The Curious Case of Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy

The Green Bay Packers scored a win today against the New York Jets in their home opener.  It wasn’t pretty by any means but a win is a win and the Packers needed this one.  It evened their record at 1-1 and helped, at least somewhat, to get the awful taste of the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks (who lost to the San Diego Chargers today) out of their mouths.

After an early 21-3 deficit, the Packers surmounted the largest comeback win of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career.  He had previously not come back to win when the Packers trailed by more than 14 points.  The Green Bay defense struggled to get off the field during the first few Jets possessions and a fumble by Rodgers on the first offensive snap didn’t help.  The Packers offense eventually settled in and was able to find the end zone three times on the day.

While it was great to see the Packers show some resiliency and fight to get the win, there were some old warts that showed up at Lambeau Field today and I can’t seem to shake them.  A defense that seemed slow, out of place and confused, for one.  Rodgers holding onto the ball a bit too long on a few occasions (and I realize most instances were when there were no open receivers).  But the biggest one of all was some of the decision-making by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

I have long been a McCarthy supporter and while I’d stop short of saying that my support is waning, I am becoming more and more puzzled by his actions of late.

Last week, the Packers came into Seattle with an offensive game plan to completely avoid the side of the field that cornerback Richard Sherman was on.  Sure, after the game, many players and coaches said that wasn’t the case but let’s keep it real, shall we?  Green Bay had zero intention of even looking Sherman’s way and lined up wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who was benched today, on Sherman’s side of the field most of the night.  An offense with Rodgers at quarterback and Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb at receiver refused to challenge Sherman, even once.  We have seen those three carve up some good defenses in the past and who could forget the 2011 season?  It severely limited the Packers’ passing game and they couldn’t get into a rhythm in the second half enroute to a 20-point loss.

It was frustrating to watch and reeked of McCarthy’s ultra-conservative M.O.  Once again, he had the Packers seeming to play scared and that’s a tough pill for Packers fans to swallow.  Today, the San Diego Chargers did throw at Sherman, albeit only three times, but they dared to challenge “Sherm” and were able to get some production.  By the way, the Chargers beat the Seahawks.  I know it was in San Diego and those three plays to Sherman’s side were hardly the reason why, but it’s proof that you can’t play scared and refuse to even test the opposition’s best if you want to impose your game plan.

A sequence during the second and third quarters of today’s Packers/Jets game further exemplified some of my concerns.  I’m not going to break down every single play of the drives and there may be some other good examples of some questionable decisions by the Packers, but these are those that really stood out to me.

On the first Packers possession of the second quarter, the Packers drove 59 yards down to the Jets’ five yard line after a nifty 11-yard scramble by Rodgers on third down.  The Packers had first and goal and chose to throw on first and second downs.  Both passes were incomplete but I didn’t mind the calls.  After all, it’s Rodgers throwing the ball and the receivers aren’t the worst options in the NFL.  Facing third and goal, the Packers decided to run Eddie Lacy up the middle right into the belly of a Jets defense that had now allowed any type of rushing yardage all day.  For a moment, it looked like the Packers were going to go for it on fourth down, as they were down 21-3 and needed to capitalize on the field position, but they opted to kick a field goal.  I get that McCarthy wanted to take the points but if he was planning to kick on fourth down, why on earth did he opt for such a feeble running play on third down?  Lacy is no slouch at running back and can bowl over any defender in this league.  But the Jets weren’t giving an inch up the middle and there was little reason to think that play would result in a touchdown, which the Packers desperately needed at that point.  While Rodgers’ accuracy was off today, he’s still Aaron Rodgers and to me, the Packers best chance to convert in that situation was to put the ball in his hands.

The Packers defense was able to get a stop and get the ball back with 4:24 left in the first half.  The Packers got another field goal and a score on a second-straight drive.  Call it momentum, but the Packers needed anything positive at that point.  On the ensuing kickoff and with just over three minutes left in the half, McCarthy called one of his hallmark trick plays and tried an onside kick.  In past seasons, Crosby has succeeded in placing this kick in a good spot and the Packers have recovered on a few occasions.  It’s not impossible that the Packers could have recovered the ball, but the defense wasn’t playing that well to this point and there was no reason for any type of “we can stop them” bravado.  As fate would have it, Crosby’s kick sailed too deep and the Jets easily recovered.  New York drove all the way down into Packers territory and Jets quarterback Geno Smith bailed the Packers out with a short ball that was intercepted by Tramon Williams.  While Smith doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of any team at this point, he was having success against the Packers defense and it just seemed like there was too much time on the clock, didn’t it?  Not to mention, the Jets had a good chance of running out the half, scoring and getting the ball right away in the second half.  The onside kick decision, at the time, seemed desperate on the part of McCarthy.

During the half, I remarked that I knew that the Jets were scheming and adjusting to what they saw in the first half.  As far as the Packers, I wasn’t so sure that was going on in their locker room.  I’ve often chastised McCarthy for his inability to adjust his game plan during a game.  It almost seems like he’s saying to himself “I could change it up, but what if it starts working this next drive?”  He’s far too hesitant and doesn’t seem to have the innovative intuition (is that even a phrase?) to dial up change.

Enter the third quarter and the Jets had just completed a pass to receiver Eric Decker that was obviously a catch.  The Jets had to burn a time out due to some confusion on offense and almost immediately after, McCarthy threw the challenge flag to challenge the catch.  Not one person seemed to understand the challenge and if not upheld, the Packers stood to lose an early timeout as well.  The ruling on the field stood and the Packers lost a timeout for no good reason.  I can appreciate wanting to go blow for blow with an opponent, but risking a timeout as Rex Ryan and the Jets just had is not the smart thing to do, Mike.

Shortly thereafter, Packers defensive end Julius Peppers seemed to cause a fumble on Smith but the ruling was reversed to an incomplete forward pass.  The Jets stalled on the drive and the Packers had a chance to take some momentum.  Green Bay gained eight yards on the first two downs and were just short of mid-field.  The third down call?  A run by Lacy to the right side where the Packers had struggled to run all day and where backup tackle Derek Sherrod was stationed.  It’s not an indictment of Sherrod, who has received more than his fair share of criticism after his subpar play against the Seahawks when Bryan Bulaga was injured.  But Sherrod wasn’t run blocking well at all.  Lacy was stuffed for a loss of one yard and the Packers had to punt.  What led McCarthy to think that was the best way to pick up the needed two yards?  There may be some explanation somewhere in some universe, but it left me scratching my head.

Just under halfway through the fourth quarter, the Jets appeared to tie the game on a long touchdown pass by Smith that was just past the coverage by Williams.  Fortunately for the Packers, Jets assistant coach Marty Mornhinweg had tried to call a timeout just prior to the play and the official on the sideline granted it.  By rule, only the head coach can call timeout from the sideline but the official didn’t look to verify who was calling it and the play was nullified.  The Jets weren’t able to convert and the Packers got the ball back to run out the clock.

New York seemed to bail the Packers out a few times throughout the day when they stopped running some of the read option and gadget plays that were puzzling the Packers worse than a long game of Twister.  Smith stopped running when huge lanes had been there earlier in the game.  I’ll give some credit to Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers for making some adjustments in half two to get more pressure and stop the run.  Even Michael Vick trotted out and appeared to have some good running room to his left on his only snap, only to strangely stand put and allow linebacker Clay Matthews to run him down from behind for a bad sack.

McCarty has led this team to the promised land of a Super Bowl win in 2010.  He seems to have a good hold of his locker room and the buy-in of the veterans on the roster.  The Packers have a culture that has allowed them to avoid many of the issues that are plaguing other teams around the league.  In his ninth season as head coach, McCarthy has built a solid resume but some of his methods have me wondering if he has enough left in his bag to make another deep run to a Lombardi trophy.

Earlier this summer, it was announced that Potts Avenue in Ashwaubenon would be renamed “Mike McCarthy Way”.  It’s an interesting move, as McCarthy is still coaching the team and could potentially see his successes fade over the years.  Then what?  Now, former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren also has a street named in his honor after winning a Super Bowl during his time in Green Bay.  It’s a great honor and if Holmgren has one, it’s worth discussing that McCarthy have one as well.  Both coaches inherited a mess and turned it around quickly to find the ultimate success in Green Bay.  After these past few games, however, I wish there were a way to put McCarthy’s street naming on hold just a while longer.  To me, he has a long way to go in cementing himself as a truly legendary coach in Green Bay and the NFL.  For now and this season, he has 15 weeks left to add to his case.








Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on

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32 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy

  1. its been apparent every game more and more so since last year. McCarthy is incompetent as a play caller. Dom capers would be a mediocre division 3 college football coach, but I wont get into that. My problem today was with McCarthy. Dude is stubborn as a mule and it is ridiculous. Keep this in mind: It was between McCarthy and Sean Payton for that job. Optimistic thinking here that has nothing to back it, but I think I we made a different decision, Brett favre would have had another shot at a ring and our offense would be even better. But who knows.
    for real tho… McCarthy and capers are woefully underperforming. Capers should have seen the axe by now and someone else should be calling plays. That crap holds us back as much as (if not more) than our injury problems. Its pathetic.

    1. Love the name. I suspect “Insignificant Human” is the name bestowed upon me by our pet cat.

  2. The Lacy run on 3rd and goal was a good call. The Jets only had 6 in the box and the middle was void. I was screaming at the TV for a run. If a Jet lineman doesn’t make a lunging grab Lacy walks into the end zone.

    1. Right WKU. You have to run from time to time on those short goal line situations. The success of a play like that is more due to going against type than pure execution – all though it could be both.

      When you think about it, when you use misdirection, a play can be successful in two ways: 1.) where the key players on the play execute so well the defense can’t stop it or 2.) the defense is fooled and out of position.

      At least with a run on 3rd(as long as it’s reasonable distance), you bring the 2nd way into play. Which is something all offenses are trying to do most of the time anyway.

      And if ARod passed on third and we missed – there would be some people saying, “why don’t we ever mix it up? That MM is so unimaginative”.

      The only way a coach can win on playcalling is by being successful.

    2. I just wish they would run the ball and feature Lacy inside the 15 yard line, McCarthy doesn’t use him at all basically, he is calling plays like its 2011 and he doesn’t have an elite RB in his backfield.

  3. Your one comment isn’t fair, but the rest I agree:

    “New York drove all the way down into Packers territory and Jets quarterback Geno Smith bailed the Packers out with a short ball that was intercepted by Tramon Williams.”

    GB defense earned that interception with pressure on Smith; causing the short throw (not a gift by Smith by any means). Granted, Tom Brady wouldn’t have made that under throw.

    But I haven’t seen a packer unit walk out on the field prepared to dominate from the opening minute for a long, long time. I agree. MM and DC have lost their edge, and hold the team back.

    1. Went back and looked again and the Williams interception came after Smith’s arm was hit. Still, this is a good discussion as evidenced by the ensuing comments.

  4. I can respect the thoughts of those people who wish that McCarthy called plays differently, but personally I don’t buy it… not for one second. Sure, we can question a play call here and there, but at the end of the day, it’s about production, and Mike McCarthy’s offense just put up 31 points on a solid defense. If the Packers could have that level of production in every game of the season, they would be the highest scoring offense IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE LEAGUE. So let’s keep that in perspective before we get too bent out of shape.

    There’s a reason why almost all NFL coaches and GMs will admit that McCarthy is one of the better offensive coaches in the game. It’s because McCarthy’s offenses have been kicking their asses right from the beginning.

    Over the past seven seasons, McCarthy’s offenses have scored 27.8 ppg, better than all other teams in the league except for two. They have been bested in scoring only by Belichick/Brady in New England (30.9) and Peyton/Brees in New Orleans (28.2). In 2011, the Packers scored more points in one season than all other teams in the history of the NFL except the 2013 Broncos and the 2007 Patriots. The lowest the Packers have ranked in scoring over the past seven years is 10th, and that was the year that they won the Superbowl. Even with Rodger out for half of last year, the offense still managed the 8th most points in the league.

    If McCarthy is so predictable that everyone can see everything coming before it happens, how is it that none of the NFL defensive coordinators seem to share this keen, prophetic vision? Or if everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming, how come defenses have consistently failed to stop it? Or if Mike McCarthy continues to run those very predictable plays that no one can stop, what the heck are we complaining about? When Lombardi teams ran unstoppable sweeps time after time after time, people called them great.

    It’s about scoreboard points, not style points. An offense’s job is to put points on the scoreboard. Whether or not people see as many style points as they want is irrelevant.

    1. Surely, the challenge was on the guys upstairs watching the replays not McCarthy. If he overruled them then yeah that wasn’t great coaching.

      But with the play calling – its very easy to say something was a bad call when it didn’t work – in reality you can’t always call everything to your strengths or its too predictable to defend against. You can make a call and depending on whether the players execute , the same call will be called a master-stroke or a dumb call. Lacy runs that in and suddenly McCarthy out-thinks the Jets.

      In reality, as per previous poster. We score lots of points and have done for a number of years. So the combination of Rodgers at QB, McCarthy’s play-calling and the rest of the offense put together by TT works. In fact it works extremely well.

      Its encouraging that the D rebounded in the second half. They held the RB in check all game and Geno had a QB rating of 60 something. But its still the problem – not the Offense or McCarthy’s play-calling.

    2. Marpag – excellent points, as usual. It’s about execution, not play calls. Execute the plays and they all look like good calls. For example, if the Packers recover the onside kick against the Jets, it’s a good call. Earlier, someone brought up Sean Payton vs, MM. Would you want a coach who sanctioned a bounty program against other players (including Aaron Rodgers) coaching our team? No thanks. Amateurs focus on play calling, professionals focus on execution. I’ll take MMs .645 winning % and his at least top 10 ranked offense (thanks Marpag) each season. We didn’t dominate from the beginning of the Jets game but we did for the last 40 minutes and we outscored them 28-3. Enjoy the win. Thanks, Since ’61

    3. I predict that in two years or maybe even this year the glow of genius will be gone from both McCarthy and the venerable Ted T….even a genius can grow stale…Capers, he never was a genius at least not in the past ten years…

      1. Ted has done a good job, I blame Capers he is calling plays like its 1995, well the league has changed, the game has changed, he just hasn’t figured it out. Every time they play a good to elite QB the defense gets SHREDDED. All u have to do to beat him on 3rd down is motion or put your #1 WR in the inside slot spread formation, and Capers will cover him with a safety who is lined up 14 yards off the line, watch Harvin in week 1, all his big plays on 3rd down, he is covered by Morgan Burnett.

    4. It seems that what your saying in part is that we should beat everyone but the Pats and Saints. I do get the whole idea of the post, and I will take ugly wins over hard fought losses any day of the week. The truth is we are some what of a vanilla offense, and although we average a lot of points , we give up just as much if not more obviously, otherwise we would dominate the NFC. McCarthy has been so predictable over the past few years, and defenses see this. It was insane not to throw to Shermans side of the field in the Seattle game. Why would you purposely give away a third of you field. Just stupid. I will say that RS is a very good DB but we gave him to much respect. If San Fran had a better passing QB they would have been in the SB instead of Seattle. The ball was so under thrown. I agree with Jason’s post, have felt that way for years. In my opinion had we not won it all in 2010 I think McCarthy should have been fired. I still believe we should be looking at a more creative mind with AR as our QB. Who by the way needs to pull the ball down more and run or just throw it away instead of getting beat up. I do understand that we have more issues than just coaching, we just lack talent along areas like the o-line ,d- line and ILB. In a perfect world all of this will improve and we will be get another Lombardi . In a perfect world. Since 1962

  5. And when they orchestrated the 98 yard drive I spent the entire time screaming at the TV, “where has this been the rest of the game?!?”
    My personal theory is that MM is great on paper, on Wednesday. His coaching is a PhD dissertation that has little to do with the real world, and when game time rolls around, he’s 200 pages in and sure as hell not going to change the topic now. The biggest problem is that he’s so into his plan/scheme that he can’t see what’s happening on the field. I would bet that the “genius” of that drive was Aaron Rodgers calling what HE wanted to run.

    1. Totally agree Caruso. I am not a fan of MM’s play calling. I find nothing creative about it and his head in his gameplan sheet is at the expense of the whole game. Yes we won the game and yes we did it without effectively running the ball or including our TE in the action. I am not sure that we exerted ourselves as much as the Jets shot themselves in the foot – repeatedly. I can’t help but think that a sharp OC would find ways to create a multi-headed offense instead of hanging on Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.

    2. MM coaches like a moron. Or, if you prefer, like his mentor, Marty Schottenheimer who had a career playoff record of one and done.

  6. Totally agree with this and the people who i was watching the game with agree….Big Mike has grown stale…he needs a helper for his offensive play calling badly…

  7. I am 67 years old so watched all the Lombardi playoff games. Every team and every fan knew 100% that Lombardi would run power sweeps. Kramer, Thurston or 2 linemen would pull and Hornung, Taylor, Pitts or some back would gain 5 to 10 yards. I don’t know how many times this play was run, but it worked.
    Lombardi worked on execution. When a play was run he expected results.

    Having said this, McCarthy expects his players to execute. Look, if it is 3rd and 20 we all agree not to call a quarterback sneak play. Other than that if the Packers have a first and goal from the 5, they should score. So there were 2 incomplete passes on 1st and 2nd downs. Is that McCarthy’s fault or the players. I say the players.
    I have posted that Jeff Janis is the steal of the draft. He didn’t suit up for the game. Given his speed I would start him with Cobb and Nelson. I believe he is better than Boykin and Adams.
    NFL corners “disrespect” white receivers. We all know this. Our corners and safeties are amazed by Janis’ speed. What they are saying is, thank goodness he is on our team and I am not going to be burned because he is faster than I am and bigger. I think only Sam Shields has run a faster 40 on the team. Janis ran a 4.30 at the combine. Nelson was at 4.46 or so.
    Sometime during the year I hope McCarthy and the offensive coaches play Janis opposite Nelson and with Cobb. If I am right our offensive problems are solved barring injuries and McCarthy’s “play calling” will look like a genius at work. You can thank TT if this all works out.

    1. Way to go montana! Completely agree. Big Lombardi fan here also. Amateurs focus on the play calling, professionals focus on execution. Thanks, Since ’61

    2. Not only would he be better than Boykin at WR he would do better than Harris on KR’s as well so it does amaze me also why they are not playing this young man.

    3. I also don’t understand why they don’t put him on the field, u are right he showed in preseason he can run flat out by people, u put him on one side, Jordy on the other and Cobb in the slot, with Lacy in backfield, u have the entire field threatened.

    4. I agree that Janis should see some playing time. He could help take the “top” off of defenses. However, Janis ran a 4.37/4.42 40-yard dash at the combine. The 4.30 time you allude to was hand timed, IIRC. Still, he is really fast and had a great 3 cone time of 6.64 seconds. BTW, Nelson ran a 4.51 40 yard dash, 7.03 3-cone ( and Cobb ran a 4.46 and a 7.08 3-cone at the combine. Second, Rodgers (like Brady) tends to not look at receivers until he trusts them. That is in part because Rodgers throws them open, so the receiver has to be where Rodgers expects them to be. Janis’ route tree at this point is limited. Boykin looks to me like a #4 or #5 receiver; he just doesn’t have the physical tools. He is quick and agile, but with a 4.74 time in the 40 yard dash, he can’t get deep at all.

    1. Is that why he has .645 winning %? Second highest in the league during his coaching tenure.
      Thanks, Since ’61

        1. His playoff % is .545 based on a 6-5 won-loss record.
          Not as good as his regular season record. But it includes an SB win, 5 consecutive appearances, 6 out of last 7 years and 4 division titles. A pretty impressive resume in this era of salary caps, free agents, rule changes and a plethora of injuries every season. There are about 30 other head coaches in the league who wish they could have that resume. Thanks, Since ’61

      1. You can play not to lose and still win, that is correct. However, when in the playoffs you have to play to win period.

  8. Great article! I agree with everything stated.

    Aside from his play calling, one of the main things McCarthy doesn’t bring to the team is “toughness.” The Packers defense doesn’t play tough. They get their tackles broken, rarely put big hits on players, get knocked backwards at the line. They’re soft.

    The offense is still a finesse team, even with a bruising running back. The reason the Chargers beat the Seahawks is because they went right at them, unafraid of Sherman or any other player on the Seahawks. The Packers played like scared little girls, only playing half the field, as game planned by McCarthy.

  9. I just think that McCarthy is kind of stuck in a time warp of 2011. I don’t blame him in some ways but I do agree with the author that it does appear to me that the league has somewhat caught up with his offense/play calling whatever u want to say. During the game I was screaming for them to try and establish the run up the middle(Lacy) to open things up or at least make the Jets respect the middle.(lets face it losing Jermichael Finley hurts this offense) Sometimes u just have to hammer it up in there and Lacy is built to do that. After the game though McCarthy said the Jets were clearing trying to take Lacy out of the game. I just don’t see a ton of creativity in the run or pass game, I know its hard to say that when Rodgers throws for 346 yards, but James Starks got zero touches, the TE’s produced next to nothing, Dajuan Harris had a nice run. I figured lacy would have a slow start when I saw the schedule, but then losing Bulaga, Barclay and Tretter has really put a damper on the potential “Two Headed Monster of an Elite Running game and a Elite Passing game.
    The author doesn’t even get into the defensive issues. I’m still not convinced this team can really stop a running attack that would pound the ball at them. I’d like to see them mix in Mike Pennell and Jayrone Eliot who both showed tons of promise in preseason. Watch Letroy Guion on the early rushing touchdown by the Jets, he gets moved 6 yards back and pancaked with the guard landing on top of him, that is not going to work in a 3-4 defense as your nose tackle. Pennell is HUGE and looked nasty, work him in.
    I just feel like McCarthy had so much offensive success in 2011 that he is kind of stuck with that mentality, I feel like he doesn’t use or takes Lacy out of the game every time GB gets inside the 15 yard line, which really confuses me, even though Rodgers is your QB.
    Dom Capers is also in a time warp, sorry to say. Look at what happens when his defense goes up against an elite QB? They can make Colin Kaepernick look like Joe Montana, the rest of the league, he kind of struggles, how many high draft picks can u give the guy??? Sure they beat Geno Smith, but how many yards will they give up to Stafford, 330? 370? Something doesn’t seem right with this team to me, I feel like other teams know exactly how to attack Capers schemes. GB is weak at nose tackle and not very good at ILB but everywhere else they are pretty good on defense. I just see far to often guys WIDE open, when does McCarthy draw up a play where the defense gets confused and leaves a player wide open??? Never…….

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