Let’s not be coy, there’s something going on in the locker room. It sure sounds like the Packers’ head coach and its quarterback are not seeing eye to eye. No one outside 1265 Lombardi knows to what extent, but it’s pretty clear something has regressed between the two competitors. Needless to say, neither is blameless in this situation.
At this point, it is still all speculation. But let’s face it: the team is not any good right now and seems to be spinning its wheels trying to find any traction at all on the offense.
Yes, the wide receivers are dropping far too many balls and running sloppy routes. Aaron Rodgers remains a shell of his former self. And then there’s the coaching and play calling. Stale, predictable, too old school for its own good.
To paraphrase Andrew Brandt, there will be … firings.
No, it won’t be Rodgers. The JS Comments calling for Tolzien or Hundley are laughably deluded. Unless he shows up in Vegas in a blonde wig and matching fake mustache, chances are he is still very much the long haul franchise player.
Sure, there will be some token player cuts much akin to letting Brad Jones and Brandon Bostick go last year after they were the poster boys for horrible play in the NFC Championship Game. Yet when things go horribly pear-shaped, it’s the coaching staff that is asked to pack their bags and go.
Opinions range from plausible to absurd that McCarthy could be on the chopping block. Others have written about it, but unless he’s actually let go, he’s also a long-haul guy.
So instead of rehashing why or why not McCarthy needs to go, let’s look at the possible shake-ups in the offensive coaching staff and assume McCarthy is going nowhere.
The Fall Guy…
Last year it was special teams coach Shawn Slocum. If McCarthy stays, there will need to be a fall guy that will be sacrificed to the angry football gods. Cris Carter was absolutely right. In this business there is always a scapegoat. With the way the offense faltered this year, there will definitely be someone. Once promoted, coaches tend not to be demoted. They are shown the door instead.
Candidate #1, Assistant Head Coach and former offensive play caller Tom Clements.
Now that he isn’t calling plays any more, why does McCarthy need an assistant head coach to oversee the offense? Without the clipboard, it seems like a huge title without much actual duty. After McCarthy stripped Clements of his duties, he also sent up upstairs to watch and analyze from the booth.
In addition, if he is no longer calling plays, his position is a bit redundant. After all, it is offensive coordinator’s role to orchestrate and install the actual offense schemes. With all of the promotions last spring and now reshifting of duties this fall, Clements appears to be floating in ether in no man’s land.
But it is important to keep in mind, that Clements has long had an excellent working relationship with Aaron Rodgers. Would that be enough for a stay if execution for Clements? If there is tension between Rodgers and McCarthy someone like Clements could help mend bridges. His help could go a long way.
On the flip side, if McCarthy wanted to come down hard on Rodgers for any dissent, getting rid of Clements could serve as a powerful message and reminder to everyone that he is still very much in charge.
Candidate #2, Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett.
The offense faltered for half the season, the easiest scapegoat would be the offensive coordinator. Bennett has had a less visible role this year. Easy to eliminate someone the public rarely sees. Bennett has risen up the coaching ranks within the Packers’ organization. First as the director of player development, he was initially promoted to running backs coach in 2001 where he served in that capacity for six years, his tenure spanning more than one head coach. For the next four years, he was the Packers’ wide receivers coach.
He has excelled as an offensive position coach and no one was particularly surprised when Mike McCarthy pulled the trigger and promoted him to offensive coordinator last February. He has been a rising start that was poised to be a head coach sometime in the near future.
As the Packers’ offense faltered this year, pundits (myself included) were more likely to point the blame at either McCarthy or Clements. After all, Clements had failed at his previous attempt at play calling in Buffalo. Yet at the end of the day the buck stops with the offensive coordinator when it comes to quality. After all, it is his offense that is installed and retooled week in and week out. And it is his scheme that either succeeds or fails.
Was Bennett promoted prematurely, and is he at least partially responsible for the offensive demise? Of course he didn’t cause the entire line to become injured. Of course he didn’t give Rodgers a raging case of the yips.
But at the end of the day, it is his offense that can’t find away to convert on third down. It is his offense that can’t seem to find the end zone. Yes, a lot of the Packers’ offensive failures are from poor execution and communication breakdowns. But is the scheme part of the problem as well?
Candidate #3, Wide Receiver and Quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt.
This past offseason Mike McCarthy made a fairly unconventional move when he promoted Bennett to offensive coordinator. Instead of bringing in new talent or promoting within to fill Bennett’s role of wide receiver coach–something Bennett excelled at, McCarthy decided to opt for efficiency and a more streamlined position coaching staff. He decided to combine the WR and quarterback coaching positions and roll them into a single job description. QB coach Alex Van Pelt would oversee both positions and would manage both the wide receivers and the quarterbacks in a single classroom.
On the surface, the premise seemed innovative and perhaps even exciting. It promised more immediate feedback between the receivers and Rodgers. It was supposed to streamline communication and unkink and bugs that would occur in the aerial game.
It seemed fine the first six games, but then everything seemed to get blown to hell. Dropped balls, poor throws, sloppy or incorrect routes, a quarterback spewing the F-bomb on the field more times than you could count. Since the bye, Rodgers and his receivers haven’t just been on different pages. They are in different zip codes entirely.
Was this streamlined approach to the aerial game an unmitigated disaster that has reached the point where repair is unlikely? Has Van Pelt been stretched too thin where he is now a jack of all trades but a master of none?
Now that the 2015 regular season is over and every one of the 16 games can be thoroughly analyzed, it appears that the two positions that have had the greatest regression were quarterback and wide receiver.
That said, Van Pelt becomes, perhaps, the easiest target for termination. Just like in the NFC Championship Game, where the most glaring deficiency that we all remember was Brandon Bostick’s completely implosion on the onside kick, there are many flash points that people can point to and realize the passing game was dumpster fire: Rodgers tossing an interception in the end zone three times in as many games, Davante Adams’ umpteenth dropped pass, Jeff Janis’ kind of close, but only in horseshoes and hand grenades smudgy, sloppy almost correct but still off the routes.
If the final verdict as pink slips are handed out is that it was the passing game that killed the 2015 Packers, then the sacrificial lamb would be Van Pelt. As I said before, once promoted coaches are seldom demoted and sent back to their former positions. Even if Van Pelt was Rodgers’ coach last year when he had a light’s out MVP season, the team will likely not demote him back to solely that job. If the front office deems his combined coaching role a failure, then it is adios for aerial coach.
Don’t be surprised if the coaching staff is reshuffled this upcoming off season. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is all that is needed to take the same talent within the players ranks and right the ship that has been listing all season. How that plays out is yet to be seen. But there is a very good chance that one of these men will not be part of the Packers coaching staff when they reconvene to start the 2016 NFL season.--------------