a smile on his face.
“They bring a lot of pressure,” Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. “Their inside linebackers are good rushers. It’s part of their scheme. It’s obviously a concern of ours going into the game.
“Their style is the blitz. That’s what we’re preparing for and we expect it.”
It’s been that way for a long time. Additional coverage - Nov. 2