I started to believe that Mike McCarthy would bring a Super Bowl to Green Bay back in 2008. That was Aaron Rodgers’ first year as a starting quarterback and the team got off to a solid start through the midpoint of the season. Unfortunately the second half of the season was a disaster. Week after week it seemed like the Packers would pull close to their opponent only to have the defense or special teams fold and the game slip away. Even though this pattern seemed to happen week after week and ended with a miserable 6-10 record, those players never gave up. They never turned on the coaches. They rallied together and still managed to keep every game close. That’s the sign of a good coach and a coach that the players believe in. It’s so easy for the reverse to happen to a team that’s talented but star crossed. Often these teams just get a defeated look to them, and once things start going bad you can see the "here we go again" look all across the bench. This happened to the 2008 Lions (the only 0-16 team in history); it happened to the 2010 Vikings….and the 2011 Vikings for that matter. In fact we could probably fill up an entire post simply listing the teams that just quit on their coach once adversity sets in. Coaches that can survive that sort of fire and come out of it with a group of players still fighting and trying go on to do special things….and Mike McCarthy went through that in 2008.
There are two defining moments for Mike McCarthy in 2012. One is very positive and one is deeply troubling. Put together it paints a complicated picture of the head coach of the Packers right now, as I’m sure the grades will sort though.
Motivation/Discipline – B+
The first defining image of McCarthy this year comes from week 3 against Seattle. The end of this game had so many moments to single out for McCarthy’s ability to rally the team, from the" F*C* this boys we’re out of here" while leaving the field after the terrible call was confirmed to the rag tag group of Packers that came back out on the field for the extra point. The most lasting to me though was McCarthy’s ability to overturn this disaster of a moment and still direct the team to make a strong playoff push. It’s easy to forget right now, but after week five the Packers were left for dead. Many analysts thought that the heartbreak of that Seattle game mixed with the mounting injuries would be too much for the Packers to overcome. Instead McCarthy rallied the team and got them into position to compete for a first round bye. Not many coaches in the NFL can do that.
Player Progression – A-
This is the bread and butter of Mike McCarthy. He and Ted Thompson have made the Packers a draft and develop team and have been very successful at it….2012 being no different. The Packers enjoyed many players on offense and defense taking significant steps forward in their quality of play and suffered relatively few regressions (T.J. Lang and Mason Crosby probably being the most significant).
X’s & O’s – C+
McCarthy’s play calling tends to be a love it or hate it affair. On one hand it can be too aggressive with trick special teams plays called at questionable times and the patented 20 yard bomb on third and 2. On the other hand it can be puzzlingly conservative such as punting on fourth and 4 in the fourth quarter of the playoffs when down by multiple scores. Most of the time I tend to be okay with this style of play and would grade him higher, but a disturbing trend emerged this year that I hope does not continue….McCarthy’s habit of forgetting to run the football. We all know now that McCarthy stopped running the ball in San Francisco for no apparent reason. This also happened early in the year against San Francisco, Seattle, and Indianapolis. The troubling part of this situation is that it seems that when the game gets tight this reckless style of play calling rears its head once again.
Ultimately my disappointment in the running game comes from a quote of McCarthy during the last offseason. At the scouting combine in 2012 McCarthy stated that the Packers don’t need to run the ball more, but they do need to "smarter when we run the ball and how we run the ball." I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the Packers really started running the ball "smarter" until week 13 when they stopped trying to run a majority of time out of the shotgun and actually put Rodgers under center and handing the ball off. As the play caller the fault here lies with McCarthy. Clements helps to draw up the plays and game plan, Rodgers may or may not check out of a run or pass situation, but the guy who calls in the formations and starting play is McCarthy. If the Packers struggle with the same stupid run play calls it’s on him.
Overall Grade – B
Overall I like McCarthy and I think he has the ability to be one of the better coaches in this league. What drags his overall grade down though is his questionable play calls, especially in the run game. This may seem like a small quibble, but the Packers have now struggled mightily when facing the cover 2 defenses in this league due to the imbalance in the offense. If the Packers are going to overcome the 49ers and the Seahawks in 2013 and contend for the Super Bowl they are going to have to find a running game and figure out a way to "run smarter."