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Mike McCarthy is ‘highly successful,’ but Packers defense keeps letting his offense down

How many massive failures do we need to see from this defense before a change is made?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay’s defense was an embarrassment against the Lions, failing to force even one punt.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, around this time, Mike McCarthy gruffly told local reporters he was a “highly successful football coach.”

Among active head coaches, only Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin have a better win percentage. Only Belichick, Andy Reid, and John Fox have more total wins.

If Green Bay pulls itself out of its current malaise to make the playoffs, it would be a record-tying ninth consecutive season. The Patriots are likely to tie that record this January.

When the only other head coach who matches what you do is the hoodied master in New England, it’s hard to argue with the “highly successful” moniker.

Before Aaron Rodgers went down, Green Bay’s steady head man was in the running for Coach of the Year. Despite injuries ravaging the Packers roster, McCarthy’s team jumped out to a 4-1 start with wins over NFC playoff teams Seattle and Dallas.

Play design improved over last season’s bumpy start. The offensive scheme was so efficient, Rodgers went as far as to say he knew when a play was called in the red zone if it would be a touchdown.

Back in 2013, McCarthy endeared himself to Packers fans with “We’re nobody’s underdog” a line that will have to echo loudly over the next month if Green Bay has any hope of avoiding a disastrous season.

There is a case to be made, though, McCarthy’s struggles to get Brett Hundley prepared to play — and by extension his faith in a quarterback who looks overwhelmed by the moment -- are part of a long-standing pattern of disappointment masked by the superlative play of Aaron Rodgers.

If we track the throughline of McCarthy since then, there are plenty of disappointments. Green Bay followed up a Super Bowl with a 15-1 season ending in a one-and-done embarrassment to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

But the common element in nearly every major disappointment of the McCarthy era can be traced to a failure of the defense.

Yes, conservative playcalling doomed Green Bay in the one brightspot playoff performance by this defense, but it was a full-on collapse by Dom Capers’ unit in the second half against Seattle — plus a botched special teams play — that cost Green Bay the season.

In 2012, Colin Kaepernick ran all over the Packers defense in the playoffs, a unit that looked slow and unprepared.

When Green Bay somehow snuck into the playoffs in 2013 after Rodgers’ first collarbone injury, it was a finale-drive field goal that doomed Green Bay and a dropped interception by Micah Hyde would have won that game.

McCarthy was slow to adapt the offense in 2015 without Jordy Nelson as Randall Cobb and Davante Adams struggled to stay healthy and Eddie Lacy struggled with his weight.

Ditto for 2016, when it took a tour-de-force performance by Rodgers in the second half to get the Packers into the playoffs where they went on a run.

But the 2015 season ended in overtime when the Packers defense couldn’t come up with a stop against the Cardinals.

And the 2016 season ended with Capers’ unit not even attempted a stop in Atlanta.

Mike McCarthy has had his shortcomings as a head coach. His failure to adapt this offense for Brett Hundley underscores those shortcomings, but Aaron Rodgers might not have been able to win Monday night with the defense on the field for the Packers.

The unit that has consistently let the Packers down in big moments in the Aaron Rodgers era is the defense.

Most fans have seen the remarkable points allowed in the playoff stat or the ridiculous number of times Green Bay has lost on the final play.

But it’s been the defense holding the bag on those final plays, or giving up the go-ahead field goal on a late drive.

Ultimately the buck stops with Mike McCarthy. This is his coaching staff and he’s stuck with Dom Capers well beyond his effectiveness as a coach.

We know Mike McCarthy is a good enough offensive coach to win with Aaron Rodgers and that’s what matters. Time and time again we’ve seen not even Rodgers’ virtuoso greatness is often not enough to make up for the flaws of this defense.

How many times does this team have to fail defensively before someone is held accountable for it?