Welcome back for another fun attempt at figuring out what Packers coach Mike McCarthy is thinking during big moments in any game. Today’s installment will examine perhaps the most critical third down call in the Packers – Vikings game.
But first, let’s set this up:
Mike McCarthy has been lamenting all season about the poor third down conversion percentage by his offense. After going 6 for11 this game, he remarked after the game:
“Our issues on offense this year have been third down and giveaways. We obviously played better on third down. And with that, playing the favorable down and distance, we didn’t have many third and long situations so if we can play within that time clock with our protection unit and with our quarterback and he can still extend plays, I think we have the opportunity to play downhill on the defense.”
That’s a typical McCarthy going-in-circles quote. My best interpretation of it is that by converting more of those first downs, the defense will not have to be on the field as much.
I’m in 100% agreement, and that’s a big reason I pay close attention to time of possession. It’s an even more important factor with the condition of the Packers’ defensive line. Sure, you can win a game while getting dominated in possession, but it’s a lot easier the other way around.
In any case, I thought McCarthy had been doing a fine job with the third down play calling through most of the game (see a McCarthy compliment). Here are some examples:
Now, those are two excellent third down calls and those plays should be staples of McCarthy’s offense. They’re difficult to defend, fairly safe if thrown to the right spot. Low risk, high probability. So wouldn’t it make sense to go back to one of these plays or something similar with six minutes left in the game and an opportunity to run down the clock? No, instead, we get this:
Sure, lets try a route that hasn’t worked ALL night. Instead of a safe attempt at a short pass for a first down, McCarthy calls yet another sideline back shoulder route. For his part, McCarthy claimed after the game that this might have been an error in judgement by Rodgers:
Q: On the third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, were you OK with Aaron’s deep throw down the sideline?
MM: Yeah, I think we have got to be a little more completion-conscious there.