Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a track record that speaks for itself:
.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.
Now, I understand that Green Bay has benefited from some of the trickery they have tried this season. There was the fake field goal for a touchdown against the Bears in week two. There was the direct snap fake punt against New Orleans in week four that converted for a first down. But that’s when the magic seemed to end.
We all recall the attempted pass that punter Tim Masthay thew into coverage against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was with the Packers up 14-12 and struggling at the time. The pass somehow wasn’t picked off. I’m not sure if McCarthy just thought the Packers were that much better than Jacksonville that even if it didn’t work, they’d overcome it?
There have been countless dive calls to running back John Kuhn on 3rd and 1 that have failed. How many times have the Packers thrown deep on 3rd and long and not converted instead of just picking up another first down? Has McCarthy forgotten who the best player on this team is and what most any coach in any sport will tell you: get the ball into your best player’s hands whenever possible. It begs the question as to whether it’s time for McCarthy to give up the play calling on Sunday’s after this season is over. It’s at least worth asking the question.
Then came today’s game. Halfway through the fourth quarter and leading 21-10, Green Bay’s defense forces a punt. Randall Cobb receives the punt and has some room to run. He turns to his right and tosses a lateral to Jeremy Ross. Ross bobbles the ball which is a fumble and Chicago recovers. Three plays later, the Bears kick a field goal to make it a one score game.
The obvious question is: why? At that point, the defense had been holding Chicago’s offense in check and seemed to have a handle on how to contain Brandon Marshall. The ball was back in Green Bay’s hands with one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a run game that had been controlling the clock. At that point, that should have been the goal: to control the clock and secure the win.
Instead, it gave the Bears the ball and already in scoring position. As we know, momentum is big in a football game and that could have easily sparked a comeback for the Bears. Fortunately, the Packers defense (and Alshon Jeffery’s over anxiousness for the ball) were up to the task and they got the stops when needed. Sure, Shawn Slocum is in charge of special teams and makes calls, but that all likely has to go through McCarthy.
Just moments after today’s win over the Bears and already having to answer questions about why he would try the trick on the return at that point in the game, McCarthy was asked about the status of kicker Mason Crosby. Would the team be exploring alternative options and was it time to make a change before it cost the team a game or their season? McCarthy quickly ended any speculation by again endorsing Crosby and stating that he’s the team’s kicker for the remainder of the season. I get that it’s late in the season and there aren’t many other options out there, but even those few options are better than Crosby right now. Kicking isn’t like another skill position where an intricate knowledge of the offense is required. This team’s need is simple: a guy who can put the ball through the uprights.
So what happens when these decisions lead to a loss? What about a playoff loss? If the Packers’ season is over and they have fallen short, there will be nothing left for McCarthy to do nor offer but some sort of explanation. At this point, McCarthy is going to have to search very high and very wide to find a soul who will empathize with any such explanation.
It would be a shame if McCarthy’s legacy in Green Bay started to take a dive because he wasn’t open to making the changes needed to maintain this mega-talented team’s success. In all fairness, I’m sure that general manager Ted Thompson has some input and injuries are sometimes a factor. But every team deals with struggles and the successful ones are the ones who make change when it’s needed.
It has been almost five years since the Packers have won a home playoff game. As we sit here in mid-December and with another one looming, it’s time for McCarthy to get a grip on this team and how is best to lead them into late January and, just maybe New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: