Routine slow starts and discipline-related penalties often leave a head coach shouldering much of the blame in today’s NFL. Not surprisingly, and maybe somewhat deserving, Mike McCarthy has inherited that scrutiny after six weeks of the 2018 season and a stretch of years that can be seen as an underachievement.
But with flags all over the field, an offense constantly out of sync, and a defense that looks vulnerable no matter what system is being run, the Green Bay Packers look like a different team than they were over the past decade with McCarthy at the helm. So what changed?
Well, his assistant coaching staff has a very different feel than it has in the past. Not only has it been a restructure of titles with returning staff that hold lead positional roles for the first time, but there are new faces at the coordinator positions after uncharacteristic widespread changes in the offseason for a perennial playoff team. The roster of players received a facelift over the spring, but so have the faces coaching them. And when the execution on the field suffers, it is up to the positional coaches to correct the mistakes within their units. So far in 2018, the repetition of mistakes made by Green Bay represents more issues with the assistants than the lead man in charge.
Take Joe Philbin’s return to Offensive Coordinator, for instance. While McCarthy calls the plays, Philbin’s role is to put together as great of a gameplan as he can during the week to help the playcaller. While there were attempts at creativity on offense against San Francisco last week (finally), there remain too many middle-of-the-game lapses where the offense goes missing and must rally in the fourth quarter to secure a win.
After Green Bay’s offense was averaging a miserable 10 yards of distance to go on third downs after three games, it has only marginally improved to 9.12 yards in the three weeks since. The Packers are also only mustering a little over four yards on second down, which has really halted drives. Worse, they look disheveled at the line before the play, taking the majority of every play clock down to less than a second if they have not already burned a timeout. Offensive tempo and reducing the frustratingly-high number of times the unit settles for field goals should be pillars of Philbin’s week of self-scouting.
The addition of Frank Cignetti as quarterbacks coach also does not seem to be as fluid as hoped. Without downplaying the nature of Aaron Rodgers’ knee injury, the quarterback is simply not himself. He is not trusting his reads or his receivers, he is not comfortable in the pocket, his accuracy has been off, and none of this has steadily improved. Rodgers has been unusually consistently inconsistent. He was not pleased with the Packers cutting Alex Van Pelt loose after almost four years together and despite the All-Pro’s heroics that have somewhat covered up the inadequacies to the national audience, the marriage of Rodgers and Cignetti has seen limited promise on the field from an outside eye.
Defensively, Mike Pettine’s arrival in Green Bay was presumed to amp up a quiet Packers pass rush. Outside of a few aggressive fourth-quarter blitzes and a marquee game against Buffalo’s offensive line that skews the numbers (seven), the Packers have rarely affected an opposing quarterback’s timing, leading to big pass plays downfield. New Secondary Coach Jason Simmons has his hands full in ensuring that his safeties improve over the second half of the season against passes of 40-plus yards and that the rookie cornerbacks do not hit the same early plateau former top picks have. As of now, the Packers disappointingly look relatively the same against the pass as in previous years.
But one thing that is different is the team’s effectiveness against the run, perhaps as a result of Pettine’s schematic changes. The defense finished top ten in the league in yards allowed per rush last season, but is in the bottom ten this season under new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery after giving up three games of 139-plus yards on the ground. While it is the entire front seven’s fault for a drop off in this area, it is shocking how much more porous the defensive line has been in 2018.
Even returning Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook’s personnel have looked out of sorts with penalties and the struggles of Mason Crosby in Detroit. While Assistant Special Teams Coach Maurice Drayton brings a level of newness to the team, it should not be drastic enough to give the unit a pass for its shortcomings.
Around the division, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are also experiencing staff changes. While each has forced their fan bases to be patient during the adjustments, there have been signs of growth in the midst of early struggles. For Packers fans it’s hard to be as patient with a reshuffled staff. In an era that their team has dominated from a divisional standpoint, that superiority is waning and the highs and lows are just as ever-changing as their NFC North partners.
While the Packers get an extra week for players to recover and take a breath during the bye, now is the coaching staff’s opportunity to become more cohesive as a group and bring back the Green Bay Packers of old.