The Crescent and Cheese

where east meets the midwest

The Curious Case of Mike McCarthy

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McCarthy’s record this season in games decided by seven points or less—not stellar. It’s not a record one can take to the championship. I don’t care anymore that this offense is as potent as any in the league. I don’t care anymore that McCarthy’s game plans devastate opposing defenses. 3-6. That’s all that matters. If the record is 4-4, or even 3-5, the Packers can still win the division. But it’s 3-6, and the question is why.

I’m not in the fire McCarthy camp. McCarthy is a good coach. As Aaron Nagler said in this article:

“Good coaches are hard to find – just take a look at the turnover each year around the league if you don’t believe me. McCarthy is a good coach.”

He is a brilliant offensive mind. He’s an outstanding developer of talent. He is keeping this team together through all the adversity and strife one can imagine. But there is a problem. A serious problem. So don’t get this post wrong: I want McCarthy to stay and be successful in Green Bay. I want him to take us to a Super Bowl win. This post isn’t about how he is weak in certain areas and thus warrants firing. This post is about where McCarthy is weak, what contributed to the losses, and what he can do about it to win close football games.

Let’s take this year’s close losses, break them down, and then categorize the reasons for losing. Here’s a general breakdown of why the particular game was lost:

Chicago: Penalties, Fumble, special teams play (bad blocking, bad tackling, bad punting, bad coverage, bad decision by the coach to punt to Hester), McCarthy’s wastage of a time out, bad tackling, third down conversions

Washington: Penalties, injuries, poor offensive line play, special teams mishaps, bad tackling, key fumble, third down conversions,McCarthy’s “too cute” syndrome.

Miami: Penalties, poor offensive line play, holding on to the ball, injuries, third down conversions, bad punting

Atlanta: Poor tackling, poor special teams play (coverage, tackling), poor offensive line play, key fumble (penalties were a problem, but didn’t play as much of a role as they did against the Bears. The last penalty on special teams was not a choice: it was face-mask or touchdown)

Detroit: Poor wide receiver play, key fumble, emotional let down

Patriots: McCarthy’s “too cute” syndrome, special teams play (tackling, effort on Connolly’s run back, lane integrity), dropped passes, James Jones

What we get from this is the following: Mike McCarthy, for all his genius as an offensive mind and quarterbacks coach, has one serious problem: his teams do not play fundamentally sound football. The Packers are usually aware of a grand picture, but they make serious mistakes in the particulars. Allow me to give you some examples:

There is a great emphasis amongst the Packers receivers to gain yardage after the catch. That is, obviously, one of the ways the West Coast Offense moves the ball. The Packers receivers are so aware of this (WRs and TEs) that they’ll put the ball on the ground. This is particularly true for James Jones and Andrew Quarless, who have fumbled multiple times in important games (no more important that Jones’ last minute fumble in Chicago).

Packers receivers drop the ball—all the time. It is not unusually to have two or three drops a game, and going an entire game without a drop is unusual (none more important than Jennings’ multiple drop game that sealed the deal in Detroit)

Packers final drives have been disasters for the most part. McCarthy’s insistence on not leaving any time on the clock for opposing offenses has resulted in disaster against the Patriots, and his insistence on kicking a long field goal over running a short play in Washington—even a small sneak to gain a few extra yards with seventeen seconds left and the score tied—led to a Crosby miss and overtime loss.

Pad level is a disaster for the Packers offensive line, and, for a team run by a coach who insists on emphasizing it during each press conference, it is surprisingly bad. There is no better example than Atlanta: if College doesn’t get blown up on the short yardage play and during Rodgers’ sneak, the Packers win.

What is extremely disturbing is how consistently these same mistakes have been repeating themselves. Schematically, the Packers are extremely intelligent. The coaches and players are fairly assignment sure, and the Packers receivers/running backs/cornerbacks know where they are supposed to be at all times. The players (except for James Jones, the Jay Cutler of wide receivers) are extremely aware of the game situation (in fact, Collins’ awareness of the importance of the final kick return in Atlanta messed up the game) and yet make small mistakes on the particulars. The Packers cannot tackle, and this is not just an analysis of the Atlanta game; in general, the Packers are terrible tacklers. They drop balls. They get out of their lanes in special teams. They make small, procedural penalties. And they do all of this consistently.

What this leads me to believe is simple: McCarthy does not dot his ‘I’s and cross his ‘t’s. As a coach, he thinks big picture. He is capable of great strategies (the onside kick against Arizona/New England), knows exactly when and how to beat a defense, and maintains great morale amongst his players. His emphasis on particulars, however, is lacking, both with himself (time management) and his players (the mistakes highlighted above). If something is small enough, he will let it go. Thus, we consistently tackle poorly, consistently block with bad pad level, consistently drop passes, consistently get out of our coverage lanes.

Fans are rightfully upset by this; as the Packers have demonstrated that, schematically, they can take on any defense or offense in the NFL. The Patriots? No problem; we’ll take out their wide outs and limit their offense to twenty one points, seven of which come after a terrible special teams mishap. We’ll demolish their defense with our running game and pick them apart in the passing game. The Falcons? No biggie. We’ll make them sustain long, hard drives against us, limit their big play wide outs, and absolutely shred their defense.

But those games weren’t lost on scheme. Schematically, the Patriots game should have ended 27-17 Packers. Schematically, the Atlanta game should have ended 24-10 Packers. Schematically, Detroit should have been demolished. But what held the Packers back was their inability to execute fundamentally sound football.

Packers fans are calling for two assistant coaches jobs: Shawn Slocum and James Campen. There’s a reason why McCarthy won’t do it, however: he thinks that both are schematically sound coaches, and they probably are. Some even want McCarthy fired. I, however, live in D.C. and know what thinking like that gets you: the Washington Redskins. Packers fans have been fortunate in their head coaches for the last eighteen years: Holmgren, Sherman, and now McCarthy. Look at the rest of the NFL—name one team that has stayed as consistently competitive in that stretch. The Patriots? Not really—their run started in 2000. The Colts? Again, not really. Perhaps the Steelers, but even they stuck with a non-Super-Bowl-winning-yet-solid coach for a long period of time.

McCarthy has weaknesses, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. He’s a good coach. He knows football. He knows football better than most coaches in the NFL. He’s a master quarterbacks coach. He knows how to connect with and motivate players. He is a good evaluator of talent at both the player and coach level—just look at his staff. This is a skill set that is rare, to say the least, in the NFL. It’s a skill set one keeps. It’s not one to throwaway because of a weakness.

What should he do, though, if he can’t consistently keep focus on the little things? The solution sounds simple, the problem itself is fairly simple: hire a quality control coach who will enforce fundamentally sound football. Hire a coach who will yell at guys for not switching to the right hand. Hire a coach who will stress pad level. Hire a coach who will go through film and give you a list of fundamental mistakes and hound on those all through the week. Perhaps this gets to a bigger weakness in McCarthy’s coaching: McCarthy is the “good guy” coach. He doesn’t like to get into players’ face. He doesn’t like to “lower their confidence.” McCarthy likes to give them ego boosts.

And that’s fine. He should hire a quality control coach who simply stresses, then, and doesn’t do it negatively. Positive reinforcement can be as effective as negative. It’s obvious that his position coaches are not doing this—they are probably focused on the “big picture” of each position. A quality control coach will go a long way to solving the teams’ issues. Think about it: if even one of the above mentioned small mistakes was eliminated from each game, the Packers could very well be a 14-0 team. There is hope, however: amongst all the hullabaloo of the season, one very important development has gone fairly unnoticed as of late: the Packers are ranked 5th best in penalties with 71, and 2nd best in penalty yards with 556.


Written by AdmiralPrice

December 23, 2010 at 4:26 am

Posted in Analysis

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] McCarthy is the focus at the Crescent and the Cheese. […]

  2. Outstanding analysis. I couldn’t agree more with your statements, and couldn’t have said them better myself. I will be forwarding this link to friends and family!



    December 23, 2010 at 11:18 am

  3. This is an excellent piece imho!

    Well observed – and well put! Thumbs up from one european cheesehead!

    Happy holidays.



    December 23, 2010 at 3:36 pm

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