On Sunday, Mike McCarthy showed an example of the creative playcalling decisions that can make a good coach into a great one. I may not remember a whole lot of individual plays from this season, but I know I'll remember this one for the rest of my life as an example of terrific deception and timing.
I'll set the scene. This is the opening drive of the NFC Championship game between the two teams with the longest and most heated rivalry in NFL history, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. The Packers' running game has had success in their last few games, and is re-establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. The down is second and goal from the one-yard line.
John Kuhn, the Packers' primary short-yardage back since midseason, is lined up at tailback. Over the last few games, defensive tackle B.J. Raji has often lined up at the fullback position as a lead blocker on short yardage plays like this, and he is lined up there on this play as well. The Packers have Tom Crabtree lined up at tight end on the left side and tackle T.J. Lang at right tight end, with normal fullback Quinn Johnson lined up on the right wing. All signs point to a run by Kuhn up the middle, and this is even more evident when Johnson motions into the backfield before the snap to get into a better position to block through the middle of the line.
Center Scott Wells snaps the ball to QB Aaron Rodgers. What happened next was pure genius.
As the offensive line gets a solid push up the middle, Rodgers approaches Kuhn with the ball extended while Raji and Johnson plow their way into gaps in the line. Rodgers completes the handoff and turns away slowly to the left and Kuhn follows Raji, leaping through a hole before being met by a Chicago defender. A split-second later, Rodgers accelerates towards the far sideline. He has pulled off one of the most impressive fake handoffs this particular football fan has ever seen, and has fooled the the eleven Bears defenders -- and briefly, the FOX cameraman -- into thinking that Kuhn got the handoff. Rodgers' athleticism then allowed him to narrowly beat defensive back Danieal Manning to the corner and dive across the pylon to successfully complete the play and put a big six points on the board.
This was a tremendous work of deception, both by McCarthy and by Rodgers' execution of the play. But I'm going to give most of the credit for the success of this play to the head coach for using that formation successfully for weeks and picking that instant, with the game's early momentum hanging in the balance, to break his offense's tendencies and expose the defense's overpursuit of the inside run play.