Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his fellow coaches went back to school after the team's ugly loss to San Francisco in the playoffs last season.
Coach Mike McCarthy sent his coaches on a day trip early in the offseason to College Station, Texas, to talk football with the staff from Texas A&M. Lessons learned from that meeting as well as subsequent discussions with other college coaches about defending the read option could play a part Sunday when the Packers return to San Francisco for a rematch.
Green Bay can only hope for a better outcome. The 49ers, led by elusive quarterback Colin Kaepernick, caught the Packers' defense flat-footed as they ran and threw their way to 579 total yards and a spot in the NFC championship with a 45-31 win. It raised the stakes a bit for this season's opener.
"You can't let it linger in your mind," Capers said. "Every week's a new game, and obviously we're disappointed in the way we played there. But we're looking forward to the challenge this week."
The Packers have known since April when the NFL released the season schedule that they would be seeing the 49ers again right away. Preparing for another shot at Kaepernick after he set a single-game NFL record by a quarterback with 181 rushing yards in the playoff meeting started several weeks earlier when the defensive coaches visited Texas A&M.
Second-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin and his assistants covered their version of Xs and Os as it pertains to employing an up-tempo, zone-read offense with the quarterback squarely as the centerpiece.
Johnny Manziel flourished in Sumlin's system last season, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel rushed for more than 1,300 yards and amassed 5,100-plus yards in total offense.
"We had a nice visit with them," Capers said. "We talked on both sides of the ball because obviously they went in and beat Alabama in Alabama. So you kind of wanted to look at that tape and see the things. And, of course, Kevin's run that offense for many years and just talking with him about things that potentially gave him problems."
Capers downplayed how valuable spending part of just one day with the Texas A&M coaches would be for giving the Green Bay staff some guidance for defending the read option in the NFL.
"It wasn't like we went down there and got a whole new scheme or something," Capers said. "We just kind of wanted to get a feel.
"It's two different animals — college to here," added Capers, who has coached 42 years, the last 28 in the NFL. "But let me say this, 30 years ago, I was having some of the same conversations, because when you're coaching at Tennessee and you're playing against Bear Bryant and you're at Ohio State and you're opening up with Oklahoma, you spend a lot more time talking about that guy handing the ball and pulling it and pitching it and all that stuff. You stay in something long enough, it goes full circle, and it comes back around to where you have to deal with it.
"I'm sure that probably every team in the league is trying to make sure that their players are familiar with it and that type of thing, because it really didn't show up until real late last year. You didn't have a lot to go off of."
The Packers have made considerable use of the film from their debacle against the 49ers on Jan. 12, when a combination of read-option plays and breakaway scrambles by Kaepernick contributed to a whopping 323 rushing yards by San Francisco. Its 579 yards is the third highest single-game output in an NFL playoff game.
"I've been around the league long enough to know that on any game or any given day, things might not go your way," said Capers, the Packers' defensive coordinator since 2009. "You've got to be able to learn from them and work at it and try to make it better the next time because those things happen."
Green Bay will see another running quarterback in a Week 2 visit from Washington's Robert Griffin III.
Capers also met with new Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda in Green Bay this spring. Previously in the same role at Hawaii, Aranda's defenses had success keeping Kaepernick under wraps when the quarterback starred at Nevada.
Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene also talked read option with Illinois State assistant head coach/defensive line coach Spence Nowinsky.
"I think all of your intel out there, everything can assist you, hopefully, in increasing your vision and understanding of the mentality of the attack with the zone-, read-option stuff," Greene said. "You take all of that stuff and you file it away and you come up with the best game plan."
Linebacker Clay Matthews feels the defense is sufficiently prepared for the rematch with Kaepernick.
"I think just schematically we're much more sound," Matthews said. "We understand what they're capable of doing, the capabilities of not only the scheme but the players as well and what they possess. So I feel like we're more than ready to handle the read option and it's just about executing now."