Much like Aaron Rodgers did on Tuesday, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gave his season-ending press conference on Wednesday. Below are highlights with some of my commentary.
It’s always interesting to get a player’s take on the season that was, but players come and go. In McCarthy’s case, his comments are especially valuable not only because he is the head coach and has a lot of insight, but because he will likely remain in Green Bay for the next several years.
For a full transcript, check the Packers team website. As always, do chime in with your thoughts on what McCarthy said and what it means to you.
“We have a lot of a work to do. We’re in Day 3 of our evaluation process. Monday and Tuesday met with players. Today start w/coaches.” – This is stating the obvious after any team is eliminated from the playoffs but with many calling for changes within the team and the organization, it’s good to hear that they have already started on whatever those changes might be. McCarthy has always begun his season-ending process right away and with this offseason expected to be busier than usual, many eyes and ears are on the possible next steps that he and the team take.
“It didn’t feel like 2010 to me at all this year. Every year is different.” – I’m guilty of it and so are many out there. We love to hope that every season will turn into what 2010 did. Because of that single playoff run and championship, Packers fans will forever cling to hope that if the team can just get hot, they can do it again. My take? Let’s put the comparisons to 2010 to bed for once and for all. Three full seasons have now come and gone (one of which during the team lost only two games) and it is obvious that the Packers are not yet where they need to be to truly regain the magic yet.
“I’m not going into this thing looking to make big changes.” – Interesting. As I mentioned, many are expecting changes in Green Bay and even Rodgers alluded to it in a subtle way when he talked about the closing of a window and the opening of a new one. This could mean that some interesting conversations may be had between McCarthy, Rodgers and general manager Ted Thompson in the coming weeks and months. We caught a glimpse of the sometimes opposing viewpoints within the Packers organization this year. The sideline interaction between Rodgers and McCarthy in Cincinnati and the comments that were made during Rodgers’ recovery from his collarbone injury indicate that the wants and needs on this team can differ. On ESPN Milwaukee’s “Green and Gold Today” radio show, the question was raised as to whether Rodgers is getting to a point in his career where he may start to get more vocal about wanting more pieces around him to compete. We remember this happening with Brett Favre in 2007 when it became known that he was at odds with Thompson over having to work with many young guys versus bringing in veterans such as receiver Randy Moss. Favre and Rodgers are very different personalities but Rodgers did turn 30 this season so who knows what kinds of things are floating around in his head.
“We’re not even 72 hours from the game. Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach.” – This is one of those very vague comments that could be nothing or could be McCarthy being his usual self and not wanting to share anything with the rest of the populous. Capers has become one of those polarizing figures, as they call them, in Green Bay. Many fans feel that he is the reason for the defensive struggles over the past three seasons and that he should be sent packing. A popular theme is that any other option at defensive coordinator is better than Capers and the game has passed him by. The Packers may agree or they may not. In my “Takeaways” post the other day, I said and I maintain that I’m on the fence when it comes to Capers. I’m not convinced that there is even a good chance that he is on his way out of Green Bay yet. That could all change in a heartbeat and as things go in the NFL, but with as much that is invested in his defensive scheme, it would be foolish for the Packers to let Capers go without a solid alternative. If not one of the current defensive assistants, then who? Are any of those assistants ready? The flip side to that is that with as much youth as there is on defense, a new coordinator would have some young minds to work with and who can be re-shaped more easily than, say, a 10-year veteran.
“McCarthy on whether they learned anything about all the injuries: ‘No.'” – Typical Mike, who says nothing when he either has nothing to say or doesn’t want to talk about a topic. This or he likes to tell the person asking the question that he doesn’t understand the question. Still, playing coy here doesn’t offer a lot of hope that the Packers are trying to change the trend (yes, I’m using the “t” word) of being one of the most injury-plagued teams year in and year out. I called for them to look into and research why this is happening to Packers players more than some other teams. Try something different so they can see some different results. Maybe they will and McCarthy just doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Or, well, we all know what the definition of “insanity” is, right?
“I’m not a fan of the (new CBA) offseason program. Don’t like the way it’s set up. Doesn’t give the young player a full opp to get ready. I wasn’t real happy with our football team coming out of training camp. Not surprised the way we started.” – This is interesting and here comes some lengthy thoughts. The Packers were competitive with the San Francisco 49ers in week one, beat the Washington Redskins in week two and should have beaten the Cincinnati Bengals in week three, heading into their bye. Woulda, shoulda, coulda so yes, the 1-2 start was disappointing, but what did McCarthy expect? Three blowout wins, two being in tough road games? No one should know a team better than their head coach and I’m a firm McCarthy supporter so maybe he knew something we didn’t. What I like about this statement is that McCarthy clearly expects a lot from his team. What concerns me about it is that it seems that the learning curve for young Packers players is high and therefore, it’s tough to get them up to speed in time for the regular season. If Green Bay is going to continue with their “draft and develop” philosophy (and they will as long as Thompson is GM) they need to be cognizant of the fact that they will constantly have a lot of young guys. They won’t have a ton of time to work on the “develop” part of that equation but they will also expect those young guys to make a jump in their learning. It also means that the examples that the young players are watching on the field are those of other younger players, which may not showcase the best way to play their positions. If there are no Charles Woodson, Nick Collins or Donald Driver types on the field, there are fewer teachers. The Packers are then putting the expectation to perform at a high level at a critical time on some players who were drafted in the fourth round or later. Those odds aren’t great. I called for Thompson to look at adding some depth with mid-level free agents who have the experience but won’t break the bank. It’s hard to know 100% that a player who was successful on team A is going to be the same guy on team B but Thompson could also find another Pickett, Woodson or Kuhn as well. He doesn’t have to abandon his current mentality, but this team needs some more experience if they want to win beyond the regular season.
On needing impact plays on D: “Just talking w/ players, some of them have opinions about that. Need more players making plays on defense.” – This goes along with the previous comment. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams was quoted as saying that it’s tough to execute the defensive scheme well when there are so many young guys out there who don’t fully understand it. When that is the case, and I firmly believe it to be so, those players aren’t going to make as many plays. To call someone a “playmaker” means they are able to create something even when nothing is there. On defense, the Packers currently have a small handful of players who can do that, namely Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields. In this latest loss to the 9ers, the Packers were without three of those four guys. As far as the other guys, we can’t expect that they are going to suddenly become a playmaker. Many had hoped that safety Morgan Burnett would “flip the switch” and turn into a solid presence in the defensive backfield, much like Collins did in his fourth season. As we saw, Burnett did just the opposite. Rarely does a player have that “light bulb” moment and suddenly become great. Hopefully the Packers realize what they do and more importantly, what they do not have at the safety position. Furthermore, hopefully that knowledge turns into action. With the lucrative deal that the Packers just signed Burnett to, it’s not likely that they would just let him go but they do need to inject some serious talent into that position group and fast. The same can be said about the pass rush and blitzing abilities. If the Packers don’t infuse more talent at linebacker, they are going to waste what they do have in Matthews and as he continues to face double and triple-team blocks. In five years’ time, Green Bay could be looking back at a great linebacker who could only help the team so much because they never found the right complement to him.
On first and goal run to Cobb vs. SF: “There was a mistake made in our run blocking unit. No problem with that call.” – Since I know many were questioning this play call, I had to include it. Rarely does McCarthy like to second-guess himself, by nature. It’s not part of who he is and that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing. He has a lot of confidence in Rodgers and the offense to be productive. So the question here is whether the call was a run to Cobb or if Rodgers checked into it and the line didn’t get the change. Regardless, McCarthy won’t escape the questions about why his best running back and the potential offensive rookie of the year in Eddie Lacy was on the sideline during that series. Perhaps Lacy was winded or was having issues with his asthma. We will probably never know. The failure to get into the end zone after starting first and goal from the nine-yard line won’t soon be forgotten, regardless of why.
“I think it could’ve been (one of our best team). I hate doing this, but I felt this was going to be our best offense, past 2011.” – This was likely McCarthy’s take on his offense heading into the season. That was before the injuries to Rodgers, Cobb and Jermichael Finley but it was also before he really knew what they had in Lacy. McCarthy is an offensive-minded coach and has had success with quarterbacks so it is expected that his offenses are going to click. Injuries will derail any season and so getting back to the injury situation for the past four years running, I hope that the team looks into improving in this area. It’s nearly impossible to replace a Rodgers or a Cobb but the Packers had to have learned from the gamble they took at the quarterback position this season. Some big names that could be gone in free agency are center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver James Jones and quarterback Matt Flynn. McCarthy talks about maintaining continuity and so I would expect the team to at least try to retain all three of those players. Whether they can is another story. Scoring points and red zone offense were a struggle for the Packers this year, even with a healthy Rodgers. Unless they have a top-notch defense, scoring points is paramount to success for Green Bay. The addition of Lacy and a formidable running game should continue to open up the playbook inside of 10 yards and if Rodgers can play all 16 games next season, the Packers should continue to light up scoreboards.
On are [Packers] built to win late in the year: “Hell yeah.” – This just makes me think of the type of bravado former WWE wrestler Steve Austin had when he said this same phrase. What else is McCarthy supposed to say here? Still, I’d stop short of responding this way and to this question if anyone were asking me. If the Packers were built to win late, then they have failed greatly in the last three seasons. They are 1-3 during that time in playoff games and have not advanced past the divisional round and with two of those losses coming at Lambeau Field. Sure, Green Bay has a long track record of success in December and they typically finish their regular seasons strong but something goes missing when the big dogs come out to play in January. Last season, the questions about Green Bay’s physicality came up. This season it was the poor defensive play and injuries. Injuries may not be as controllable (to an extent) but one thing is certain and that is a need for playoff-caliber defense if the Packers want to be playing after the new year.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: