This past off-season, the Green Bay Packers announced a huge shake up in its offensive coaching leadership. As we all know, head coach Mike McCarthy had relinquished play calling duties and had promoted offensive coordinator Tom Clements to Associate Head Coach and turned the play calling over to Clements.
At the time, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. Since their Super Bowl XLV victory in February 2011, the Packers had not made it back to the big game, though they came oh so close last January. The Packers leadership decided a change was in order, so Clements had been tapped to be that leader.
While he had been the offensive coordinator and had been responsible for installing offensive packages into the Packers’ wheelhouse, this was a new duty for him. But it wasn’t the first time he had managed such a roll. In fact, he had been an offensive coordinator complete with play calling capabilities a decade before. Under head coach Mike Mularkey, Clements was a play calling OC in Buffalo for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
The Bills weren’t spectacular in 2004, but they weren’t awful either. They finished a solid 9-7. They hoped to capitalize on that momentum (ie, not having a losing season) and springboard to the next tier of teams. For the first time since the Bills chose Jim Kelly, the team had drafted a quarterback in the first round. With the 22nd pick in the 2004 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills had selected JP Losman from Tulane University.
Clements lost his newest weapon in training camp that summer to a freak fibula fracture, but he still managed to steer the offense toward that 9-7 season. Losman would be returning the next season, so things looked up for the Bills.
Only that optimism never materialized. The Bills were awful and their offense floundered, and Losman was even worse. But the fifth game, their great new hope was benched after he lost his confidence and his accuracy was abysmal (yes, this story is starting to familiar, yes?) He’d only return because his replacement was hurt by the tenth week and the team had to, out of desperation, have Losman line up under center.
Changing quarterbacks didn’t seem to help matters. By October Clements was still the offensive coordinator, but he had been relieved of play calling duties. By the end of the season, he was shown the door after Malarkey had resigned. The offense never found its identity and never could find the end zone enough times. The victories few and far in between.
By the end of the season, it was yet another year that the Bills would miss the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills finished 5-10 that year. They weren’t even okay. They were horrible.
Clements’ efforts were all but a failure. With the transition from Drew Bledsoe to Losman, there had been much promise to transform the offense from an static, immobile scheme under the aging Bledsoe to a more dynamic scheme complete with QB roll outs and bootlegs. There were promises to stretch the offense to the perimeters of the field.
But it never came. The offense stagnated and its promising young QB never materialized.
Is this history repeating itself in Green Bay?
Again we have a team that cannot find its offensive identity. The team has one of the best quarterbacks in the league (remember that guy who was the NFL MVP last year?) and yet he seems lost on the field. The offense isn’t pressing to the perimeter of the field. In fact, it has become very narrow both in its spread across the field as well its breadth of plays. Why have the slant and screen passes all but evaporated. Sure there is a running game, but Clements is quick to abandon it with the first signs of adversity.
Sure there is the too many chefs in the kitchen theory that is floating out there. Who is exactly in charge of the offense? Alex Van Pelt is supposed to find a way to get the receivers and Rodgers on the same page. After all, they are meeting jointly this season. Then there is Edgar Bennett who is the actual offensive coordinator.
And then there is Tom Clements. As associate head coach, his role is to oversee the entire offense.
And that is the one arm of the Packers’ game that has been faltering for the past month.
By October of Clements’ brief tenure, the lowly Bills and the foresight to relieve him of his duties. He simply could not get the job done.
Is it time for the Green Bay Packers to do the same? It’s something others such as the Press Gazette’s Pete Dougherty has suggested.
Sure, people used to complain that McCarthy was predictable. Run, run, pass or Kuhn for a three yard run. Wash, rinse, repeat. But it seems that a Clements scheme has become even more predictable: Run, sack, sack, punt. Yes, that is a little hyperbole. But there have been games in the past month where three and out was a fairly common phenomenon.
It took a lot for Mike McCarthy to hand the clipboard over to Tom Clements last off season. It wasn’t a change that anyone in the front office took lightly. The decision came because the Packers felt that change would help the offense improve upon a very solid offense capable of a deep playoff run.
But what the team has created is far from that.
Clements fell flat in his last stint as play caller. Perhaps the Packers should take a page from the lowly Buffalo Bills and do the same thing.