Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy decided to alter the status quo for the organization’s decision-making this past off-season. The first change came when longtime general manager Ted Thompson transitioned to focus more on the scouting department. Brian Gutekunst took over the role and began putting his stamp on this team. Both coordinators were relieved, several veterans were let go, and the team was much more aggressive in free agency.
Most of these changes were in direct correlation to a disappointing 7-9 season where Aaron Rodgers missed time with a broken collarbone. The Packers are off to a sub-par 3-2-1 start this year with their star quarterback mostly healthy, so the buck is being passed to the only front office man left from last year’s regime. There are many factors that should be monitored to determine whether Packers coach Mike McCarthy will remain with the team after this season.
Evaluating Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy at the Team’s Bye Week
Today’s NFL is about winning now, so McCarthy’s decorated career thus far can’t keep him safe forever. That being said, the Packers would be hard pressed to find a new coach with the awards and consistency exhibited by McCarthy. After time spent as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, McCarthy took over as the head coach of the Packers in 2006. He has compiled a 134-80-2 record (including playoffs) and the team has only experienced two losing seasons in his tenure. The Packers captured a Super Bowl title in 2010 and have reached the NFC Championship three other times. He must get some credit for having some great years in the twilight of Brett Favre’s career as well as for the meteoric rise of Rodgers. This team has been the model of success in the NFC North but seems to be finally losing its grasp on the division.
2018 Season So Far
The Packers have already faced some serious ups and downs this season. It seemed the season was over before it even began in Week One against the Chicago Bears when Rodgers exited the game in the second quarter with a worrisome knee injury. Off-season acquisition DeShone Kizer replaced Rodgers at quarterback and looked like this year’s edition of a young backup lost in McCarthy’s system. Rodgers returned to the field and rallied the team to its largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history en route to a 24-23 victory. Then they hosted the Minnesota Vikings and had the opposite result in the second half. Some questionable clock management by the combo of Rodgers and McCarthy left the Vikings two timeouts and enough time to drive the entire field and tie the game in regulation. The Packers avoided a loss after neither team could capitalize in overtime.
In Week Three, the Packers traveled to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Redskins who were coming off a paltry performance against the Indianapolis Colts. The Packers were ill-prepared and shell-shocked from the game’s early moments. The Redskins went up 28-10 in the first half and the Packers were never able to recover. The Packers bounced back with a 22-0 shutout of the porous Buffalo Bills in Week Four, but, even in victory, Rodgers began voicing his concerns with the offensive play-calling. His thoughts were legitimized in a weak performance against the Detroit Lions in Week Five. The Lions typically play the Packers well at Ford Field and division games are never easy, but the Packers didn’t even show up until the second half. All three phases of the team imploded before Rodgers put together a comeback attempt that fell short.
Then the Packers hosted the lowly 49ers in Lambeau on what was looked at as a ‘get right’ game prior to kickoff. The defense looked overmatched against an inferior opponent from the onset and the Packers entered the fourth quarter down 27-23. It took another incredible performance by Rodgers to eke out a victory in the game’s final seconds. This was a game the Packers should have won handily. After the sub-par performance, the cries for McCarthy’s job grew louder than ever before.
As a team predicated on their ability to move the ball, the Packers’ offense has looked stagnant and uniform for several years now. The team just doesn’t look prepared outside of McCarthy’s 10-15 scripted plays to begin each game. Each time the offense trots out 11 personnel formations (three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back) every Packer fan realizes that Rodgers must choose from a variety of isolation patterns where receivers must physically maneuver around the defenders in front of them. There isn’t enough variety going into the route concepts anymore. When you watch today’s top offenses, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, there is so much pre-snap movement that creates a wide range of route possibilities. Quarterbacks know who will be open before the play even commences.
McCarthy’s West Coast system requires Rodgers to hold the ball far too long while his pass-catchers make something happen on the outside. It makes the game more difficult for both the quarterback and his receivers. Obviously, Rodgers is an All-Pro talent and can adapt to any scheme, but the Packers have employed several rookie wide receivers in recent weeks who have been criticized for not making enough plays or for being in the wrong position. Perhaps the receivers aren’t sure how to get open by running straight at an opposing defender before breaking in one direction at the top of their route. Rodgers clamored for more looks to be devised towards Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham, two experienced players with the rare skill of winning their one-on-ones.
Another criticism of McCarthy’s offenses has been the lack of a consistent running game. The Packers haven’t fielded a top 10 run game since 2013 and rarely stay committed when they find success. Fans have been clamoring for more use of running back Aaron Jones, yet McCarthy has been adamant in continuing to utilize an awkward three-man committee with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery. Anyone watching the Packers realizes that Jones is the most talented rusher of the three which makes it all the more frustrating to watch him only get 7-12 carries a game. And even in today’s game where most backfields are committees, the way that McCarthy chooses to rotate backs is confounding. For years the Packers have alternated backs by drive, as opposed to specific play-call. If Williams is your bruiser, why doesn’t he receive most of the goal-line work? Montgomery is the superior pass-catcher, so why doesn’t he command the third-down role? Rather than keeping running backs fresh every other drive, the Packers should utilize the player that specializes in the call at hand.
How Hot is the Seat?
Only Murphy and Gutekunst realize the true temperature of McCarthy’s seat right now. The team cannot move on from him mid-season. Coordinators Joe Philbin and Mike Pettine have experience as head coaches but with little success. After the “Run the Table” season in 2016, truly anything is possible. The Packers could go on a dominant run over the second half of the season and this article would seem ridiculous, even haphazard. There is much to be desired as this team currently sits though. Only one game out of first place in the division, the sky is not falling. But how far does this team have to go for McCarthy to be looked at in a positive light going forward?
If the Packers miss the playoffs, it’s over. A complete regime change must be made so the rest of Rodgers’s tenure with the team isn’t wasted. At this point, making the postseason may not even be enough. An early exit or another late-game playoff meltdown might bring change. In a loaded NFC, McCarthy faces a tough path to reach the championship game. Gutekunst has not shied away from making bold changes to keep this team relevant and in title contention. The fact that the team’s franchise quarterback is frustrated should be another sign that McCarthy’s tenure may be winding down. Although it’s very hard to move on from an entrenched coach and find success in a new hire, a fresh face may be what this team needs to reach its second Super Bowl appearance in Rodgers’ tenure. Consider Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to be firmly on the hot seat entering the second half of the 2018 season.