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.
I’ve heard plenty of criticism of McCarthy for not challenging the call. I personally think he was right not to. Watching the replay, it was fairly impossible to tell. Even after watching it another dozen times, I think his toe may have just touched the white area, but again, it’s pretty tough to tell. It could be called either way. So, it’s probably a good non-call by McCarthy, right?
I give McCarthy that, but then how do we explain some of his other challenges this year? Plays where everyone in the building knew the play was correct as called, yet McCarthy chose to waste a timeout on a fruitless challenge. The wasted timeout cost them a chance to win the Bears game at the end.
That’s just incredibly inconsistent. If you’re going to try it when you have little or no chance, why not try it when there’s a 50-50 chance? Completely backwards and baffling, but that’s the mystery that is Mike McCarthy. Again, I wouldn’t have challenged in either case, which I call being consistent.
Second and goal from the one yard line. The Packers show their “Big I”, with Korey Hall leading for John Kuhn. Everyone knows what’s coming. Perfect time for some play action, right? But measured Mike stays true to his goal line tendencies and the Packers hand off to Kuhn. Now, I don’t really have a huge problem with this call, especially on second down. It’s just that I’m always hoping for a little more creativity when it’s least expected.
The play itself would probably have worked, if Brandon Jackson was in the game. Kuhn is actually taken down from behind by Redskins LB Chris Wilson, who comes around the Packers’ right corner unblocked. Wilson is able to grab Kuhn’s legs, which prevent him from driving through some other Redskins tacklers in front of him. A faster back probably doesn’t get caught like that.
3rd and goal from the one yard line. Here’s where I really have a problem. The Packers come out in the same formation, with Hall and Kuhn in the I. Based on McCarthy’s history, we’re going to see two things here; another hand off to Kuhn or a QB sneak. If I know this, surely the Redskins know this. As the Redskins line up tight to jam the middle, what a perfect time for play action. But of course, it is not to be. McCarthy stays in his goal line comfort zone and Rodgers keeps the ball, The Redskins give no ground and Rodgers is stopped. Mundane Mike strikes again.
4th and goal from the one yard line. You’re probably thinking I’m going to kill McCarthy here for not following conventional wisdom and taking the 3 points on the road. Not the case. I buy McCarthy’s reasoning here. Early in a game you’ve been dominating, a touchdown makes the score 14-0 and puts a lot of pressure on the Skins.
So I have no problem with the decision to go for it on 4th down. What I have a problem with, is the play. As soon as I saw it, my immediate reaction was, “THAT should have been the third down play.” I quickly typed that into my running game time commentary.
Third down would have been the perfect time for that play. With the defense expecting another attempt to pound it in, it’s exactly the type of play I was wishing for. On fourth down, it’s a different story. Having been unsuccessful twice, the defense is more expecting you to try something different. To make matters worse, Chris Wilson is again unblocked on the play, and is all over Rodgers, forcing a hurried and inaccurate throw. Now, that’s not McCarthy’s fault, there’s a chance the play could have been successful if executed better. But there’s a better chance it would have been successful if called on third down.
So what does this all tell us about Mike McCarthy? In big moments he plays it close to the vest. Only if that doesn’t work, does he venture out of his box. That fosters what then appears as a bad sense of timing.
Knowing when to call a certain play is often more important than what the play actually is. Using the element of surprise is not something Mike McCarthy is especially good at. When was the last time you saw the Packers run a reverse? But I digress – that’s another article….
In his press conference after the game, McCarthy was actually candid enough to validate what I had thought. McCarthy’s words:
Fourth-and-1, … Just with the play selection, I thought it was a good call. Frankly, was probably a down late. I wish I would’ve called the naked (bootleg) in hindsight on third down. It was all play calling.
Thanks for the confirmation Mike, and yes, it was all play calling. Untimely and uninspired play calling….
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.