Capers unleashes the beast
By Mark Potash email@example.com
B.J. Raji was the right guy in the right place at the right time. But it wasn’t by accident.
Dom Capers put him there.
With the Green Bay Packers protecting a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter and the Bears facing a third-and-five at their 15, defensive coordinator Capers pulled a trick out of his bag that just happened to be the perfect call.
It’s called ‘‘Right Cat,’’ a zone pressure where right cornerback Sam Shields blitzes and Raji, a 6-2, 337-pound nose tackle, drops into coverage. And it couldn’t have worked out better. Williams’ pressure forced Caleb Hanie to throw quickly to running back Matt Forte, but Raji was right there for an easy interception that he returned 18 yards for a touchdown with 6:04 to go. It was the key score in the Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.
‘‘That’s the first time we’ve made that call this year,’’ a smiling Capers said.
Raji said it was his first touchdown ‘‘since seven-on-seven in the street.’’ But he knew where the end zone was.
‘‘It feels like I’m living a dream,’’ said Raji, a first-round draft pick from Boston College in 2009. ‘‘I was like, ‘Man. He threw this ball to me. I just have to catch it. It was unbelievable. Dom has been doing great things all year, and that was a great call on that particular play. And the rest is history.’’
Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins thought he was dreaming.
‘‘But [Raji] took it to the end zone like a pro, like he’s been there before,’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘That was a huge play.’’
Hiring Capers — and giving him a 337-pound nose tackle who can drop into coverage — paid dividends Sunday. Facing the Bears for the third time this season, Capers stayed a step ahead from the start.
‘‘When you play a team three times, you have to be able to mix it up a little bit in order to present new problems,’’ Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. ‘‘I think we were able to do that for the most part in presenting new schemes and lining up players at different positions to try and throw them off a little bit. Obviously we did a good job tonight.’’
The Packers weren’t perfect. After Raji’s touchdown, No. 3 quarterback Caleb Hanie drove the Bears for a touchdown that got them to 21-14. And the Bears were threatening to score a tying touchdown in the final minute, but Capers and the Packers came up with another clutch play to seal it. Hanie’s fourth-down pass was intercepted by Shields, an undrafted rookie.
‘‘It’s a testament to the coaches and players here,’’ Matthews said. ‘‘With all the injuries we’ve had, Dom does a great job of putting us in the right position, and here we are, shutting down great quarterbacks and on the verge of a championship.’’
The Bears might have given Capers a hand in that final play. On third-and-three from the Packers’ 27, it looked like Forte was going to run for a first down. But the Bears had called timeout. Earl Bennett was stopped by Desmond Bishop for a two-yard loss to force a fourth-and-five that led to Shields’ pick.
The Packers seemed to make better use of the timeout than the Bears.
‘‘Maybe a little bit,’’ linebacker A.J. Hawk said. ‘‘At least as a defense, to settle in and not be rushed. And offensively, it might have given them too much time to think about what they were doing. It gives Dom some time up top to figure out what he wants to call.’’
On this day, for the Bears, that was the wrong move to make.