Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Vikings, 3rd Down and Short All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Welcome back for another fun attempt at figuring out what Packers coach Mike McCarthy is thinking during big moments in any game. Today’s installment will examine perhaps the most critical third down call in the Packers – Vikings game.

But first, let’s set this up:

Mike McCarthy has been lamenting all season about the poor third down conversion percentage by his offense. After going 6 for11 this game, he remarked after the game:

“Our issues on offense this year have been third down and giveaways. We obviously played better on third down. And with that, playing the favorable down and distance, we didn’t have many third and long situations so if we can play within that time clock with our protection unit and with our quarterback and he can still extend plays, I think we have the opportunity to play downhill on the defense.”

That’s a typical McCarthy going-in-circles quote. My best interpretation of it is that by converting more of those first downs, the defense will not have to be on the field as much.

I’m in 100% agreement, and that’s a big reason I pay close attention to time of possession. It’s an even more important factor with the condition of the Packers’  defensive line.  Sure, you can win a game while getting dominated in possession, but it’s a lot easier the other way around.

In any case, I thought McCarthy had been doing a fine job with the third down play calling through most of the game (see a McCarthy compliment). Here are some examples:

Now, those are two excellent third down calls and those plays should be  staples of McCarthy’s offense. They’re difficult to defend, fairly safe if thrown to the right spot. Low risk, high probability. So wouldn’t it make sense to go back to one of these plays or something similar with six minutes left in the game and an opportunity to run down the clock? No, instead, we get this:

Sure, lets try a route that hasn’t worked ALL night. Instead of a safe attempt at a short pass for a first down, McCarthy calls yet another sideline back shoulder route. For his part, McCarthy claimed after the game that this might have been an error in judgement by Rodgers:

Q: On the third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, were you OK with Aaron’s deep throw down the sideline?
MM: Yeah, I think we have got to be a little more completion-conscious there.

Well Mike, why even make that an option for Rodgers? Just go back to one of those simple, effective plays that worked before and keep the drive going. Mike, once again you brain-locked in a big moment.

McCarthy’s ongoing stubbornness to move away from what isn’t working in his game plan  (can you say… fullback dives on 4th and 1?) continually is keeping opponents in the game. It bit the Packers in the ass big time against Washington and Miami, and face it, it was only a few inches away from happening again.

For everything good that McCarthy does, he has this one “Schottenheimerish” fatal flaw – and I’m beginning to believe it COULD keep the Packers from ever winning the Super Bowl with him as coach. It pains me to say that, but that’s the way I see it.


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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


32 thoughts on “Mining the Mind of McCarthy: Packers – Vikings, 3rd Down and Short

  1. Nice take Al, I completely agree with you except for one thing.

    Your take on McCarthys quote is off.

    He didnt mean our D playing downhill, he meant our O playing downhill against opponents D. That was in the contaxt of his comments on down and distance where he says that having shorter down and distances allows the O to have a “shorter” clock to get plays out since routes do not have to develop as long as long down and distance situations. His downhill term really means being aggressive. Shorter down and distances open up more of the playbook including the nice plays you illustrated with video as well as running plays which are off the table on longer down and distances.

  2. Al sez: “For everything good that McCarthy does, he has this one “Schottenheimerish” fatal flaw – and I’m beginning to believe it COULD keep the Packers from ever winning the Super Bowl with him as coach. It pains me to say that, but that’s the way I see it.”

    I totally agree with you on this.

  3. “I think we have got to be a little more completion-conscious there.”

    Mike McCarthy the politician strikes again. I’m sorry… completion-conscious… what does that even mean? Is he asking his players to attempt to be conscious when they catch the ball?


    1. Another new term added to the McCarthy urban dictionary. He means that the QB has to be more aware that the situation calls for a higher percentage pass play, so that the drive continues. And that’s totally my point. So is he saying he didn’t call that play or that Rodgers had better options he didn’t take?

  4. Yeah, I still doubt MM’s capability. We’ll just have to hope for the best…

    His overall playcalling last game was much, much improved, though. We have to give him that. (screens, they work against aggressive Ds, can you imagine that?)

    1. I can,and with the Jets being VERY aggressive,I pray MM remembers that also.

      We need to keep LT in check as much as possible,as he can screen us to death if we get overly aggressive.

  5. I’m a lot more worried about the Jets defense than offense. I think the Packers D can hold the Jets to under 20 points. Question is, can the offense handle the blitzomania they are going to see?

    1. At, we’ve had some nice Jets fans talking about the game. What they say is that their D has struggled to bring pressure without the blitz. Moreso, they said that Rex has brought the house every 3rd down, and usually for the demise of his D. QBs have taken advantage when they blitz.

  6. I can’t agree more. These momentary lapses are going to keep us from winning the big one. I am a little worried about the Jets since their strengths match with ours on Offense and defensively we can’t stop the run with our valiant but tired defensive line.

  7. Why doesn’t the middle receiver on the left run to the first down marker and sit down? And how does Rodgers NOT recognize that nobody is even near him? I wish I could see the entire defense on that play, but there is no defender even in the frame.

    Tauscher was not a good run blocker, right? So is Bulaga better than Tausch? If so, we need to be running to the right behind Sitton, Bulaga and possibly Donald Lee (or Crabtree).

    I’d take Marty over McCarthy any day, although they are both definitely stubborn. I like Marty, though. Marty ran the ball.

    1. I wish we could see the whole field, too. Rodgers had time to look elsewhere.

      Bulaga looked good on the run blocking. He doesn’t get knocked back and has good pretty good technique.

      Marty ran the ball to a fault…

      1. I have the impression that, if healthy, we’ll see a 2-4 consisting of Jenkins, Pickett, Raji and Matthews. With Jenkins standing up.

  8. Yeah, those 3rd & short long passes drove me nuts. Also wish they’d put Rodgers under center more. Too much shotgun, IMO.

    Great article!

  9. I am soo glad of your assessment of MM on 3rd downs!The Pack has a limited running game. You have to use short passes to maintain possession without a strong running game. Were are the slants and crossing patterns accross the field that has been a part of the passing game in the past? Against the Jets, MM needs to be very creative in his play calling to keep the Jets defense off-balance. I would employ the 5 wideouts and pick on the safeties of the Jets. Its seems MM lacks patients and does not maintain ball control. With the DL banged up the Jets will run the ball extensively to keep it away from our offense.

    1. patience, patience, patience. McCarthy and Rodgers have to know when to take their shots downfield. it’s not on 3rd and 2 in a one-score game.

  10. Isn’t it amazing what running a slant can do? A quick route that doesn’t take 2 minutes to develop can produce first downs (and TDs). However, 2 examples in the Viking game doesn’t compensate for a season of poor play calling on 3rd downs. Lets see more of examples 1 & 2 in the coming weeks. Please?

  11. Al,
    I try not to be a hater but McCarthy’s play calling just kills me. How many dives have we run in short yardage situations this year? This is not a rhetorical question I was wondering if you actually might know. Most NFL teams probably don’t run more than 3 dives a year and MM ran 4 last game…he’s painfully predictable!

    1. Sorry, I couldn’t give you a number. perhaps or or some similar site might have that info.

  12. For the firt time this year the offense needs to play four full quarters and control at least 40 minutes of clock. Not going to be easy with Rieves (sp?) back. He’ll be on Jenkins like glue. And us with out Finley, shit.

    1. it sure would be helpful if the Packers can maintain a good running game this week. If they get into “must pass” situations, that will be trouble.

  13. Your last video was in the fourth quarter and by then the defense had adj. Look at the def. align.from your first video and compare to the last.LBs are spread wider taking away the slants.There’s also a safety, I believe, sneaking towards the middle taking that away. That leaves a weak left corner one on one .It didn’t work that time ,but did at other times in the game and it’s a better option than an interception.Another option would be to run up the middle ,but that’s not happening with our line especially against the two all pros in the middle of that D line

    I think we’ll put pressure on Sanchez ,but stopping the run without Picket & Jenkins might be our down fall.However,if they’re active I think the game could be ours.

    1. I buy your argument on the weak-side one-on-one, but if you look at the strong side, there are three receivers and only two defensive backs in the picture. The middle receiver is not covered (obviously, there is safety help deep) A simple 5-yard curl by that receiver is a guaranteed first down. As it is, if you stop it at 11 seconds, you’ll see that receiver standing alone on the 50 yard line. Rodgers had plenty of time, but seemed very anxious to throw at the weakside one-on-one. So perhaps, this one is really on Rodgers. Yet, if he doesn’t know enough to look for a simple completion on 3rd and 2 and protecting a lead in the 4th quarter, what does that say for his coaches? I suppose they share the blame.

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