Another ho-hum Playoff Performance from Packers Coach Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy

After the Green Bay Packers lost to the 49ers in last year’s wild-card round, I was very critical of Aaron Rodgers and his playoff performances since winning Super Bowl XLV.

After the Packers meltdown in Sunday’s NFC title game, it’s time to be critical of another prominent figure in the Packers organization for his shortcomings post-Super Bowl: head coach Mike McCarthy.

I don’t need to re-hash every area where McCarthy erred on Sunday. By now, the decision not to go four it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, twice, has been beaten to death. We’ve also lamented McCarthy’s conservative playcalling in the second half repeatedly.

All of that and more is laid out in this scathing piece from Ty Dunne at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

 

If we want to pile on even further, we can fault McCarthy for not getting in Dom Capers’ ear during a critical series in the second half where the Packers defense went into a soft zone instead of continuing to dial up pressure when Seattle picked up a first down after being faced with second and 31. Or we can blame McCarthy for keeping Shawn Slocum around despite repeated special teams failures.

Fact is, with the exception of the second half against Dallas a couple weeks ago, McCarthy (like his quarterback) hasn’t brought it in the playoffs since winning Super Bowl XLV. That doesn’t mean McCarthy should be fired. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach. It just incredibly frustrating.

Think back to last season’s playoff defeat against San Francisco. On the first Packers series, McCarthy calls three straight runs, the last of which ended up with John Kuhn coming up a yard short of a first down and the Packers punting.

Next series: run up the gut for a yard, Rodgers is sacked, incomplete pass that would’ve been well short of a first down anyway, punt.

On the next series, Rodgers took a sack, missed on a short pass, and McCarthy surrendered on third and 15 by calling a draw play. Punt.

Just like they did against Seattle on Sunday, the Packers had a real shot at taking control of that San Francisco game early, but McCarthy’s buttoned-up approach was a contributing factor in preventing that from happening.

Go back to all the Packers’ playoff defeats since winning the Super Bowl. You can even re-visit the wild-card round win over the Fighting Joe Webbs. Has McCarthy done anything that made you think, “Man, coach Mac really outsmarted the other team today.” Or, “I’m really glad McCarthy did what he did in that situation. Really helped the Packers win this game.”

Not really.

I’m hoping this critique of postseason McCarthy doesn’t take a mind-numbing turn in the comments section like my Rodgers critique did following last year’s 49ers’ loss. I didn’t write this to post to serve as a referendum on whether McCarthy should be fired. He shouldn’t be. He’s an excellent coach and I can’t think of another active coach I’d rather have coaching the Packers.

But the postseason shortcomings are starting to add up, and there seems to be a pattern that entails overly conservative playcalling combined with complete meltdowns on either defense, special teams or both.

While I won’t even give people who clamor for McCarthy to be fired the time of day, I will listen to those who think it might be time to turn over playcalling duties to a true offensive coordinator. Valid critiques of McCarthy’s playcalling are starting to pile up, and they’re coming from more than the usual crowd who complains about everything.

I don’t see McCarthy ever giving up playcalling duties (I wouldn’t in his situation, either), but it’s intriguing to think about what might happen if McCarthy is freed up to give more attention to defense and special teams late in big games. Would it help prevent the collapses of recent years?

And would an offensive coordinator who calls the plays, using guidance and direction provided by McCarthy during the week, help the Packers end this run of postseason games where their offense gets stagnant and predictable, especially when the opportunity is there to deliver a crushing blow to the other team?

Who knows? Either way, it stinks we’re talking about this instead of how to beat the Patriots in two weeks.

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Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .

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  • David

    Ho hum? He was out and out awful. Just kept the Seahawks hanging around waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I said before he is a really good preparation coach but is just awful on game day.

    Reflecting back on the game there was not much he did right.

    One thing that I did not see brought up on the forum was that after Seattle scored the go ahead TD and two point conversion there was plenty of time to go down and score a TD. After the completion to Cobb there were 54 seconds left. A time out needed to be taken despite what Aikman said. They did not take one and went to OT with two time outs left. MM usually wastes time outs like a spendthrift early in the first half or third quarters. There was no reason, other than bad coaching by MM, that Green Bay shouldn’t have been able to, at least, have a couple of shots at the end zone.

    MM just down right blew it again.

    • Big T

      He was playing afraid. He was scared his mvp qb might throw an interception. Lets just play to tie, not to win, that is scary. I would rather see them lose, trying to win, not lose trying not to lose. MM needs a CT scan of his head done immediately, there must be a tumor putting pressure on his cognitive thought process center. I really feel sorry for him. He needs help.

      • Peter Maiz

        “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees”-Zapata.

    • dobber

      Maybe the Packers had him underinflated just prior to kickoff…

    • Peter Maiz

      You’ve got that right. I think that in bucolic Green Bay, they’re satisfied with the reckless behavior of the coaching staff. After all, they’re Mike’s buddies from the past, and Mike likes loyalty more than winning another super bowl.

  • Mike

    The worst game management coach I have ever seen. Great facilitator during the week, an abomination on game day. And he was quoted as saying something very strange regarding his rushing stats after the loss. Here is a snippet from the article, starting with the journalists perspective, then the MM quote. Really strange! It appears his linear thinking (or perhaps OCD’s) over ruled his in the moment aspect of his game!!

    “What was bizarre, then, was McCarthy’s comment after the game that he was trying to hit a particular number. “The one statistic I had as far as a target to hit,” McCarthy said, “was 20 rushing attempts in the second half. I felt that would be a very important target to hit for our offense.” Pretty weird eh? Here is the article:
    http://grantland.com/the-triangle/afc-nfc-championship-patriots-colts-seahawks-packers/

    • David

      Not weird, just stupid. How about the target of scoring 10 points in the second half, just 10. That would have made Seattle score 4 TD’s to win in regulation. No way that would have happened.

      MM just laid an egg.

      • Tundraboy

        And I’m beyond tired of him laying eggs. Lombardi is rolling over

  • BubblerBoy

    Excellent article Adam.

    And you are correct regarding Aaron Rodgers’ playoff deviciencies as well.

    Being excellent in the regular season is fun.

    Being mediocre (7-6) to bad (3-6 other than the Super Bowl year) in the playoffs is not fun.

    Underachieving in the playoffs should not be acceptable.

    • MarkM

      Rodgers couldn’t run. That takes a huge chunk out of his game how many times did he have 10 to 20 yrds in front of him and he couldn’t run. His deficiency was his injury . Maybe they should have played Flynn . If you think that was a better alternative? Get a grip on reality if he was healthy the playbook is wide open. I like to see you walk to the fridge to get a beer with a torn calf muscle, you’d probably need crutches.

  • croatpackfan

    I agree with you Adam! Mike McCarthy should delegate his play calling task to either Tom Clements, Aaron or Alex Van Pelt (or to Winston Moss). I think that will help. Not because Mike McCarthy is soft or conservative or playing not to lose or whatever. Because he has other very important jobs to do as HC on that side line. He has to feel teams pulse, pulse of the game, to know exactly why he is throwing challenge flag (not because someone told him to!). To put pressure on referees, to dictate the sound of the game. Focusing on play calling he can not do that. And that does have nothing with his ability or disability to call plays. He is Monday to Saturday HC and than bring his OC suit to the game.
    It might not looks like very important, but, by my opinion that is something that makes difference in executing game plan.
    I remember an interview with Mike McCarthy when he told to the reporter how much he enjoy in play calling during the game. And I believe he does. But, again, either he will chose to be HC or he will chose to do what he likes the most, to be OC. After that decision Packers should act accordingly.
    My opinion is that he is the best HC in NFL today. But, I agree not the best game day HC because he is distracted by his wish to make play calls…
    As I understand situation in the Packers organization, there is only 2 options how Mike McCarthy will make that decision. Either he will be honest to himself and ¸let it go, or Ted Thompson have to tell him so…

    • tc

      Hi Adam,

      I would like to see play calling turned over to some one else who “can do it better” to help free up MM to do other task during the game.

      But I don’t think it mattered in this game. The plays were called good enough for a win.

      If you would of told me on Saturday before the game that you would have the ball on your 43 yard line with 4:53 left and a 9 point lead in Seattle, I would take it every time.

      All the plays MM called are all debateable, should of’s, could of’s and would of’s, or what if’s. We can play that game all day.

      But what is not debateable are the 3 special team debacles.

      1.) The 2 point conversion.
      2.) The on-side kick.
      3.) The fake field goal.

      I can not defend any of these bone head plays.
      Any one of which did not happen we win this game.

  • Since ’61

    Adam – Play calling is always seen through the results of the play or the game’s final score. That is the only way we can see it. To say that different plays would have yielded different results is pure speculation. I’m OK if we give the play calling to an OC but it won’t matter. When the Packers lose a game everyone will blame the play caller and ask why doesn’t MM call his own plays. Look, that coach on that team won his 1st game is 6 years by calling his own plays why doesn’t MM call his plays. And then when the new play caller doesn’t work we’ll give the play calling to who? The running backs coach or the guy who dries the towels or I know, let’s give it to the fans. They can send the plays in via Madden football because they never call the wrong plays on their toys. Suppose Rodgers doesn’t want to change play callers? What if Rodgers and the new play caller disagree on approach or philosophy and we alienate our HOF QB? Do we just allow Rodgers to call the play at the LOS? Oh wait we do that now, but the play calling is MMs fault. OK. let’s change the play caller anyway, at least it’s a change and it guarantees that we will never lose a game again or call the wrong play. OK Adam, Happy now? Thanks, Since ’61

    • Adam Czech

      Just like it’s unfair to constantly second-guess playcalling, it’s unfair to immediately dismiss well-reasoned and thoughtful critiques of said playcalling.

      Not saying what I wrote is thoughtful or well-reasoned (two traits I’m lacking in), but there have been plenty of thoughtful and well-reasoned critiques of McCarthy’s game management over the years. A lot of them raise some very good points, even if you might not fully agree with everything said.

      • Since ’61

        Adam – the problem with the play calling critiques is that it is all subjective and speculative. No one can say which play would definitely work in every situation. You and I can agree that the play call should have been different but we will probably still disagree on which different plays should be called. In all the critiques that I read I never see any one discuss which defense the opponent was in on a particular play or series. Why? Because they haven’t even considered the defense. They’re only using the results of the play. When a pass play is called but Rodgers ends up avoiding a sack and running for a 1st down is that a good play call or bad? Answer, no one knows, but we made a 1st down. Next play Lacy takes a handoff, gets hit in the backfield but breaks the tackle and makes a 1st down on his own. Good call or bad call? Who cares or knows but we made a 1st down. If on the same play he get dropped for a loss is it now a bad play call? Does changing the play caller change any of the above scenarios? What is the criteria for a good play call? I have yet to see or hear any one define a good play call. All I hear are complaints or criticisms of the play calling when we lose. Rarely hear about play calling if we win. What happens when we lose a game with a separate play caller? Do we go back to MM calling plays? Do we blame MM anyway or the new play caller? Do we blame TT? What’s the backup plan if the new play caller plan fails? The critiques never address those issues, they just complain. Have any of these critics installed an offense and then spent hours studying game film and developing a game plan. What are their qualifications for criticizing the play calls other than the results, after the fact. When a critic provides some legitimate answers and alternatives, I’ll be the first to consider and support them. Thanks, Since ’61

        • croatpackfan

          Since, you are right regarding that mania of “MM is bad play caller” every time when Packers lose game. As well as “fire MM” mania when season finish. I wrote here that without proper analysis we can not say what went wrong in play calling, if any.
          But, I think that you will agree with me. Mike McCarthy has to delegate that job. To be able to concentrate on the HC job during the game. No other reasons. And I really believe this would be move to improve Packers games. People will say that is because he is not calling plays anymore, but I think both of us will know, that this is because he will do his HC business 100%. Thank you!

          • Since ’61

            Croat – I agree. And as I have said I’m fine with having the OC or an assistant HC call the plays. The point is that making that move does not guarantee either better results or better play calling. Any system looks good when you win and when the players execute. In the Lombardi days our QB Bart Starr called the plays. We won 5 NFL championships in 7 years because we had the best OL ever and one of the great defenses of all time. In the ’90s Mike Holmgren HC called the plays and the Packers with Favre and Reggie White became relevant again, went to 2 SBs and won one. In the Mike Sherman days the OC called the plays but the team was in decline and Favre, as great as he was made bonehead throws. Now we have MM and Rodgers calling the plays and we have won one SB and get close every year. I agree with everyone that’s it’s not good enough. I’m just not sure that who calls the plays makes a big difference in the results on the field.

            • tc

              On if MM should be the OC or HC.

              I don’t think it mattered in this game. The game was coached good enough for a win.

              If you would of told me on Saturday before the game that you would have the ball on your 43 yard line with 4:53 left and a 9 point lead in Seattle, I would take it every time.

              All the plays MM called are all debateable, should of’s, could of’s and would of’s, or what if’s. We can play this game all day.

              But what is not debateable are the 3 special team debacles.

              1.) The 2 point conversion.
              2.) The on-side kick.
              3.) The fake field goal.

              I can not defend any of these bone head plays.
              Any one of which did not happen we win this game.

              • Since ’61

                TC – I agree that we can debate play calling all day and to no avail. No debate about the Special Teams play. Even Masthay’s punting was poor compared with his regular season. I think many of the bloggers here including myself agree that Slocum has to go. Thanks, Since ’61

  • Razer

    Totally agree Adam – well said. The Packers need a HC that handles the game and the team during the game. Play calling is a full time duty and requires immersion in the task. When the wheels were coming off and critical points of the game were unfolding who was looking out for the big picture. He has proven that he can organize and gameplan. We showed it on Sunday as we started the game. Unfortunately he never got off his play calling sheet to sense that he needed to step on a throat or punch them in the face. He was too lost in his strategy. He needs to drive his players and his coaches not dabble in calling plays.

    I wouldn’t be so worried if I thought that McCarthy was a really good play caller but his record against good teams and in big games is not telling that story. If he doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers throwing through tires, he is exceedingly average. Even with the addition of a run game our two headed offensive monster is both predictable and inconsistent. He is a decent HC but his insistence on running the offense will be our Waterloo for the foreseeable future.

  • Chad Toporski

    I’ll say this… The red zone execution has been horrendous the second half of this season. That, to me, is a bigger reason to criticize McCarthy. Settling for field goals is simply a symptom of not being able to punch it in from within the 5-yd. line.

  • Pack15forever

    There’s no doubt McCarthy deserves the biggest blame but with his massive ego has he learned anything or will he be in denial.

  • Tundraboy

    I realize now why I worry with Every game. You always have to wonder what MM will do to make nearly every game a nail biter when it shouldn’t, and worse lose those you have a great opportunity to dominate. Can’t wait til draft time, so we can improve more and have the talent to carry our coach. Maybe the answer is get the DC on the sideline, maybe even one with a pulse. Buck stops here. He is the HC and last time I checked, that means he is in charge of everything, no more post game excuses.

  • Katsuya

    I honestly think people need to get off MM’s ass a little. Did he call plays too conservative in the 2nd half? Yes. Do i think he should give up play calling duty? Yes. But this was a complete team meltdown in every phase of the game.

    AR and the receiving corp did a poor job of connecting all game long, despite the oline giving AR all day to throw. This is by far the best oline I’ve seen in the MM era, yet AR and the WRs didn’t take advantage of it.

    Defense was incredible for 55 minutes, but they basically stopped playing football thinking the game was even over. And I don’t know WTH DC was thinking on the last play of the game playing Man with no S help.

    ST sucked this whole year. I have been a defender of Slocum for many years, but its time to move on. This year’s ST had no excuse for being bad, since injuries were at a minimum. And I don’t ever want to see Brandon Bostic in a Packers uniform again. Watching that onside kick play, he was the only idiot that didn’t run forward to block for Jordy. Dude tried to be a hero, and cost this team a SB appearance.

    You win and lose as a team. And this entire team, coaches, and players gave up before this game was over. Seattle didn’t, and fought their heart out out and came out victorious. People can say what they want, but that was the impression I got when this game was over. This loss just plain hurts, because this year’s team was truly capable of winning it all. They just quit before it was over.

    • Since ’61

      Katsuya – Great comment! Can’t say it any better. Thanks, ’61

  • Thegreatreynoldo

    I have posted before defending MM’s play calling in certain games, having gone back and laboriously looked at down and distance which explained at least to me why MM passed so much, or ran so much, as the case may be (I wish I could see what defensive look was presented). I don’t like MM’s play calling when he has a big lead as he gets too conservative. I also think that Capers goes to soft zones too much when he has a big lead instead of using what built the lead in the first place.

    That said, I disliked the play calls when we got the ball back with 5 minutes left, given that Seattle had 3 times outs and 3 runs would only take 1 minute or so off the clock if you don’t get a 1st down. Thus, I would play normal football and take what the defense gives me. Instead, MM played the clock. When Seattle showed 8 men in the box on 1st and 10, and again on 2nd & 14, football 101 says you don’t run into it. I trust Rodgers, who doesn’t throw many INTs, to take care of the ball. I might even tell a healthy Rodgers to call a play action fake, and if there is no high % pass, get what you can and slide down, even take a sack, but not to throw an incomplete pass or an interception. After all, there was value to making Seattle burn all its timeouts.

    On the execution vs. results merry-go-round, this was discussed in the threads to a prior article. On the 2nd and 14 run play, R. Rodgers’ assignment was to block Michael Bennett one on one. That’s a mismatch, and Bennett destroyed Rodgers and dropped Lacy for minus 2. Sure, Rodgers did not execute, but his failure was foreseeable. I expect Rodgers to improve his blocking, but in this game it was a mismatch, and finding and exploiting mismatches is a lot of what coaching is about. At the 11 minute mark in the 4th quarter, Aaron Rodgers rolled to his right and threw a nice 30 yard pass down field to a wide open Starks for what would have been a TD. But Starks is not known for his hands, he had to twist a bit and was in an awkward position, a lots of receivers had some trouble holding onto the wet ball in this game, and Starks dropped it. I was hopeful that it would be a TD, but I can’t say I was shocked. I would call this a failure to execute. Result was Crosby’s first 48 yard FG, 3 pts. instead of 7, and a 19-7 lead instead of 23-7.

    • David

      The defender of Starks, don’t know who it was, was holding Stark’s left arm and no one saw it. Not the refs or any announcer. Go back and watch you will see.

      • Thegreatreynoldo

        I don’t doubt you. Thanks for letting me know that. I had bad thoughts about Starks, and I will revise my thoughts on next year and what GB needs.

    • Since ’61

      Reynoldo – very good post. I expected Rodgers to check out of the running plays on all 3 of those plays when it was obvious that Seattle had sold out to the run and I’m not sure why he didn’t. I expected play action on both the 1st and 2nd down plays with passes to R. Rodgers who was open in the middle most of the game. The only thing that I can think of is that they didn’t want to chance a pick and they believed that our defense would continue to hold down Seattle’s offense, which they had done the entire game up to that point. That to me was the fatal mistake. Believing in the defense when you have the best player on the field with the ball and the lead. MM has to take the hit for that. (I don’t mean fire him, but he should explain why we don’t throw during that series). Thanks, Since ’61

      • dobber

        “they believed that our defense would continue to hold down Seattle’s offense, which they had done the entire game up to that point. That to me was the fatal mistake. Believing in the defense when you have the best player on the field with the ball and the lead. ”

        That’s the rub, here. The better unit for the day for the Packers–to that point–had been the defense. Was Lynch starting to pile up yards? Yep. But they weren’t turning into points. I’ll be honest…I didn’t like the run plays on that possession with 5 minutes to go, but I understand the reason for them, and it was sound logic. So MM decided to play clock and field position rather than put the ball in the hands of his excellent QB who had already thrown 2 picks on the day.

        I get confused sometimes…we call for MM to not abandon the run. He passes too much. But in situations where running the football is sound strategy, we want him to throw. I agree with you Since ’61: analysis is inseparable from the outcome of the game because we’re trying either to find fault or trying to build up a success in a context colored by an end result.

        • Since ’61

          Dobber – your last paragraph is right on and that won’t change regardless of who is calling the plays. Thanks, Since ’61

  • Greg Maus

    I really don’t have a problem with his playcalling. I can understand the field goals on 4th & 1. The GB defense was playing well and if Seattle had made a 4-down goal-line stand, that would really have ignited the crowd. As far as the running the ball in the second half, look at the situation after the Burnett INT. You’re up by 12 with 5 minutes left in the game playing a team whose only offensive strength is running the ball. You’ve gotta be in run-the-clock mode at that point and trust that you can keep an opponent that doesn’t score quickly from scoring quickly.

    the game really just came down to a couple of incredibly unlikely plays. a blown onside-kick, a fake field goal, and 4 20+ yd pass plays in the final 7 minutes by an offense featuring Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin as their premier receiving threats. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to win that game.

  • thetoadkillerdog

    In hindsight I think, after the 2 point conversion McCarthy should have taken a time out, calmed and refocused his players who thought the game was already won. He can’t do that when he has his head down looking at his clipboard, considering his call playing options for the next series.
    Maybe if he had his head up and looked into the eyes of his players he would have seen many were hyped up on emotion and adrenaline. Why else would they be making such poor decisions?

  • SpartanTheophilos

    In real time I wasn’t really all that critical of taking the points in the first quarter, to be honest. The results were fine: 16-0 at halftime. My problem is with the seemingly smug, play-it-safe attitude in the second half and the unforgivable failure to predict that Seattle would fake the FG. Why the hell go all out for a block on a stupid FG that was almost a gimme and not sit back and EXPECT a fake under the circumstances? And short of a complacent milquetoast attitude causes a safety to take a slide with five minutes to go and nothing but fat offensive linemen and the end zone ahead (gotta fault Peppers for throwing up the brake signal on that one!)! If nothing else, McCarthy needs some step on their throats when they’re down killer instinct ala Belichick, if you ask me.

  • Peter Maiz

    McCarthy is no Pete Caroll. Even though the Packers impressed with 5 takeaways., Mr. McCarthy got a whopping 6 points from that, two field goals. A kafkaesque nightmare. A travesty of high proportions. Enough said!