Mike McCarthy has faced numerous challenges during his time as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
When he arrived in 2006, McCarthy had to rebuild a broken Brett Favre into a functioning quarterback. Favre had degenerated into a turnover machine by that point in his career, leading the league with a seemingly impossible 29 interceptions the season prior. Under McCarthy, Favre significantly cut down his turnovers and, within two years, had the Packers on the precipice of the Super Bowl.
But the harmony in Green Bay dissipated soon after, with the Summer of Favre bringing about the most significant change in the organization in nearly two decades. McCarthy had to prepare first-time starter Aaron Rodgers to run the offense while simultaneously enduring daily jabs from fans and media regarding Favre’s retirement reversal. When the situation culminated in Favre’s departure for the New York Jets, McCarthy could have easily lost the team. Instead, the Packers became champions two seasons later.
In later seasons, slow starts threatened to derail McCarthy again. At 1-2, the 2014 Packers looked lost on offense and middling defensively. The situation grew dire enough that Rodgers felt compelled to make his now-famous “R-E-L-A-X” comment on sports radio. A four-game losing streak and 4-6 overall record put the team in an even larger bind two seasons later. Green Bay essentially needed to “run the table” -- win six consecutive games -- in order to reach the postseason. In both cases, the Packers won their division and reached the NFC title game.
For his warts, McCarthy could not have survived all those hurdles without the coaching tools necessary to thrive in adversity. But with the 2018 Packers struggling to tread water at 3-2-1 and the hardest stretch of the schedule waiting on the other side, McCarthy faces the most important -- and challenging -- bye week of his career.
Though the performance of the entire team falls on McCarthy, his main contribution remains the offense. Other than part of the 2015 season, he has called the team’s offensive plays and determined the direction of the scheme. Under his guidance, the unit has twice led the league in scoring.
However, the offense has fallen off significantly since those halcyon days. The Packers ranked outside the top 10 in offensive scoring twice over the last three seasons, finishing 26th in 2017 when Rodgers missed 10 games. Green Bay performed only marginally better in terms of offensive efficiency over that stretch, again finishing outside of the top 10 twice in DVOA. Without top-shelf personnel and, at times, no Hall of Fame quarterback under center, McCarthy’s offense simply hasn’t met expectations consistently enough.
The 2018 season has presented a mixed bag as well. While the Packers offense ranks sixth in DVOA and 15th in scoring (24.7 points per game), the numbers don’t illustrate the issues facing the unit. It has become increasingly clear that Rodgers lacks full trust in McCarthy’s offensive system. In each of the past three games, the two-time MVP quarterback has ignored open receivers in favor of checkdowns or downing the ball. In one notable case, he passed up a would-be touchdown to Davante Adams for a short throw to running back Aaron Jones. Whether this resulted from Rodgers missing an open target or the pass catcher failing to get open on schedule ultimately doesn’t matter. Right now, the man calling the plays and the one running them can’t get on the same page.
And that communication breakdown could derail Green Bay. The hardest stretch of their schedule begins in just over a week, including back-to-back away matchups against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots as well as another two-game road trip featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. Those contests would have presented challenges for Packers in any context, let alone with an offense still working out its issues.
The bye week arrives at a fortuitous moment for the Packers. Not only can the myriad injured contributors receive a chance to heal, but McCarthy can take a deeper look at the offense and try to resolve its issues. For his part, he understands the importance of that part of the job.
”We spend a lot of time on us, on self scout,” McCarthy said last week. “Not to disrespect any opponent, because at the end of the day, I don’t care who comes out of the tunnel. If we do the things we’re capable of doing, with the energy and focus, god bless the other guy.”
Perhaps, but the Packers haven’t played up to their capabilities in 2018. If McCarthy doesn’t right the ship soon, he might not get another chance next season.