Monday, December 20, 2010

Mike McCarthy Continues to Frustrate

Before this starts to sound like a "This is the head coach's fault and no one else's, dammit" ...
  • Dom Capers made the biggest mistake he's made with the Packers when he (seemingly) didn't insist on a timeout as the Patriots used the no-huddle offense to drive down the field and take the lead in the fourth quarter. You can't spend three-and-a-half quarters dictating the tempo to your (allegedly) superior opponent, then let them take it back in a single sequence of plays while you sit there idly and do nothing to stop them. You also can't dictate matchups as well as the Packers did, then let the opponent find a favorable matchup and use the no-huddle to exploit it.
  • Shawn Slocum is one of the worst special-teams coaches in the NFL. Beyond the miserable embarrassment of an offensive lineman returning a kickoff 71 yards, there is no consistency whatsoever in the return, coverage, or kicking teams. Mason Crosby boots a beauty for a touchback one time, then (kicking in the same direction) throws up a laugher that might get inside the opponent's ten. The special teams seem to commit a fatal error once a week. Sometimes they get bailed out, sometimes they don't. 
Now, on to the main point.

You just can't say Mike McCarthy simply isn't getting the job done. There are things he does incredibly well. Like Capers, McCarthy devises wise gameplans that exploit favorable matchups. When the offense is clicking, he often adds to that rhythm and allows his guys to make plays.

Not only that, but Packer fans have to appreciate his willingness to think outside the box and take risks. There aren't a lot of risk-takers among NFL head coaches, and more often than not, the ones who are end up being successful. McCarthy is a risk-taker. He'll call onside kicks, go for it on fourth down, and call for shots downfield in situations where other coaches wouldn't dream of it.

He also abandons the run, forgets he has his backup quarterback playing, and doesn't manage the clock well.

We saw virtually all of these traits in Sunday's loss to New England ... for better or worse.

McCarthy called for an onside kick on the opening kickoff after deferring the coin toss win to the second half (this is smart, in my opinion, by the way, in most cases). His team got a field goal, and they got Matt Flynn into the game early. He was smart with Flynn for most of the night, keeping him out of situations where his inexperience could hurt the team. They ran almost as much as they threw, which was a stunner, given how quickly and decisively McCarthy abandoned the run in a loss to Detroit the previous week.

The run was effective, which probably helped keep the head coach from giving up on it, but this is what he needed to do for his young quarterback last week. Call run plays, and have the patience to see the plan through. When the Packers have done that, they've been good enough running the ball to make everything else effective. When they've given up on it too quickly and easily, you get results like the Bears and Lions games.

But when the fourth quarter came around, McCarthy got away from the plan just enough. After two up-the-gut calls for John Kuhn that started with a first down from the New England two, McCarthy called for a shotgun pass by Flynn.

No play-action. No bootleg. Just a straight drop.


The Kuhn calls will be questioned by many, but he's a good straight-ahead runner with value on the goal line. Nothing wrong with giving him a shot. But when you've run the ball that well, held the ball that long, and are playing a team that Cris Collinsworth noted once or 15 times was down a couple linemen, you can't just give up on the run in a key spot.

I had someone on Twitter lecture me about the importance of timeouts in close games, as I ripped the Packers' staff for not using one during the aforementioned touchdown drive. I get that, but timeouts aren't going to help you late in close games if your team's coach appears to have flunked the Andy Reid School of Clock Management.

McCarthy blew his two remaining timeouts at a bad time during Green Bay's final drive, which was hurt a lot by a sack that was caused by Bryan Bulaga making a rookie mistake and not reading the play properly. That happens, but McCarthy got caught because his team clearly wasn't ready to run a two-minute drill, even though the clock was under a minute and they needed a touchdown.

Given how Green Bay kicked away their three timeouts in the second half, what good did it do to let Tom Brady and the Patriots carve them up on what turned into the winning touchdown drive?

Use a timeout there, get your guys settled, and maybe even make a defensive stop to hold New England to zero or three points. Do that, or take care of business on the goal line earlier in the fourth quarter, and the timeouts don't matter at the end.

Either way, the ultimate responsibility falls on the head coach. While McCarthy has done a good job in many areas this season, he's come up short in others. Despite a myriad of injuries that would have crippled most teams, the Packers are somehow still in control of their playoff fate. Win two home games, and they're in. But while McCarthy has had a few "Coach of the Year" moments this year, he himself has admitted shortcomings in others, most notably the embarrassing loss to Detroit, in which the Packers mustered all of three points against an awful defense.

It might not be time to can the head coach, but how long can management tolerate him not showing improvement -- namely, more consistency -- in his game and clock management?

The Packers have lost four times by three points each and twice by four. That's six losses by a combined total of 20 points. In those losses, the team had the ball, with a chance to win the game late or in overtime, in all but one (the Atlanta game). At some point, they have to find a way to win close games.

Anything less, and it's golfing season early.

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