Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Redskins, Goal Line Offense All Green Bay Packers All the Time

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….


Follow Jersey Al:

                    Add to Circleson Google+

Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of, 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


25 thoughts on “Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Redskins, Goal Line Offense

  1. Have you seen the injury report this morning? MM must be inovative on Sunday. With the likelihood of Flynn at QB he will have to resort to some kind of running game. Without it Flynn is a dead man.

    I’m not sure there is any way to coach through the disastorus injury situation they face. I just hope that Capers keeps up the pressure and doesn’t resort to that crap 3-8 or 4-7 prevent shit as a responce to the injurries.

    1. Certainly, this week will be a challenge for the coaches and players (the ones that are left). Creativity will be a requirement in this game plan, on both sides of the ball. Perhaps this is the crisis situation that forces them to look out of their comfort zones…

  2. Nice read AL,and I believe I said this in another of your recent articles,”MM likes to hold up the cue card for the opponents to see”.It’s paramount to playing “Let’s make a Deal” where as MM is the host and he tips off the contestant(whoever we’re playing) before hand what door to pick.

    It’s hard enough to win in the NFL,harder when a prize play(TD)isn’t a surprise to anyone in the stadium.

  3. Great stuff, Al. I can only disagree with one point, and that is going for it on 4th down.

    A FG puts you up by 2 scores. Go for that at home, NOT on the road. Getting stuffed hands the momentum back to the home team (although it didn’t really help the ‘skins in this case). If we were scoring 35 a game, it would make sense to think we could easily make up for points lost with a failed attempt. However, the way our offense has been struggling, I think you have to take ANY points.

    But the biggest thing is that our biggest goal line threat (Finley) was injured. Of course Grant is out, too. So we just didn’t have our customary (and best) goal line options available.

    And the way things are going for this team, this year…aren’t you just asking for something to come back and bite you?

    1. Ruppert, I know the conventional wisdom says take the three points, and I understand why, but I don’t mind a little out-of-the-box thinking early with the way the game was going at that point. I can’t disagree that taking the field goal is more logical…

      1. I agree with the “out of the box” thinking,but isn’t it sacrilegious to offend the #1 rule,take the points.Rather see that kind of thinking where you don’t lose points by way of it.

          1. Having a hard time putting a “check mark” in any of those boxes AL.As with alot of things it is a matter of opinion and I respect yours but…can’t do it.

  4. I think people are a little too critical with McCarthy. If they score at the goal line then people say give McCarthy credit for having the guts to go for it. Keep in mind we were dominating on defense and giving the ball back to them on the 1 nearly turned out a safety. As far as the challenges isn’t someone upstairs watching the replays? They are the ones that should tell the coach if he should or shouldn’t challenge.
    He does deserve criticism for all the penalties. That is just lack of discipline. I would like to see him call out the officials for once. The hit on Rodgers that gave him a concussion was helmet to helmet! If thats Favre or Mannng you know it would have been a flag. Things could be worse we could have someone like Brad Childress as coach!

    1. Yes, it could always be worse. I’ve never called him a “bad” coach. To me, he’s just “OK.”

      And as I wrote, I support the decision to go for it, in this piece I was just analyzing the play calling and more specifically, the timing of the plays.

  5. RE: Going for it on 4th and 1.

    I’d say that going for it was a good call, though as you pointed out, it was the method that was most questionable.

    The Packers had been proving successful against the Redskins offense up to that point, so even if you miss the TD, it sets up the defense nicely.

  6. Ah, the life of a Mon. morning QB.I agree there is room for improvement in MM.However,as an x off. lineman I’m surprised you’re not commenting on the horrendously inconsistent line play.When they moved Orakpo over Clifton, it was a death knoll for Rogers.Furthermore,missed blocks,penalties,and non aggressive blocking have hampered this team all season long.Finally,if you’re going to be a good off. the quick hitter inside is the best play because the off. has the big advantage of knowing the count,we’re talking a yard or two.

    1. One thing at a time, Peter. As Ron LC above will tell you, I’v written about the OL on many occasions. All the more reason not to assume you can pound it in from the one. But MM has that mentality and is too stubborn to change, even if the circumstances warrant it.

      An with the ZBS, there really are no quick hitters, other than a straight dive to the fullback. It’s just another dimension that’s missing, like the screen game and passes to the RBs in general.

  7. One thing, Al.
    I expect MM to bounce back, in great fashion.

    We’ve seen it before, when the season is almost over, THEN MM corrects himself, and becomes a great coach.

    After the TB game, the playcall changed, it’s a fact. You didn’t see any more blunders, not from him (Capers is another issue). The team was motivated, the playcall was correct and creative. Yes, the penalties where still there, but their effect was minimized.

    Not only that, but at the AZ game we all saw good MM. After the attrocious start, he opened up the playbook for Rodgers, and it worked. Also, the onside kick. Payton gets all the credit, but MM called it first.

    Even before, at the SEA divisional game, you saw MM bounce back from the 2 Grant fumbles. His playcalling for short passes was perfect in that game, with the wind and snow. Some HCs would stay away from Grant in that game (Kubiak).

    Thing is, why does it have to reach this point for MM to get his head out of his ass? It’s beyond me…

    1. I’m not sure if the point(time) of reclamation of the head from the ass or the point of realization of where it is,proves to be more beneficial.Honestly,either way seems to be a bit tardy.

Comments are closed.