Cory’s Corner: Mike McCarthy’s play-calling days are over

After getting some time to digest the Great Cheese Melt, I am left scratching my head at the strangest game I ever saw. The Seahawks outscored the Packers 28-6 in the second half as Green Bay’s Super Bowl dreams went up in smoke by an overtime score of 28-22 in the NFC Championship Game.

And the reason it was so odd was because the offense, defense, special teams and coaching all failed in the second half. Usually when a team loses, not all aspects of a team fall short. After halftime, nothing good happened for the Packers.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy may be 11 years light on head coaching experience to Bill Belichick, but McCarthy is only .003 percentage points from tying the Patriots coach in regular season winning percentage.

McCarthy is a great coach. We learned that last year when Aaron Rodgers was hurt and he had to make do for seven weeks.

But that doesn’t mean things still can’t be changed. And in order to get a good indication of the future, we have to look to the past.

In the ‘Fail Mary’ game of 2012 the Packers maintained a 12-7 lead with 1:54 left in the ballgame. The Packers just held the Seahawks to a turnover on downs and took over at their own 7.

And that’s when complacency set in. Cedric Benson got the call on first and second down to burn the Seahawks’ last two timeouts. Then on third-and-15, John Kuhn ran it up the middle for two yards before the Packers called a timeout to get the punting unit on the field.

We all know what happened 57 seconds later as the Packers were left scratching their heads.

McCarthy was one of 10 head coaches that called their own offensive plays this season. The Cardinals’ Bruce Arians was the only other coach that got into the playoffs and the Bears’ Marc Trestman is now editing his resume.

McCarthy’s passiveness is why he should be stripped of his play-calling duties. Instead of adjusting with what the game flow provides, his analytics cloud his judgment or he sticks to a script that was written days before kickoff.

Even with a circus in the second half, the game was lost in the first quarter. The Packers had the ball at the Seattle 1 twice and twice the Packers settled for field goals. Field goals are fine in the Midwest Shrine Game but not in the NFC Championship Game.

By not going for the touchdown on those two drives, the seed had been planted in the players’ minds that field goals were good enough against this defense. It’s another case of McCarthy respecting the Seahawks and its ‘Legion Of Boom’ just a little too much.

Another example of that overt respect is why Richard Sherman wasn’t challenged at all in the second half. Sherman was thrown at twice, with Jordy Nelson catching one pass for six yards. Even though the world could see that Sherman only had one healthy arm late in the game, the Packers only saw the best cover corner in the NFL and didn’t bother forcing him to do the impossible and defend with one arm.

The final example is right before overtime. Rodgers was having an average game and the way he engineered that final drive was amazing. And that included hobbling out-of-bounds after a  12-yard-gain. Timeouts are meant to assist. They give a break or devise strategy. McCarthy had all three at his disposal that final drive but he only used one to get the field goal unit on the field.

It’s hard to coach to win when you’re walking on eggshells trying to prevent the loss. Players are used to saying they’ll do whatever it takes to win by doing extra lifting, running extra sprints and watching extra game tape.

But what good does it do when the head coach is more worried about a failed risk as opposed to just failing?


Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn


59 thoughts on “Cory’s Corner: Mike McCarthy’s play-calling days are over

  1. I’ve got sooooo many thoughts on this, it would take me the rest of the afternoon to compile them into the Comments. But I’d love to make a case for MM.

  2. sorry, didn’t quite finish my thought.
    I think MM could still be HC and play caller, even though, he shows a weakness during games where the moments get large.

  3. MM is like almost every other coach in the NFL, they play “not to lose” when they have a lead late in the game.With NFL offenses so good at clock management, it is no longer critical to have TO’s to be able to drive the ball the length of the field. keeping possession of the ball is critical when you have a lead. Running 3 times between the tackles with 8 defenders in the box to make them use their TOs is now obsolete.

  4. I think we’re at the “meaning of insanity” time with some of these procedures and coaching responsibilities aren’t we. Unless the only goal is to win the NFC North every year which barely happened the 1 year where McCarthy didn’t have his Life Saver, Aaron Rodgers for 90% of the time.

  5. The article mentions Belichick and though the comparisons maybe valid to a certain extent, MM has never had the killer instinct Belichick has shown as the coach in NE. Both GB and NE are smart teams, each with QBs that will go down in history as 2 of the greats. Both teams mirror their coaches’ personality and plays that way as well. However what seperates NE from GB is that Belichick is not scared to put the game away by boldly putting the ball in the hands of Brady and trusting him to not make mistakes that would cost them the game. MM on the other hand seems to handicap Rodgers when it comes to playing with a lead. MM calls plays that are safe and doesn’t seem to trust the best QB in the game with the ball. Of course Aaron has full control of the play at the line but with the personnel package that MM sent onto the field, Rodgers is limited with what he can call. We see Belichick “running up” the score even with a big lead and some will criticize him for it but with what happened on Sunday with GB, you don’t blame him for the way he does things. MM can learn a thing or two from Belichick. No mercy.

    1. Belichick is almost the opposite of MM. Belichick will be the winning coach in the modern era. Yes, both teams have star QB’s but that is were the similarities.end. Since 2000, the Pat’s under field general Belichick have went to the SB 6 times (counting this season), winning 3 and went to the AFC championship game 9 times.

      In nine years with Farve and Rodgers,
      one SB win, and three trips to the NFC championship game, losting two. If you exclude 2010 SB run, McCarthy’s record in the post season is 3 wins and 6 loses. Most of the playoff appearances were one and done.

        1. In the end, W or L is all that matter. If you happen to catch an injury-depleted opponent, that’s their tough luck…just as it was for the Packers when ARod was hurt a year ago. No asterisks, please.

    2. Partly agree with you. The real difference between BB and MM is creativity and intelligence. BB has been to the Super Bowl 6 times and won 3.
      In conclusion, when all is said and done BB has what MM does not have and will never have.

  6. If the Packer nation wants to win another Superbowl while Rodgers is still playing…can McCarthy and get someone whose ego doesn’t prevent the Offensive Coordinator from coordinating offensive plays.

  7. It’s hard to coach to win when you’re walking on eggshells trying
    to prevent the loss. Players are used to saying they’ll do whatever it
    takes to win by doing extra lifting, running extra sprints and watching
    extra game tape.

    But what good does it do when the head coach is more worried about a failed risk as opposed to just failing?

    Great article. The last two paragraphs nail it. What’s the point of having the players go the extra mile in training, preparation, and performance if you’re not willing to go the extra mile as a coach, take some risks, and do whatever it takes to win???

    1. I think that is wrong observation, After Morgan intercepted Russell at 5:13 (kept the ball to 5:04) Packers players thought game is over. After that point there was no wins one on one. And Packers was winning one on one all game long. That was the moment when Seattle D made their important 3 and out. That was the moment when Seattle O starts to roll. Why? Because they started to win one on ones. Because Packers players thought the game is over…
      Only mistake made by Mike McCarthy (huge one) was not calling the time out after Russell scored TD. We all knew what will follow. On side kick. He failed to call time out to made re focus in players heads and on side kick would be recovered by Packers. Last chance for that Mike McCarthy had between Lynch TD and 2 point conversion!
      That huge mistake came because Mike McCarthy was thinking of play calling and did not act like HC. And that is why I am for delegating play calling from Mike McCarthy’s hands to Tom Clements, Aaron or Alex Van Pelt…

      1. I guess my point is that if McCarthy was more aggressive on some of the plays earlier in the game, like choosing to go for it on fourth down instead of settling for a field goal in some situations, things may have been different. Throughout the game I had that queasy feeling that their lack of more aggressive play calling left the door open for a Seattle comeback. They also should’ve gone after Sherman when it was clear he was injured. But as the old saying goes: “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” I just hope the Pack has a good draft, signs some free agents (including Cobb and Bulaga) and they use this loss as motivation to create a happier ending next season…

  8. Sheesh, I think Archie and myself were saying these same things last year and boy did we take a whooping for doing so… Funny how we knew this all along and were crucified at the time. Not trying to be arrogant at all, but damn we told you so.

  9. Nope. Not buying it. Not buying it at all.

    Not only is McCarthy a slim .003 behind Belichick in winning percentage, but BB and MM are the two winningest active coaches in the league (50 game minimum). More than that, Belichick and McCarthy are neck and neck – 14th and 15th – in the list of winningest NFL coaches of all time.

    People get horribly disappointed by a loss, and then they become walking cliché factories. But only about those plays that didn’t work, of course. Why didn’t it work? “Too predictable.” “No killer instinct.” “Prevent defense prevents you from winning.” “Ego.” “Stupid! Gotta pass to set up the run” (unless of course, the lost game requires the cliche, “Gotta run to set up the pass, dammit!”) “Soft zone.” “Gotta blitz more.” “Where were the screens?” Blah this and Blah that. And when players totally screw up – like, oh I don’t know, totally whiffing on a lame duck two point conversion or sliding down for no reason – then, “he didn’t have ’em ready to play, fer cryin’ out loud!!”

    It’s a bunch of crap, but people can get away with it because they only do it about those plays that didn’t work or the games that weren’t won. So in Seattle, McCarthy tries to pound the ball on the ground to close out the game. It doesn’t work, and armchair QBs all over the world announce that McCarthy is too stupid to know that ARod is on the roster. But y’all know damn well that if McCarthy had called three quick incompletions, those same heroes of coaching would revert to “Cliché B” … which of course is, “Don’t you even know that you gotta be able to run out the clock, you #%@%$%#?”

    So yeah, a slim .003 behind Belichick. Second winningest active coach. Fifteenth all time. Any objections?

    Oh, wait… “If it weren’t for Rodgers he couldn’t even coach high school!!!” Right. Forgot about that one.

    1. If you don’t buy it…take the Rodgers equation off the team and buy the fact McCarthy would’ve been gone long ago.

      1. I don’t buy this either, because no ARod means that the personnel–and salary cap–dynamic is completely different. Same argument as saying “if the Packers punched in one of those first quarter possessions for 6, they win”. We don’t know that. The entire game dynamic changes from that point onward. You can’t lift out a single play, change the outcome dramatically, and assume everything moves forward identically.

        If you remove ARod from this roster and just replace him with Kyle Orton, everything else being the same, any coach you pick is going to be “not for long”. Your draft needs now become very different over time…your whole philosophy might change based on the QB you build around who isn’t named ARod. Once you remove that big cap number, the question is: how is personnel different from that point forward?

        I’m sorry, but these kinds of conclusions just don’t mean very much.

      2. People think that Belichick is an evil genius who made a pact with Lucifer, and that McCarthy is too stupid to zip up his own pants. McCarthy, they say, only survives because of Rodgers. What a terribly weak argument.

        MM and BB have essentially the same winning percentage, and they both have Hall of Fame quarterbacks. MM has Rodgers; BB has Brady. Is Rodgers really SO VERY MUCH better than Brady that this imbecile McCarthy can win as much as that genius, Bill Belichick? Or are you saying that Belichick is every bit as stupid as McCarthy?

        Which one?

    2. Bravo. I agree completely with you! That was not mistakes in play calling! Mistakes were at execution. Complaining about 2nd half defense? Defense was keeping Seattle offense out of points till 2:13 to the end of game. Only points Seattle scored was by special teams! So, Packers defense kept Seattle out of points for 57:43 minutes in that game. Yeah, second half play calling. Right! The real meltdown came after that f*****g on side kick. Again ST, not defense.

      Cory, did you have opportunity to re watch game on coaches film. After that we can talk about play calling…

      If Mike McCarthy tried 4 & 1 twice in the Q1 and Packers failed, he will be called even worser names than lot of Packers fans call him now. There was no guarantee that any of 4 & 1 would be successful…

      Maybe you can find here:

      that was, not preparation for 4 & 1, but bad execution. It was not bad play call for Eddie -4, but someone from Packers OL did not block that Bennet, and again for -2. Even on 2 yards gain there was bad play from OL. Others told that, not me. I saw it, but I’m far from expert….

      1. Way off croatpackfan way off. Handing the ball off to Kuhn on second and goal, really? Not calling time out after the Cobb catch with 54 seconds to go, really? 6 points of 5 turnovers, really? I can go on for another 30 minutes. MM blew the game plain and simple.

        1. “David Bakhtiari was late cutting off NT Kevin Williams; otherwise, John Kuhn would have scored from the 1.” Tell me where is here bad play call? For you every play that is not successful is bad call. When wee look at Seahawks, it seems that Mike McCarthy made much batter job than whoever was play calling for Seahawks… Packers was 19-0 on the offense till 2:13 till the end of the game! Sure, it was bad game plan and even worser, it was blew out…
          Also “Eddie Lacy was stacked up on third and goal from the 1 because JC Tretter was late off the ball and because R. Rodgers couldn’t sustain against SLB Bruce Irvin.” Bad call or bad execution. Must be bad call. It is impossible that any player can blew up good play calling. That was not possible…

          1. Don’t like short yardage plays with a bunch formation. Two many things, execution as you call it, have to be perfect. Spread the formation, then run or pass. Bill Walsh was a master at that. Spread the formation then run. Then the margin for error is greater.

            1. Did you watch the game. They tried pass, Jordy was not able to catch! AAAH, I will stop discussion with you. You do not understand arguments. Yes you are right, Mike McCarthy should be fired. Start cheering for Rex Ryan! Good day!

            2. And yet strangely enough, the mighty Bill Walsh, who was a “master” at play calling, I hear, and who coached perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time in Joe Montana, undeniably the best wide receiver ever in Jerry Rice, perhaps the best safety ever in Ronnie Lott, throw in Rodger Craig, Dwight Clark, Randy Cross, Tom Rathman and a few others… didn’t have as high a winning percentage as Mike McCarthy (656 to 609).


              1. With all due respect, Marpag… Don Hutson was the greatest receiver of all time, not Jerry Rice. 🙂

            3. David – normally I would agree with your comment but the Packers could not go to the spread because Rodgers couldn’t run. Those plays work down close because a healthy Rodgers can buy time in the pocket, plus the defense has to respect that Rodgers will run for TD so they can’t put everyone in coverage, this opens up the pass routes. If Rodgers is healthy we’re still celebrating a trip to the SB instead of whining over play calling, good and bad. Thanks, Since ’61

        2. There’s nothing wrong with the fullback dive play on the 1 yard line. Very quick developing, everyone’s watching Lacy, a little misdirection, give your OL a chance to get that initial push and sneak the FB into the endzone. If anything, the issue might be that the Packers are more likely to run that play than other teams…but, as much as people bitch about the FB dive, it rarely goes for negative yardage (which someone on this site showed last summer by grinding the stats).

    3. Way off on this one Marpag. Total domination for 54 min and 56 seconds and lose. Are you kidding me? Packers should have had 38 points on the board and MM just blew it. Plain and simple.

      Nice try though!

      1. “Packers should have had 38 points on the board”

        No offense, David, but there’s no basis for this aside from substituting desired outcomes onto a few individual plays and assuming that every other detail remains exactly the same.

        1. heh heh… but it’s not as bad as people who try to do the opposite and TAKE AWAY the desired outcomes, and then end up saying nonsense like, “Take away the Superbowl win and McCarthy isn’t very good.”

          “Hey, see that billionaire over there? Well, take away his money… and then he doesn’t have any money!”

          Um, yeah. Thanks for that.

    4. Belichick is almost the opposite of MM. Belichick will be the winning coach in the modern era. Yes, both teams have star QB’s but that is were the similarities.end. Since 2000, the Pat’s under field general Belichick have went to the SB 6 times (counting this season), winning 3 and went to the AFC championship game 9 times.

      In nine years with Farve and Rodgers,
      one SB win, and three trips to the NFC championship game, losting two. If you exclude 2010 SB run, McCarthy’s record in the post season is 3 wins and 6 loses. Most of the playoff appearances were one and done.

      facts are facts……Both have Hall of Fame QB’s in their coaching ERA. NO one of give a hoot about the regular season but to get into the playoffs. The goal of every NFL team is to compete and win the SB.

    5. Marpag – brilliant comment! Well done! All of these comments are being made through the lens of the final score. Any one of the plays at the end of the game go our way and everyone is talking about the brilliant game plan by the coaches. Blah, Blah. All of this play calling should have been different is pure speculation based the outcome. They say MM can’t win without Rodgers, do you think that BBwins without Brady or Walsh without Montana or Lombardi without Starr. It’s a QBs game. No team or coach wins without a QB. Then to bring up Belichick, again accused of cheating. Is that the coach we want, one always accused of cheating. Bottom line is, Rodgers healthy, game over and play calling never comes up. It’s pointless because it is only based on the result of the play. No one complains about the running plays when Lacy runs for 5, 10 or 15 yards on the same plays in our other wins. What about Rodgers 2 picks, bad calls or bad results.

  10. I’m not going to argue with the premise of this article. I would think it’s hard for someone in that position to wear so many hats during a game and be able to be as effective as he could be in any one capacity. He’s got a lot to think about aside from calling plays.

    Philosophically, I find myself thinking that his handing over playcalling helps to keep him focused on that primary responsibility–leading the team/making big decisions–and seeing what’s going on more wholistically. If he’s such a great game-planner, he’s still in on that aspect of it. What do you really lose in this case?

  11. Cory – your comments are made through the lens of results. Back in 2006, if I told you that the Packers were going to hire an HC who was going to call his own plays, make the playoffs every season, win an SB, and have about a .650 winning percentage you and every fan on this site would have said sign him now. Even today, if MM left you would say the same thing, because if you look at the NFL you understand how hard it is to find a coach like MM. You to hand over the play calling, fine, I’m OK with that, but you better have a guy who can work with Rodgers. If he and Rodgers have opposing philosophies your team is done. We have a good thing, it needs to get better, but let’s not be stupid, like our 3 man rush or B. Jones or M. Daniels penalty. It’s time to get better and smarter not rewrite the book. Thanks, Since ’61

    1. Remember, I’m not saying the Packers should fire McCarthy. Just delegate his play-calling duties to someone else, which will free him up to be a more well-rounded head coach. It’s hard to be in charge of the offensive play-calling when you’re also thinking about the rest of the team.

      1. Cory -I understand that you don’t want to fire MM and I said that I’m OK with handing off the play calling, but my question is what happens when we lose a playoff game then? Do we go back to MM calling plays. Suppose we don’t even make the playoffs? Are we going to blame the play caller? MM? TT? There is no guarantee that we will do any better with a separate play caller is there? As Mike Holmgren once told me, “Amateurs focus on play calling, the professionals focus on execution.” Holmgren was a pretty good player. Thanks, Since ’61

      1. Tundraboy – I would be thrilled to get Philbin back, but remember he didn’t call the plays when he was here either. Having said that I would trust him in that role. Thanks, Since ’61

  12. Would Jeff Tedford leave the BC Lions Head Coaching job to come to the Packers and replace Clements as the OC and assume the play calling duties?Think of the possibilities with that.

    AR gets to run the offense and interface with the guy he considers his second dad, MM gets freed up to manage the entire scope of the team on game day and Clements get to pursue a job where he can be a real OC.

    Where’s the downside of that?

  13. Offense has not been same since Philbin left. Predictable to the extreme. I for one am sick of not using the talent we have in dynamic play calling. Rodgers injury or not the One thing I expected after various teases from preseason on, was that he would come out firing with some new stuff and have all plays on deck in the NFC game. After hearing all year from MM, about unscouted looks, not leaving too much on film blab blah blah, he comes up with this, not even throwing out the kitchen sink to get vital first downs at the end. I’m still stunned by the loss but most of all that. And the 2 and 3 man rushes!!!! He has to change.and get help. First order of business next year. no more coaching to lose.

  14. Wow. With the
    perspective of a peephole.

    If we’re going to
    make decisions like this based on a single game, let’s, at least, take one
    second for a broader view. This season, the offense Mike McCarthy called, has
    these distinctions: *First in the NFL*
    in points per game. *First in the NFL*
    in points per drive. *First in the NFL*
    in yards per play. *First in the NFL*
    in offensive according to Football Outsiders (Weighted Offensive DVOA). *First in the NFL* in offense according
    to Advanced Football Analytics (Offensive Expected Points Added).

    But you’re right, let’s just look at one game to determine
    if he should continue to call plays. Let’s start with this exercise. I want you
    to say this out loud:

    “The Packers were playing the best defense in the NFL, in
    the toughest place to play in the NFL, with an injured quarterback.”

    No, you just read it. I need you to say it aloud. I’ll wait.
    There. Now let it set in.

    I also want to take a second to point out what had to happen
    for the Seahawks to win. A defensive back inexplicably going down rather than
    taking an interception back for a score, a successful onside kick, a hail mary
    2-point conversion, and an overtime coin toss were all needed. If any single one
    of those events hadn’t occurred, the Packers, and their offense called by
    McCarthy, would have overcome the best defense, in the toughest place to play,
    with an injured quarterback.

    But, other than all of that, sure, he’s too conservative.
    Let’s not forget, that one of the reasons that Aaron Rodgers’ career passer
    rating is 106.0 is that he throws so few interceptions. He absolutely doesn’t
    try to fit balls in where he probably could, because the offensive philosophy
    is that mistakes are too costly. Conservative. Live by the philosophy, die by the
    philosophy. (READ: have a team get incredibly lucky to overcome the philosophy.)

    If I may add just one more dollop of perspective, let’s look
    briefly at that 106.0. For the entirety of the time Rodgers has led Green Bay,
    McCarthy has called plays, and for those unaware, that career 106.0 is the best
    in NFL history. To put it in perspective, the gap between Rodgers’ mark and 2nd
    place is 8.4. That gap is bigger than the one between 2nd place, 97.6
    and 13th place, 89.5. All, McCarthy’s play-calling. Every play.

    Lastly, let’s just spend one second imagining *YOU* were held to the same standard.
    Forget what you’ve done in the past, your most recent outcome is what matters. That
    is, your post, here.

    I’m going to spare +Jibs+, as he has to write
    something to justify the gig. For the rest of you.

    +Mike Charron+ – You wrote a question and didn’t punctuate it with a
    question mark. You’ve just lost your right to post your written opinion

    +David C+
    – Among many errors, this sentence alone shows your lack of a grammatical
    killer instinct: “Both teams mirror their coaches’ personality and plays
    that way as well.” No more posts for you.

    – It’d be easier to point out the few grammatical things that are correct. Pack
    it up.

    +croatpackfan+ – Because of this segment, “Packers players thought
    game is over,” your game of posting publically is over.

    +David+ – This sentence
    makes me wonder if you should ever be allowed to communicate again, let alone
    post here: “They is no right or wrong on thinking makes it so.”

    +Tundraboy+ – Same
    standard. You’re judged by what you’ve done most recently. Your post is missing
    no less than 6 commas, is capitalized horribly, and is laden with sentence
    fragments. Because of those reasons, taking away your right to post is this
    site’s first order of business.

    1. Sorry for any grammatical errors. I’m pissed about game so excuse me. Did not know there was an English teacher grading us

  15. MM may be a worse play caller than the worst of all time, his mentor, Marty Scittinmypantsheimer.

  16. MM would be a good coach if he weren’t allowed to do anything, as long as AR was his QB. Get it?

  17. The great Lombardi summed up the reason MM was the culprit for Green Bay’s epic failure: “If you cannot run for 1 yard you are NOT a champion.” That says it all. 3 times (4 if you include a late 4th and 1 at mid field) MM revealed his ultimate belief that our Packers were not worthy of being called champions. 3 times he settled for field goals, inexplicably 2 actually on the 1 yard line! MM is NOT a championship worthy coach and his playoff record (other than the 2010 fluke that was won by a red-hot Rodgers!) proves it at 3-6. Need a change but noone has the guts to do it. If I were coaching I would put together a short yardage package that was dominating and go for every 4th and 1 I faced that was past mid field. In order to be a real champion you have to believe in and allow your team to actually BE a champion! MM failed his team!

  18. Corey is right, why is McCarthy, in the name of sanity, calling his own plays. I’ve seen McCarthy being so nervous at interviews, that he actually stutters his words. Maybe the Packers would be better off being privately owned so that there would be some accountability. There isn’t and there won’t. For God’s sake, even Slocum is staying!

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