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.