Packers Coach Mike McCarthy: What Is He Thinking?

Mike McCarthy

Some of McCarthy’s decisions have led to many questions about whether they will help or hurt the Packers from here on out

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a track record that speaks for itself:

73 wins

37 losses

.664 winning percentage in regular season

5-3 record in playoffs including a Super Bowl Championship

Two appearances in the NFC Championship game

Three NFC North division titles

Not bad, right?  Even by the sky-high standards of the Green Bay Packers and their fans, those numbers exude success.  But McCarthy has become somewhat of an intrigue lately.  As we know, he calls the offensive plays for the Packers during games.  He has done so since his arrival in Green Bay.

At times, especially this season, he has had fans and analysts alike scratching their heads with some of his decision making.  Now, I realize that he gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers some freedom to alter the play at the line if Rodgers sees something he thinks he can take advantage of.  It’s hard to say exactly whether some of these offensive failures were McCarthy calls or Rodgers check-out’s.  Whichever is the case, McCarthy is responsible for all of it as head coach.

Despite having clinched the NFC North division with today’s win over the Chicago Bears, the Packers still have a chance to improve their playoff seeding over the last two weeks of the season.  They return home to face the Tennessee Titans next week which screams (and I mean a blood-curdling scream) “trap game”.  Any lapse in that game and even worse, a loss, will fall squarely on the shoulders of McCarthy and how he prepares the team this week.  In week 17, they will face the Minnesota Vikings in what will surely be a tough game as the Vikings are now in great position to reach the postseason.

Any Packers player or coach who is asked will tell us:  “We believe in coach McCarthy and what we are trying to accomplish”.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I’d rather have that type of team culture than some others that I see (the Philadelphia Eagles come to mind).  At the same time, I think Packers nation is starting to grow anxious as we watch McCarthy baffle everyone from fans to the TV analysts (even Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) with some of his play calling.  And specifically late in games when the Packers have a decent lead and their destiny is in their own hands.



Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 24, Lions 20

Aaron Rodgers

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers looks down the field against the Lions on Sunday

It was ugly but when it comes to winning division games, the Green Bay Packers will take any kind of victory.

In their 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers made enough plays on defense plus one spectacular Randall Cobb catch late in the fourth quarter to come out on top to go to 7-3 on the season and 2-0 in the NFC North.

The Packers had their issues on offense but the defense was spectacular.   Matthew Stafford was sacked five times and intercepted twice, including one that was returned for a touchdown.  Even without linebacker Clay Matthews, the defense was aggressive and the young players in the secondary came up big when a play needed to be made.

The offense, on the other hand, was another story.   With Bryan Bulaga now out for the year, TJ Lang was moved to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith got the start at left guard.   Their inexperience at their respective positions was evident thanks to multiple holding penalties and quarterback Rodgers often running for his life.

Let’s take a look at the good and the not-so-good from Sunday’s game. There were many standouts, but here are three that played well and three that left room for improvement.

Game Balls

TE Jermichael Finley

We have all been pretty tough on the Packers starting tight end, but to finally be able to put him in the Game Ball part of this column is an absolute thrill.

Finley came up big against the Lions during a game in which the Packers struggled to get in any kind of tempo on offense.  Finley finished the game with three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.  His 20 yard catch and run gave the Packers their first lead of the game and he had a clutch 40 yard catch late in the fourth quarter that helped set up the go ahead touchdown catch by Randall Cobb.

Finley’s issues with his hands and his mouth are well documented.  He was feeling the heat from many fans especially with the big play emergence of Tom Crabtree in the passing game.  Hopefully this game can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things for Finley which would add just one more explosive element to an offense that is not short on weapons.



NFC Championship Preview – Packers vs Bears Rivalry Reaches New Heights – The Playoffs

Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and the NFC Championship.

I don’t think it can possibly get any better than this.

After the Packers impressive 48-21 over the Atlanta Falcons and the Bears’ easier than it looked 35-24 win over the upstart Seattle Seahawks, both teams prepare to meet for only the second time in their long and storied rivalry. For the first time since 1941, the Packers and Bears get together for– to steal a line from Brent Musberger–all the Tostitos.

Since the Packers faced the Bears twice already this season, I don’t think it’s necessary to break them down once again. We know them well enough by now and the same could be said for the Bears knowing the Packers. It’s a division rivals against one another, so the familiarity between the two teams is rather obvious.

Instead let’s go ahead jump to FIVE (hey, it’s a big game alright?) keys to the NFC Championship

1. The condition of Soldier Field

Much has been made this week over the shape the sod in Soldier Field is in. It was already showing noticeable damage during the Seahawks game last week, and with brutal cold settling in across the entire Midwest, there hasn’t been enough time to re-sod the entire football field

With the game also expected to be played under cold temperatures, the condition of the field will be crucial to both teams. The Bears obviously have had some experience playing in it and the Packers have not. You would think that would give the Bears an edge, but the Packers have played their share of games in Lambeau with the sod coming up in chunks.

While Lambeau has never been in this bad of shape, both teams will likely struggle with poor field conditions.

2. The officiating crew
In this week’s sign of the apocalypse, the NFL announced that Terry McAuley’s crew will be calling the NFC Championship Game.

Why is this significant?

Remember the Week 3 game in Soldier Field against the Bears where the Packers were flagged for a staggering 18 penalties? McAuley’s crew worked that game.

Will they do the same in this game?



Mining the Mind of McCarthy: His Evil Master Plan for the Eagles

Normally, when I put on my miner’s hat and go digging deep into the mind of Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, it’s after a game. I look back at certain situations in the game and try to figure out what in the world he was thinking at that moment. Usually, I’m searching for an answer to the question WHY did you do that, Mike?

Frankly, I just haven’t been that successful. Sometimes, I can come up with a rational approximation of his thought process, but most of the time, I remain flummoxed.

So I decided to try a different approach. This time I’m going to try to figure out what he’s thinking BEFORE the fact. We ll know McCarthy likes to do the unpredictable, like throw deep to the end zone with your weak-armed backup QB on fourth and one with a minute left in a game you’re losing by 4 pts. Can you say, “threw the game away?” But I digress.

I’m going to attempt to take his element of surprise (NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition) along with a little reverse psychology and tell you what McCarthy’s sometime unorthodox decisions have been leading up to.

Basically, my theory is that McCarthy has been setting everyone up. You, me, other teams, maybe even his own players. This game, he will unleash the lion and shock everyone. I’ve managed to dig deep into his brain, and here’s what he has planned:

The Fullback Dive on the Goal Line: Nothing exemplifies McCarthy’s seeming stubbornness more than this play. Or has he just been setting everyone up? If the Packers find themselves on the goal line in a big spot, expect Aaron Rodgers to put the ball out for John Kuhn, and then tuck it away and run a naked bootleg to the corner flag. It’s coming folks…

James Starks: (Neo, The One, The Franchise) McCarthy has handled this like a master of subterfuge. The Packers secret weapon has been hidden on the PUP, kept inactive for several weeks and seen limited playing time. McCarthy almost blew this by forgetting his plan and giving Starks too many carries in the 49ers game. Luckily he limited Starks in the Lions game and then kept him inactive for 2 more weeks before giving him a little warmup against the Bears. McCarthy’s evil plan was to limit the game film on Starks so their first playoff opponent will be completely unprepared when McCarthy lets Starks loose. The Eagles will have no idea what hit them.



Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Vikings, 3rd Down and Short

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.



Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Redskins, Goal Line Offense

There may be no more difficult task, at times. than trying to figure out what Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is thinking. In what I hope becomes a semi-regular feature here, I plan to do a little panning for gold and hope to discover a few nuggets of insight into what defines the Packers’ coach.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I am generally disappointed with McCarthy’s performance as head football coach of the Packers. More specifically, his performance during games in the areas of play selection, game management, and time management.

I don’t want to be unhappy with McCarthy. On the contrary, I want to see him make the right moves to put his players in a position to win. But since I first sat in Lambeau field and watched his first game as Packers coach (a 26-0 spanking by the Chicago Bears that wasn’t even that close) I’ve observed McCarthy do things week after week that just confound me.

I’ve written about McCarthy many times  before, lest you think I’m a Johnny-come-lately non-fan of his work. Just a few examples:

Sep 20, 2009:  Is Mike McCarthy in Charge?

Nov 9, 2009:  Mike McCarthy Said What?

Apr 8, 2010: Mike McCarthy and his Quarterback Obsession

June 11, 2010: Packers Penalty Problems

July 6, 2010: MM, Time to Beat the Good Teams

Sep 30, 2010: Packers Penalty Palooza

McCarthy has made progress in some areas, mostly in his relationship with the press,  team leadership, and player motivation.  I recently touched on that here.

But getting back to the task at hand, one Area where I have been a chronic critic of Mike McCarthy is his play-calling in goal line situations. While it would be great to have the time to give you multiple examples, we’ll have to settle for this last game against the Redskins. So lets just look at this last game, the goal line opportunity, play-calling  and comments made by McCarthy since that game ended.

1st and goal on the 9 yard line: Quick out to Jordy Nelson, who does a great job of extending and almost gets the ball over the pylon. The referees rule that Nelson’s foot touches out of bounds and mark the ball at the one.