The Packers spent the entire game trailing the Giants on Sunday night, so why did Mike McCarthy insist on a 50-50 play-calling balance?
The Green Bay Packers went behind 17-7 just before the end of the first quarter in Sunday night's game against the New York Giants and trailed by two scores for the rest of the game. During every offensive possession but one, the Packers were down by at least a touchdown.
Even without Greg Jennings, the Packers have one of the top groups of receivers in the NFL, and Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL without question. Without Cedric Benson, the Packers' running game has been adequate at best; it is simply a means to keep the opposing defense off balance and eat some clock when the Packers are ahead.
Can anyone explain, then, why Rodgers attempted just 25 passes before he was removed from the game, and why the Packers handed the ball off a total of 23 times?
Sure, there are some reasonable explanations for Mike McCarthy's playcalling. The most reasonable defense centers around the offensive line, which had a poor game on Sunday. Without Bryan Bulaga -- whose absence I was very wrong about and Devin was very right about -- the line looked overmatched. Does T.J. Lang's shift to right tackle excuse Marshall Newhouse's substandard performance? No, absolutely not, but Lang was arguably the bigger problem against the Giants.
Whichever lineman deserves most of the blame doesn't really matter, considering that the entire group was poor. McCarthy, who watched Rodgers turn the ball over as the result of bad pass protection at the very end of the first half, might have liked his chances running the ball better than he did letting Rodgers drop back while protected by a substandard line.
Also worth considering is the fact that the Packers haven't been very successful over the last couple of years when they have failed to establish a running game. It's rare that teams succeed at the professional level without a competent running and passing offense, so it's understandable that McCarthy did not want to abandon the run all together.
However, the run-pass balance, given the situation the Packers were in during the final three quarters of the game, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The team consistently ran the ball on first and second down while trailing by three touchdowns, and a lot of pass plays ended up being checkdowns or designed short passes to the backs. In one particular instance, in the third quarter, the Packers more or less waved the white flag by handing the ball to Alex Green on a second down a 20. Six of Rodgers' 14 completions were to running backs, while eight of his 25 attempts targeted backs.
Through a combination of questionable play-calling, poor offensive line play, and some less than stellar play from Rodgers, the Packers managed just 17 attempted passes to players other than running backs over the course of 11 drives and over 50 plays. This is simply ridiculous for a team that trailed for the entirety of three quarters.
In most games, a 50-50 run-pass split is a good thing. Most fans would probably like to see the Packers get somewhere in the neighborhood of 55-45 with the current personnel that the team has, but everyone will live with 50-50 as long as the results are there.
On Sunday night, the offense produced no results after the 61-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson. While most Packers fans will agree that bad offensive line play was the key factor that led to this result, McCarthy's play-calling certainly didn't help manners. His failure to spread the field while trailing by multiple touchdowns, along with his failure to design better protection for Rodgers, were massive factors in the loss.
There's no excuse for the way the line played on Sunday night, and the Packers defense didn't exactly do their part either, but McCarthy shouldn't get off blame-free for this loss. There was more to it than players simply not executing, or getting out-played by superior athletes. He never gave his offense a chance to fight their way back into the game.
I still have total, unwavering faith in McCarthy as a head coach and as a play-caller, but he dropped the ball on Sunday night.