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One way Mike McCarthy is more progressive than Sean McVay and Bill Belichick

Mike is pretty forward-thinking in this specific area.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I hate runs on 2nd-and-long. Just hate them. The reason is that I would rather give my all-world quarterback two chances to pick up ten yards with his arm than give him one chance to pick up six-ish yards with his arm on third down. Most quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers, will generally complete one of two passes for about ten yards, given the chance, whereas on a single play, they are 40% likely (or so) to throw incomplete, and let’s not forget sacks.

When I see a coach run on 2nd and long, I immediately chalk up the drive as a failure, and while that is not always true, as bad processes can lead to good results, it usually is. To my eye, Mike McCarthy seems to do this a lot, and as I don’t have Mac ranked among the league’s tactical geniuses, I assumed my eyes were probably correct. However, as it turns out, you really shouldn’t trust your eyes. They lie, pretty much constantly.

To check this theory I pulled down all of the play by play data for 2018 and sorted for the percentage of runs vs. passes on second and 6 or more, both league wide and for the Packers, Patriots, and Rams. I chose second and 6 because gaining four yards on first down is generally accepted as the lowest “successful” play, and because runs generally don’t gain six yards. It is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s easy enough to alter this in the future as necessary.

I chose the teams in question both because they either play the Packers shortly, or have just played them, and because they Rams and Pats are generally thought to have the smartest coaches in football.

Run vs. Pass on 2nd-and-long

Team Runs 2nd-long Passes 2nd long Run Percentage
Team Runs 2nd-long Passes 2nd long Run Percentage
League 907 1726 0.344473984
Packers 23 62 0.270588235
Rams 23 47 0.328571429
Pats 24 64 0.272727273

What I found is that McCarthy is in fact better at this than just about anyone. I didn’t look at every coach in the league, but at the very least, McCarthy passes at a well above average rate (73%, compared to 66% for the league as a whole) and that Sean McVay is shockingly close to average at 68%. Moreover, Bill Belichick was virtually tied with (though slightly worse than) McCarthy in this regard.

McCarthy may seem like he is constantly screwing this up if you watch mostly Packers games, and it’s possible (and I would argue) that he still runs too much, but given what the league does in these situations, it’s hard to label him as anything but progressive. Kudos to Mike McCarthy for not blowing as many 2nd and long plays as his compatriots, even a few of the smart ones.