A Tale of Two McCarthys: Packers vs. Cowboys

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

Yes, I know that’s backwards (my apologies to Charles Dickens), but it fits the Packers Cowboys game doesn’t it?

The first half brought us as uninspired an effort as we have seen from this team. That’s saying a lot with some of the games we’ve endured this season.

My prediction for this game was that the Packers would need to score in the 30′s  on the 32nd ranked Cowboy’s defense to offset the bunch of points Dallas would put on the Packers D. I rarely get predictions right, but this one worked out.

However, never could I have predicted how this game evolved.

The first half was a symphony of horrible play by the Packers on both sides of the ball, but most shocking was the offensive ineptitude. A few people on twitter and even Troy Aikman used the line that the Packers offense were making the Cowboys defense look like the 1985 Chicago Bears.

From my perspective, Mike McCarthy’s play calling was horrendous. Both in type of play and situational play calling, he gave the Dallas defense nothing but vanilla looks and little to be concerned about.

I’ve been down this road before with McCarthy, most recently with my McCarthy did the Packers no Favors Against Giants post. The situation was even worse the first half of this game. Same old tired plays and some real head scratchers. Two yd pass route on third and nine? Four yard out route on third and ten? Keep giving the ball back to Romo and a hot Dallas offense? WHY????

I was beside myself. I lashed out on twitter. I said I’d be OK with the Packers losing out if it meant McCarthy was sent packing. Yes, I really said that.

I’n not normally the emotional lash out type of guy, but this one time I did. Next thing you know, the wrath of Packers apologists came down on me. I was a retard (not my word), an idiot, a dope. I wasn’t a true fan (guess I’ve been a poser for 45 years).

I don’t really care about what people say about me, but I tried to engage some of these people with some intelligent discussion. I suppose that part did, in fact, make me an idiot. More name calling. Then the excuses.



Mike McCarthy Did the Packers No Favors Against the Giants

Mike McCarthy disapoints on and off the field

Mike McCarthy disapoints on and off the field

The Packers entered the game yesterday with a desperate need for a win against the Giants . I expected Mike McCarthy to dial up an aggressive game plan, one that would attack the weaknesses of the Giants defense. Instead, they went at the Giant’s strength.

The first two possessions of the game saw runs on first and second down for little gain, as the Giants did what they’ve done to other running attacks, despite their poor record. Both possessions resulted in punts – so much for getting the Packers off to that rousing start I had hoped for.

Just after the start of the second quarter, there was another set of first and second down runs, this time to James Starks, again with little gain and again, resulting in a punt.

I don’t know how it looked on TV, but watching the game from inside the stadium, in my nosebleed third tier seats, I felt an early listlessness in the Packers’ offense. As if there was a resignation that giving even their best effort would still not be enough without Aaron Rodgers. While that may be true, you don’t go out and concede right out of the gate, do you?

Luckily, the defense was playing better than they have the last few games (though still giving up some big plays), and kept the Packers within four points at halftime. I was pretty happy about that, especially with the Packers having the ball to start the second half. Surely, they would come out with a more balanced attack and march down the field to take the lead. Um… not.

First and second down runs again, for a total of 3 yards gained.  I’m not saying that shouldn’t have been running, but I am saying a little more creativity was needed.  And there other ways to get the ball in the hands of your running back if the defense is packing the line of scrimmage against runs. Packers did it only twice, for a 10.5yd average gain. With that kind of success, should we have seen it more often? One was actually a screen pass – a play McCarthy has seemingly moved to the back of his playbook.

Can you say “Predictable?”

And that brings me to my second point. The Packers are fooling NO ONE (or at least they sure weren’t fooling the Giants).



Charting Life After Finley

Much has been made rightly so about Jermichael Finley’s injury; I won’t go too much in depth because it’s been covered by several of my fellow writers but I will add that it’s great to hear that indications point to Finley avoiding a life-changing injury; ultimately the injury may cost him his career as a professional football player but at least he will be able to live a relatively normal life afterwards.  Going back to football, the question becomes “what do the Packer do now without Cobb, Jones AND now Finley?”  Obviously Finley was more a wide receiver than a traditional inline tight end and therefore could compensate somewhat for losing both Jones and Cobb but now that Finley is also out for the foreseeable future, what does the Packers wide receiver and tight end cores look like and how will they operate?  Keep in mind tight end is the joker of the Packers offense as tight ends often play inline, in the slot, as a fullback, as a move tight end and sometimes even on the outside; a lot of the Packers’ creativity, versatility and matchup problems come from moving tight ends around so seeing what they do with their tight ends is often a good indication of what their offense will operate.

I think the simplistic view is to look at body types and try to project players into Finley’s role.  Andrew Quarless is naturally the first option as he has the most experience and receiving production of the remaining tight ends.  Quarless is also a good blocker and thus likely would have seen time on offense even with Finley playing so playing him wouldn’t arouse as many suspicions as any other player.  The second option would be Brandon Bostick, a former wide receiver in a tight end body that has been with the Packers since 2012 who might be the most athletically gifted of the backup pass catchers.  The Packers obviously see something in him by keeping him this long and keeping him on the 53 man roster and his history as a wide receiver could help compensate for the more “wide receiver” like plays that Finley often made. However, just looking at body type and playing history is often misleading, Quarless has been in this situation before in 2010 when Finley was lost for the year with a torn ACL and did nothing with it and Bostick wasn’t even able to beat DJ Williams last year for a spot on the roster.



Packing the Stats: First Down Balancing Act

Packing the StatsThere has been some frustration among Green Bay Packers fans lately about the run/pass ratio from the offense on first downs. During the lukewarm win against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, Mike McCarthy seemed to consistently call running plays on first down. Frustration with the predictability of the calls started to seep into the ever-watchful fans, and it became just another part of the team’s so-called “moral loss.”

Now, I have been slowly tracking a good number of statistics during the past eight weeks, most of which I haven’t even gotten into analyzing. One thing I do after each game is log every offensive play: the down, distance, yardage gained, how it was gained, who gained it, and the outcome. From there, I can gather a whole bunch of raw statistical information, a lot of which isn’t available on the popular NFL statistical websites.

One thing it has allowed me to track is the run/pass ratios on a down-by-down basis, which I have presented below. Now, in the following data, I have not accounted for plays in which penalties have been accepted, since a good number of times they are pre-snap penalties. This adds a little bit of error to the numbers, but it should be nothing of significance.

The first thing I want to show you is the total number of called runs and passes, as sorted by down and distance (click the image to enlarge):


2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance

2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance


If there was any doubt about which team we are analyzing, they are put to rest when we see just how much the offense is passing the ball. It’s no secret that Mike McCarthy trusts the arm of Aaron Rodgers more than his running game – and so he should. It’s their biggest and most reliable weapon.

However, there are some significant trends in the data. First and foremost, Mike McCarthy is actually pretty “balanced” when it comes to calling runs on first downs. In fact, the offense has passed the ball a few more times overall than they have run it in such situations.

The real “imbalances” come in later downs, as the offense tends to throw it more as the down increases. Running plays are only called 11.7% of the time on third downs, and if you take out the third-and-short distances, it drops to a measly 4.6%.