It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. The Packers’ victory this past week against the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, there are definitely some kinks that need to be ironed out, but in the first game where head coach Mike McCarthy resumed play calling duties.
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t quick to endorse this change as reason for the rejuvenated offense, there is no question the change had an impact. When asked about it after the game, Rodgers said, ” I will say that it’s not been about the play calling. It’s been about the execution. We haven’t executed very well. Today was a little better — better on third downs, better in the red zone. Obviously that gave us some opportunities.”
On one hand, Rodgers is correct. A different point of view in the play calling department can’t make a receiver run a cleaner route or catch the ball more often than not. The offensive play caller can’t force the offensive like to improve it’s pad level on the run block.
Execution is obviously directly related to success. But if you look at the game plan, it appears that McCarthy’s choices in plays help infuse some life into the offense that had been woefully lacking through the middle stretch of the season.
The offense became less one-dimension, and his plan to attack from both the air and the ground clearly stymied the Cowboys’ defense.
This past Sunday, McCarthy did the one thing that Clements failed to do in his tenure as play caller. McCarthy didn’t rely solely on Aaron Rodgers to move the ball, and called a balanced game where the running game was as equal of a weapon as the passing game.
In their victory against the Cowboys, the Packers ran the ball 44 times while there were only 35 passing attempts. McCarthy has the reigning NFL MVP for a quarterback, but the rush outnumbered the aerial game. At the end of game, the Packers has 230 yards on the ground and 205 yards in the air. The team was not afraid to run in the red zone, and it payed off dividends.
Contrast that with the loss this season in Carolina— that game appears to be the nadir of the 2015 season to date–and the difference in strategy (and success) is staggering.
The Packers struggled to find their identity for most of the game. They were lost on the field. The statistics don’t lie. They played a completely different game. It was a one-dimensional passing game where the rush was an afterthought and Clements expected Aaron Rodgers to single-handedly carry the team.
Sure the team scored a respectable amount of points, but they still were sent home backing with a smarting loss. That day Aaron Rodgers attempted a staggering 48 passes. Not exactly a great strategy for a struggling quarterback as he only completed 25 of those attempts.
Meanwhile the running game only accounted for 71 yards, including 22 yards from Rodgers scrambling for his life.
Clements appears to quickly abandon the run if it can’t truly find traction. Instead of trying to find a play to establish the rush, he gives up and mothballs it.
When that happens, the offense becomes far too predicable and transparent. If they can’t get game off the ground with the rush, then the defense is going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Rodgers to stop him in his tracks. That said, those are the games where the number of sacks and knockdowns go up.
It’s where stupid injuries like a numb arm from yet another pummeling occur.
But for McCarthy to add depth and diversify to the offense, he needed to have his running back refocused with is priorities in order. At this point, it is no secret that the Packers coaching staff benched Eddie Lacy to discipline him for a missed curfew and, perhaps, a lack of hustle and discipline.
As ESPN’s Ed Werder posted this week to Twitter, if the coaches had any chance of getting Eddie Lacy pointed in the right direction, they needed to take the one thing that meant the most to Lacy–his football.
It’s not much more different than taking a tween’s cellphone away to make they realize how much things are a privilege that can easily be cleaved from her life.
Whatever transpired out of the pubic’s eye seems to have worked, and Lacy attacked the ball and dragged one if not three defenders with him as he tried to move the sticks or punch his way into the end zone. This past Sunday Lacy rushed for 124 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The Incredible Hulk appeared for the first time in weeks.
Lacy was a definite threat that was hard to bring down, and when he wasn’t out there, James Starks was a pain in Dallas’ side. McCarthy really wanted both of his running backs to grind Dallas’ defense into submission.
As a result, the defense couldn’t assume it would be yet another pass from the pistol formation. If they continued rush everything to turn Rodgers into a bloody pulp, they ran the risk of getting gassed by the rush. Unlike the past few games, the defenders had to be ready for anything. They didn’t have to assume it would be a Rodgers pass.
By giving equal weight to the rush and the passing game, Mike McCarthy made the team less predictable and more aggressive along the way.
And with that, Rodgers seemed more at ease in the pocket. The mental mistakes went down. I suspect not running for his life with every play helped as well.
There is definitely room for improvement in the last few games of the season. Between the Motown Miracle and the change in leadership, and the Green Bay Packers look ready to charge toward the end of the season.
One game is not a pattern. It’s an anomaly. Match-ups against the Raiders, Cardinals and the Vikings will be the true test of righting the ship.
In the meantime, it appears the Packers have benefited from the change. How this plays out has yet to be determined.--------------