Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy met with the media on Wednesday for his season-ending press conference and talked about several aspects of his football team. It was the first time McCarthy has spoken since the death of his younger brother, Joseph McCarthy III, last week.
Here are some of the highlights from today’s session. You can watch the entire conference here. I’m paraphrasing several of McCarthy’s responses and combining a few where appropriate.
On if any changes can be expected within the coaching staff, specifically special teams – “It’s important to evaluate. . I haven’t had the chance to do that yet. . I thought the changes we made last year benefited our program this year. . health was better, for example. Will continue to evaluate”
It’s clear that McCarthy hasn’t had a chance to determine if he’s ready to make a change in his coaching staff yet. The team did block quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith from interviewing with other teams who were interested in talking with them so the Packers are holding firm on their policy to keep their coaches whenever possible. McCarthy did not directly address special teams so the debate will continue as to what the Packers will do with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.
When asked if the staff was upset at not being able to speak with other teams, McCarthy reiterated that they’re all made aware of the team’s philosophy on that and there’s no surprises when the Packers block an interview request.
On whether it was personnel or execution that hindered special teams and the Seahawks keying on Brad Jones on the fake field goal – “Comes down to knowing your opponent and executing your responsibility…more about their call versus our formation. They made a great call and we weren’t able to make the play we needed.”
Before I get into the fake field goal and Brad Jones, I think we need to revisit the definition of insanity. Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result. All season long, Green Bay’s special teams made gaffe after gaffe. Seven kicks were blocked. Seven. So why is anyone surprised that special teams were a huge part of this team’s undoing in Seattle? The trends were all there and there was nothing to indicate that they were any more capable in this area than they had been all season long. I, for one, said all season long that this was going to bite this team at the worst possible time. The lack of ability to improve and get away from the issues this unit had despite the fact that they added another assistant coach says a lot about the work that needs to be done here in moving forward.
Until the NFL banishes all special teams, the Packers have to figure out a way to be good in this area. A championship team typically executes well in all phases. When the Packers looked bad on special teams, they were alarmingly bad. For a coaching staff that has had so much regular season success and seems to have a good program in place, this phase of the game was a real head scratcher in 2014. They even inserted starters to boost production and attempt to avoid some of the common mistakes. That did little good in the end. If there is one area where I see an obvious need for a big change, it’s here.
As far as Brad Jones being the key on the fake field goal, again, who is surprised? Jones was the bane of this team’s existence this year and the rest of the league paid attention. Unfortunately, the Seahawks did a ton of homework on this player and made Green Bay’s weakness their strength. Again, the trends were there: Brad Jones can’t make plays. So let’s make him have to do just that in order to stop us from scoring. And wouldn’t you know it? Jones didn’t make a play and Seattle found the end zone. Just like special teams showing up and being exactly who they were all season, Jones did the same. This wasn’t the back-breaking play of the game, but the fact that one guy out of the 11 that were on the field was the one-and-only key for Seattle to take a big risk in a huge game says enough by itself. If Jones is back in Green Bay next season, I immediately question this team’s desire to improve and move forward.
On what was learned from the Seattle game and how to turn it into a positive in 2015 – “The 2015 team won’t carry the burden of how the 2014 team’s season ended. Have to learn from victories and defeats. Big plays and execution are important. Seattle made big plays at the end. Need good fundamentals and applying what you do best to win”
There’s the eternal debate about whether anything truly good can come in defeat in the NFL. I suppose any incident in life can be a teacher, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking next year’s team won’t have this game in the back of their minds at some point throughout the season. When human beings are placed in stressful situations, they tend to rely on their brains recollections of past experiences to get them through it. Through that process of recalling the past, sometimes the bad things that happened are also recalled. I don’t buy for a second that the next team that tries an onside kick against the Packers won’t have some players a bit more tense and wanting nothing more than to be the next Brandon Bostick (and let’s hope that that player isn’t Bostick himself!).
Yes, this team needs to move on from what happened and there will be changes in players and scheme next season, but a loss like that and on that stage is the type of thing that never really leaves you. As a head coach, McCarthy is going to have to work extremely hard to keep that ghost out of his head as he’s calling tight games late. He talked about needing good fundamentals but part of that should also be an attitude of confidence and playing to win vs. playing not to lose. It’s been said a hundred times by now: the Packers were playing scared at the end against the Seahawks and it cost them the biggest opportunity they’ve had since their last championship.
On why Julius Peppers gave the “no mas” sign on the Morgan Burnett interception – “those types of calls are made in the heat of the moment and are more about the situation than a principle. I believed we could move the ball and change the field position. Can’t fault Morgan for not moving the ball”
I obviously wasn’t on the sidelines on that fateful day in Seattle but I have to believe that a discussion of some sort took place about what to do if the Packers were able to force a turnover. Peppers is a 14-year veteran who ran two interceptions back for touchdowns this season. This is just a shot in the dark by me here, but I highly doubt his instincts kicked in and said “it’s a bad idea to run with the ball in wide open space right now”. The defense was likely told to get down with the ball and let the offense work its magic.
It’s easy to second-guess the decision making now after the fact but in looking at the play, Burnett has easily another 15-20 yards of wide open real estate that he could have picked up on his own. If McCarthy truly wanted to flip the field position, why not take the certain yardage after the pick? When you ask players to think too much during an intense game like football, bad things happen. You have to let players play and do what comes naturally. There’s risk on every snap in football. In a game like that and of that magnitude, Burnett’s sliding was the ultimate sign of fear. No player should be sliding and giving themselves up unless the clock reads 00:00 and their team has the lead or if their offense only needs a few kneel downs to run the time out. As it turned out, the Packers attempt to play “keep away” from Seattle backfired when the offense lost yardage and had to punt the ball back shortly after the turnover.
Offensive line’s struggles at times at the goal line – “I don’t agree with the goal line struggle. Playing on the road vs. at home is different. Some things we’ll look at and can get more creative in that area. Thought run blocking as a whole was impressive. A number of times we creased the defense and scored”
It’s not McCarthy’s personality to say the Packers had their fair share of issues inside the 10-yard line this season. But the reality is that the eyeball test says they did. With the players this team has on offense, not punching it into the end zone with less than 10 yards to go is an all-out crime. There’s too much talent not to have one option free and clear. Here we are again re-hashing an issue that the team had all season long and how it reared its ugly head in the NFC Championship game. These things don’t happen by accident!
On the first two offensive possessions, the Packers got deep into Seattle territory and decided to take the points and kick field goals instead of going for it on fourth down. There will always be a lot of debate about this, much like we still question Mike Sherman’s decision to punt on fourth-and-one against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 playoffs when he had Ahman Green at his disposal. In this case, you have Aaron Rodgers and some of the best receivers in the league. It’s only fair that I state for the record that I was OK with taking the points on both of these possessions because of how early in the game it was. Had the Packers won, McCarthy might still have been criticized for being too conservative, but against a good Seattle defense, the last thing the Packers needed was to be stopped on fourth down and have the Seahawks and their crowd ignited. McCarthy also said he saw some penetration that the Seahawks were able to get on the early downs that led him to question how successful they could be in trying again. Going back to the Burnett slide, these decisions are made in a split second and in the heat of the moment.
On McCarthy’s own health situation – “I feel good and am reminded him that my own health can’t be taken for granted”
This reminds us all that this is a football game. Entertainment. It’s not life or death, although for some it sure feels that way. I still have friends who are visibly down about the outcome in Seattle and who have trouble sleeping at night. We’re all fans for our own reasons and no one can tell another how to go about their fanhood. We can, however, all try to be a bit more aware that after the game ends, life goes on and we all have our roles to play with friends, family, jobs, etc. Let’s remember that above all else, we all cheer for the same team and want the same thing. It’s 2015 now and it’s time to move on.
My additional thoughts
- Randall Cobb needs to be re-signed – While it seems like a no-brainer that the Packers bring Cobb back after the season he had, every day that passes without a new deal only raise more questions about how the Packers are handling the situation. Cobb told reporters as he was clearing out his locker last week that he hasn’t signed on the dotted line. While I have every reason to believe the team will bring Cobb back, I also hope that Cobb is aware of the team’s plans and isn’t feeling slighted with every passing day
- Changes are needed – Brad Jones and Brandon Bostick need to be shown the door. Jones caused a fumble early in the NFC championship game that helped the Packers jump out to an early lead, but as big as that paly was, it was too little too late. His mere presence gave the opposition the ability to outmaneuver the Packers and get back some momentum in a game that the Packers were owning at the time. Jones offers no value to this team and is easily more liability than asset at a key position. The Packers need better and more and they won’t find it in Jones. Bostick simply made a mistake. Everyone is human and he stepped up and owned it after the fact. But the fact remains that he had one job: to block. This takes us back to McCarthy’s referral to the split-second decision making that goes on in a football game. Bostick obviously wanted to make the play, but he had done nothing all season long. Nothing. Like WWE superstar The Rock says, “know your role”. Play your position and let those more skilled, play theirs. Bostick pulled a Steve Bartman and he will have to live with it for the rest of his life. I’m all for giving second chances. The Packers have shown a reluctance to move on from underperformers in a swift manner in the past but in this situation, I think the Packers need to move on from Bostick and let another team grant him that second opportunity. As for coaching staff changes, I’m not certain that letting Shawn Solcum go is the answer to the special team woes, but it would send a message that the team and more importantly, McCarthy, expect more. As for defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who has been a topic du jour this offseason so far, I don’t think the team can afford to let him go at this point nor do I think it’s necessary.
- It’s OK to question Mike McCarthy’s ability to lead this team in the postseason – I get that it’s tough to win playoff games. You’re playing against elite teams every week and have to be at the top of your game to advance. Still, when I look at how many top-tier players the Packers have, especially at quarterback, this is a team that should probably have more to show than it has over the last four seasons. I’m not necessarily saying they should have another Super Bowl title because that’s always incredibly difficult to achieve, but it was also a realistic possibility for this team in at least two of those four years (2011, 2014). McCarthy is one of the winningest coaches in Packers history and in the NFL. He’s led the Packers to a playoff appearance in six straight seasons now. The Packers have averaged 11 wins per season during that time. You can’t win a championship without getting in the tournament in the first place. The Packers are very good at getting there. It’s what happens from that point forth that is becoming an issue. For as solid as McCarthy can be from September – December, we have seen some pretty spectacular losses by his teams in January. The 2007 NFC championship game, 2009 wild card round, the 2011 divisional stinker at home after a 15-1 regular season and this most recent game. Coaches coach and players play, but teams tend to take on the persona of their leadership and they have had more than their fair share of collapses. It’s at least worth considering where the lack of confidence stems from. As long as McCarthy is coaching this team, I don’t see how we can’t wonder if more of the same is in store for future playoff runs. When I look back at the 2010 team, I see a roster that was loaded with solid veteran leadership and playmakers. Guys like Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Ryan Pickett. Perhaps the Packers achieved the ultimate despite McCarthy’s presence? This current team has a stable of its own veterans, but they don’t seem as strong as that past group. The calming effect and confidence just isn’t quite the same. This is probably insighting the rage in some of you, but I say this more to start the discussion than to deem McCarthy inadequate to lead this team to another championship. Carry on below in the comments!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: