There may not be time for Mike McCarthy to save his job. Back in 2016, the last time the Green Bay Packers looked this listless and impotent on offense with Aaron Rodgers, the two-time MVP channeled the Old Gods and the New, summoned the dragon, and nearly destroyed every team in their path.
In retrospect, Rodgers was merely forestalling the inevitable.
Since Run the Table™, the Packers are just 10-13-1, with six of those 10 wins coming via fourth-quarter comeback. They’ve been a middling offense (18th in yards per play and points scored in that span) with a gag-inducing -76 point differential (h/t to Zach Kruse for those stats).
With or without Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay simply has not been a championship level team on any kind of reliable basis going back to the end of 2014. The Packers offense slogged through 2015 with Rodgers looking tentative and frustrated without Jordy Nelson or McCarthy calling plays.
Defensively, the Packers struggled too much in 2016 to make up for another sluggish start from the offense. The organization’s unwillingness to move on from Dom Capers reflects even more poorly on McCarthy in the wake of the inventive style employed by Mike Pettine. There were other guys out there to be had the last few years and Green Bay lost the opportunity to hire them by sticking to a football dinosaur because ... reasons.
Rodgers increasingly looks disillusioned with the playcalling and his supporting cast, grousing more this offseason than normal about coaching and personnel changes. He’s reverting back to 2015, when he rarely played on schedule or on time, preferring to go backyard and create something on second-reaction plays. Then, it was easy to blame inexperience and a lack of talent at skill positions. Those excuses go by the wayside with Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, Jimmy Graham, Randall Cobb and a stable of young talents at receiver.
The foundational tenant for McCarthy — fundamentals — somehow fell by the wayside. The Packers don’t take care of the ball, don’t play disciplined, and don’t play with any sense of urgency. Perhaps the Packers can’t play the warp-speed, up-tempo offense the Patriots used on the first day on Sunday because of inexperience at key spots, but they haven’t been willing to try. After being one of the most diverse offenses in football deploying receivers in 2016, Mike McCarthy has reverted to relying almost exclusively on 11 personnel.
And the schemes have been better. Bunch formations, pre-snap movement, and unique personnel groupings mark improvements in the offensive plan, but the playcalling, once a strength of McCarthy, no longer feels inventive or effective. If he gave Joe Philbin a chance to call the plays, it’s worth wondering if the offense would instantly improve.
But execution of good schemes is as much a coach’s job as the actual X’s and O’s. For all the talent on the field, Green Bay’s inability to establish any of kind of identity, to set plays up, or to create advantages falls squarely on the coaches. It’s a player’s job to execute, but it’s a coach’s job to make sure he’s in the best position he can be to execute and to coach him up on how to fulfill his role.
At this point, the die has been cast. Anything short of a Super Bowl run isn’t going to change any of the institutional problems that plague the Packers right now. McCarthy had the chance to prove 2015 was a fluke and floundered for most of 2016 until his QB got historically hot. After the struggles with Brett Hundley in 2017, this season was always going to be a makeup year for McCarthy and the Packers. See, with Aaron Rodgers they were closer than they looked with an overmatched backup quarterback.
Except it turns out they weren’t. After the debacle to end ‘14, the struggles of ‘15 and failures in ‘17, Packers fans around Cheesehead Nation were already screaming McCarthy had three strikes. He’s out. An underwhelming 2018, almost irrespective of how the season ends, has sealed his fate. Mark Murphy’s restructuring of this team and tectonic shift in leadership last offseason foreshadowed this move. Murphy secretly extended McCarthy’s contract, but only for one year, a clear message he was on notice to make improvements or else.
This is what “or else” looks like.
This is a talented team, and outside of quarterback and edge rusher, is importantly a talented young team. Brian Gutekunst demonstrated a willingness to aggressively improve this team, replete with tremendous early returns on the 2018 draft class.
A change in leadership and a new voice in the room to re-engage the team could set the Packers up for a late-career Rodgers run the way the Broncos did with John Elway or the Saints have with Drew Brees. It could also re-write the (mostly correct) narrative of a lost dynasty and wasted prime of the most complete quarterback to ever play the game.