Mike McCarthy will be coaching for his job in Week 8 when the Packers travel to Los Angeles to face the best team in football. And again in Week 9 when Green Bay heads back on the road to face the Patriots. This team doesn’t have to win those games — in fact, they shouldn’t be expected to — but they can’t have their pants pulled down ... again.
The 2018 season sits cantilevered on a precipice for McCarthy and Co. at 1265 Lombardi Ave. We’ve seen them shake off slow starts to seasons in the past, namely in 2010 and 2014, the two best recent vintages of the NFL’s most storied franchise.
If this team falls however, and they’re more in danger of slipping than at any time in the McCarthy era, the Packers could be looking for a head coach this offseason. And unfortunately for the team, the coaches, and its fans, the ‘18 Packers are beginning to look eerily similar to the 2015 team.
McCarthy survived that season. He won’t survive a repeat.
Coming off the heartbreaking conclusion to the 2014 season, the Packers made wholesale changes to the secondary through the draft but did little else to boost them closer to contention. A Jordy Nelson torn ACL should never have doomed this offense, but it did. Injuries to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb further cut into the playmaking talent on Green Bay’s team, but Mike McCarthy’s decision to give up playcalling went about as well as Mason Crosby’s Week 5 and the offense sputtered all season.
As the talent ebbed, McCarthy showed an inability to mitigate the issues with scheme. Rodgers play, coming off his second MVP season, likewise waned and they never consistently found a rhythm. They played just well enough to get into the playoffs, but lost a Week 17 for the division against Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings.
The seams showed on an offense lacking imagination. Rodgers became jumpy in the pocket, not trusting his protection or his receivers — none of whom were ever open. Coming off a painfully conservative NFC Championship Game against Seattle, McCarthy failed to push this offense forward.
Excuses were ready-made. No Nelson. Adams wasn’t ready. Lacy had fallen woefully out of shape. The rookie cornerbacks just weren’t quite ready for primetime. When the team comes back healthy, they’ll be fine. And they still have Aaron Rodgers.
Fast forward to Week 11 of the ‘16 season with the Packers sitting in the locker room after getting blown out against Washington. With their record 4-6, Rodgers uttered a phrase that will become canonical in Packers history and just might have saved McCarthy’s job. But Rodgers hasn’t forgotten how they got to the point of needing to Run the Table™.
For most of the early parts of ‘16, the Packers offense didn’t look markedly better. Injuries at running back forced Green Bay to move Ty Montgomery from receiver, but he was never deployed in the kind of devastating way one might expect Josh McDaniels or Sean McVay would. Despite a healthy Nelson and a maturing Adams, the Packers scored 30 points just twice through 13 weeks of the season, and won just one such game.
Rodgers bailed out a stale offense in 2016. The defense bailed it out in 2015. At some point, the Packers have to decide if they’re better off just leaving McCarthy in bad offense jail.
Putting up nearly 1,000 total yards of offense the last two weeks for the Packers resulted in just 55 total points. A red zone offense that had been automatic in 2017 looks flaccid in 2018. There’s no accounting for how McCarthy has utilized Aaron Jones (or not) in this offense, or the predictable playcalling.
Oddly, the scheme has been pretty good. There are more combination routes, fewer iso routes, and more favorable matchups, but it’s clear Rodgers doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust McCarthy.
It’s the only explanation for him consistently missing open receivers, failing to work progressions, and preferring instead to play backyard football.
On a fourth down against the Bills, the Packers ran a pick play for Davante Adams to the left side of the formation and Adams broke wide open. It would have been an easy pitch-and-catch first down. Instead, Rodgers looked to rookie Marqueze Valdes-Scantling and nearly threw a pick-six. The play was designed to go to Adams, but Rodgers didn’t even look there.
He has to take some of the blame for his own poor play, but go back and watch Rodgers early in his career. There are fewer second-reaction plays and more on-time throws. He played in rhythm and on time because McCarthy’s offense fit the incredible set of skill players the Packers could put on the week every week. They don’t have that advantage anymore.
The Bears don’t have better skill personnel than the Packers, but Matt Nagy made Mitch Trubisky look like Peyton Manning against the Bucs last week (though in fairness, the Bucs helped). It’s not hard to look around the league at offenses churning out huge plays with less talent than Green Bay possesses, especially at quarterback.
There are no more excuses for McCarthy and this offense. The blueprint is out there. Just flat out steal plays if that’s what it takes. Everyone else is already doing it. Some better health and better play from Rodgers could cure what ails this offense, but at what point does Mark Murphy look at this team and believe it’s better to treat the root cause of the problems rather than the symptoms?
If Mike McCarthy is a highly successful football coach, this is where he has to show it. Be willing to change, show an ability to evolve, or simply go quietly into that good night because if he doesn’t do the former, he will almost certainly do the latter.