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The Takeaway, Packers vs. Seahawks: Third-down play-calling dooms Green Bay

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The Packers had to overcome numerous hurdles during Thursday’s game in Seattle, none bigger or more longstanding than their head coach’s situational play-calling.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Mike McCarthy’s play-calling had come under fire long before the Green Bay Packers’ 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. However, McCarthy’s insistence on pressing for big plays on third downs put his team into a hole from which it could not climb out.

Many elements of the Packers offense worked well on Thursday. Running back Aaron Jones enjoyed a masterful first half, scoring two of his team’s three touchdowns including one off a 24-yard reception. Meanwhile, Davante Adams turned his 12 targets into 10 catches for 166 yards, a career best for the fifth-year wideout.

Yet, when the Packers found themselves in third down, they dialed up a potential kill shot rather than manufacture a shorter gain to extend the drive. While that approach did yield Adams’ 53-yard catch in the fourth quarter, it derailed too many offensive series for Green Bay to overcome.

In the second half alone, the Packers faced seven third-down situations. Two resulted in conversions: an 18-yard completion to Adams on a free play and the aforementioned 53-yarder. Four of the others resulted in a deep incompletion or Rodgers taking a sack while scanning for a receiver too far down the field. Most confounding, only one of Green Bay’s third-down plays during the second half -- a worm burner aimed in the direction of Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- appeared designed to move the sticks with a short, easy completion.

Of course, other helped determine the Packers’ fate Thursday. Jones received only six touches during the second half after 10 during the opening two quarters. Questionable penalties wiped out Trevor Davis’ long kickoff return as well as an 18-yard run from Jones during the second half. The officials also didn’t throw a flag on an obvious linebacker Bobby Wagner’s blatant pass interference against Adams that would have set up Green Bay inside the red zone. Meanwhile, Green Bay saw a cavalcade of players suffer injuries, including Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Jimmy Graham.

Still, those issues pale in comparison to McCarthy’s play-calling, an issue that transcends the 2018 season. Good teams do take deep shots, but they pick their spots so as to minimize downside. Two of the Packers’ recent opponents, the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, don’t take unnecessary risks in third-and-short situations outside of scoring range, opting for high-percentage plays that keep their offenses on the field. That approach runs counter to the one Green Bay took Thursday, and the results speak for themselves.

The McCarthy era unofficially ended before the loss to the Seahawks. However, after another late-game collapse such as the one his team delivered Thursday -- the Packers led at the end of every quarter save the fourth -- highlights what Green Bay needs from its next head coach.