If the Thanksgiving night loss to the Chicago Bears was sad, then the loss this past Sunday in Arizona was painful. It was, perhaps, the single worst loss of the Mike McCarthy/Aaron Rodgers era. While there is no arguing that the Arizona Cardinals are a championship caliber team, there is no doubt that the a shell of the former preseason Super Bowl favorite Packers showed up to play.
The team has a brief respite in its tailspin after McCarthy resumed play calling duties. Victories at Dallas and Oakland briefly staunched hemorrhaging, but every offensive flaw was once again on display as the Packers were systematically destroyed earlier in the week.
I’ve addressed concerns with the receiving corps as well as Aaron Rodgers in past posts. R0dgers continues to drown in his own offense, but there are glimmers that his head is once again above water. The receivers continue to drop too many balls. Far too many, to the point that there are memes aplenty mocking the receivers woes all over the internet. I’ve even looked at Associate Head Coach Tom Clements’ dismal track record as the chief play caller in Buffalo.
Perhaps it is time to look at the big cheese himself. Is head coach Mike McCarthy part of the problem?
And no, I’m not jumping on the asinine bandwagon to call for Chip Kelly to replace him. I want the team to win, remember?
It’s deja vu all over again
While we were all excited that he reclaimed play calling duties a few weeks ago, it is important to remember that there were calls for him to give it up last year. In fact most were elated with the pulled the trigger in the offseason and restructured the offensive leadership, electing to take less of a micromanaging role and more of a bigger picture feel for his own leadership.
Remember the criticisms? His plays were stale and predictable. No killer instinct. Short pass, short pass, and a Kuhn run for three yards. In fact on third and short, you could hear the home crowd crying for John Kuhn even before he would take the field.
Well, surprise, surprise, not much has changed, only this time around the short passes weren’t a guarantee.
Eddie Lacy was benched for fumbling the ball. He was also taken out of the rotation for his curfew tardiness in Detroit. That saga doesn’t need to be rehashed.
But then he benched one of the few receivers that seems to have chemistry with Rodgers this past week after a single dropped ball. Jared Abbrederis was the latest on McCarthy’s naughty list that was essentially sat the rest of the game for a single transgression.
While he isn’t a starter by any stretch of the imagination, Abbrederis runs clean routes and has the speed that helps fill in some of the holes left behind by Jordy Nelson.
Yet one drop and to the black hole with him.
McCarthy skirted the issue two days ago when the press pointedly asked about it. He blamed the play sheet. McCarthy said, “Jared Abbrederis had some opportunities. He had a dropped ball on a big play there. However the substitution pattern go for each position group after that are usually based on performance. Obviously our offense was poor, so I don’t really think this is the time to talk about snaps.”
But using McCarthy’s own logic, wouldn’t that mean that Abbrederis would’ve rotated back in at some time?
Instead he watched the remainder of the game while Davante Adams let a potential touchdown sail through his hands. As for Adams, he doubled down and added, “You know, really who plays, where they play really has no concern. It’s really not even a topic in here. Those decisions are football decisions. … I’m not saying Jared didn’t play because of that one play, that’s just the way the rotation came about.”
Sure, the coach decides who plays and who does not, but isn’t a bit ridiculous to pull the few positive sparks the offense may have just to prove a point seems foolhardy from the outside the looking in and a little too overtly of territorial marking of the proverbial corners to remind everyone who is boss. It’s leading by force not by example.
Stubborn to a fault
McCarthy’s Achilles’ heel may not be his actual play calling, per se, but rather his approach to change. He’s stubborn to a fault, often at the detriment of making the appropriate adjustments. At times, he is so committed to a pre-determined set of plays and formations regardless of the efficacy of the set of plays. It’s in print, so it is hard and fast.
If he has predetermined that the pass is going to win the game, the running game vanishes into the woodwork. If he’s mad at either Eddie Lacy or James Starks for dropping the ball, he’ll give it to Crockett who has had little to no actual game day experience with Aaron Rodgers. Those blocking for him because those who drop the ball must be punished even if it means Rodgers gets pummeled all the more with no running game.
Instead of making the offense less predictable, when things go wrong, he boils it down to a few plays that he tries to use over and over again as if he’s trying to pound a square peg through a round hole even if it’s not working.
When Josh Walker or JC Tretter faltered at protecting Rodgers, he didn’t add a tight end or John Kuhn to shore up the line as reinforcements until the end of the game.
And what about pulling Rodgers? It was already garbage time part way through the third quarter. Why did he risk his franchise player for nearly a quarter longer than he needed to? Would an extra touchdown in garbage time be worth losing Rodgers to a fractured clavicle, concussion or career-ending knee injury all for a handful of points that won’t change the course of a very ugly loss?
Scratch the surface, and it appears the risks of McCarthy’s stubbornness are starting to outstrip any possible benefit. Couple that with what looks like authoritarian moves to maintain control, and it begs the question:
Has McCarthy lost the locker room?
Critics are quick to point the fingers at the Packers’ fickle quarterback. But is Rodgers the issue here? No doubt, he factors into this season’s problems. But do many of the issues stem from McCarthy himself. A coach in control of his team doesn’t need to rule with punishment and benchings. A coach in control of the situation doesn’t lash out at the press for asking fairly pedestrian questions.
Former tight end Mark Chmura tweeted this week that Rodgers didn’t fear his coach enough.
But is that the right approach? Is fear what is really needed. Fear tends to be a product of a dysfunctional relationship whether it is in a family or at work. And it is also very dysfunctional when it comes from to a team. Fear does not equate respect. In fact, it is the antithesis of respect. It doesn’t make a team better or a coach stronger. Fear creates divide, hard feelings and animosity.
Could the opposite problem be true? Is the issue not that Rodgers doesn’t fear his head coach? At this point does McCarthy have anything left to offer as trust erodes from the team and dissent brews, byproduct of his territorial and stubborn behavior.