Mike McCarthy has often been criticized for being too stubborn during his tenure as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. This time McCarthy made the decision that had to be made in order to give the team its best chance to win, even if it came down admitting his new plan was a failure and hurting a close friend on his coaching staff.
McCarthy took back over the play calling duties this week from Tom Clements and it helped spark the Packers to a 28-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. It was not a perfect performance from the Packers’ offense, but it was much improved. Everything about the whole operation felt smoother. The tempo was especially quicker, with McCarthy getting the plays into Aaron Rodgers faster than Clements was. This helped the Packers in getting off 81 total plays.
The play calling itself seemed much more diverse. The Packers ran some things you have not really seen all year and there was just more rhythm to everything. McCarthy called more plays for Rodgers to get the ball out quicker, including a number of wide receiver screens that have been suspiciously absent this year.
He also called more plays where Rodgers handed the ball off, which was the key to the victory. Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 35 carries with Rodgers attempting 35 passes. The two running backs complimented each other perfectly, with Lacy running through tackle after tackle and looking like the running back he had been the previous two seasons. Starks was again great in the screen game, had a 30-yard touchdown on a draw to seal the win and also scored on a beautifully designed swing pass out of the backfield.
McCarthy’s second great decision after taking back the play calling was to feed Lacy again. That was made clear in the first series with Lacy received the ball on the first four plays from scrimmage and gained 18 yards. It was a sign of things to come with Lacy always falling forward and requiring multiple defenders to drag him down. John Kuhn was on the field for 45 snaps, which was a huge change and cut into the snaps of tight end Richard Rodgers. Lacy is at his best running behind a fulback as he did at Alabama, and Green Bay has preferred to play out of the shotgun since Lacy came to the team. for
The Packers are going nowhere without Lacy at his best. Starks is great in the complimentary role, but is not the same when asked to handle the full-time duties. The Packers need to win with a balanced attack without the explosive players on the outside. Again, they did not hit on any big passing plays down the field. Lacy has proven he can carry the team when he has it going and the Packers will need every bit of it. When the Packers stalled in the third quarter Lacy wasn’t getting the work and it was a lot of Randall Cobb in the backfield. It was probably not a coincidence.
Another smart thing for McCarthy was trying to feature Cobb more. Cobb did a good job of finding voids in zones in the first half and McCarthy was able to get him the ball more in space than Clements did all season. Cobb is one of the few playmakers on the offense and needs to continue to be force fed the football. He finished with eight catches for 81 yards.
McCarthy taking back the play calling is not a cure all, but this felt like the Packers more than it has all season. The key now for McCarthy will be finding ways to generate big plays down the field. Is that possible with this group of receivers? If Lacy can keep up what he did with 124 yards and one touchdown that can open some things up, except that defenses have been playing aggressive man coverage to begin with against Green Bay.
McCarthy giving up the play calling fell under the be careful what you wish for category. Play calling is a very difficult thing. It requires a feel for the game among many other things. It was tough for Clements to jump right back into it after going 10 years without doing it. Many people around the NFL will tell you McCarthy is among the best and it showed. Play calling does make a difference and that was proven yesterday.——————