We continue our 2012 Green Bay Packers report card grades with the coaches and special teams.
My grading scale for players is as follows: A=Pro Bowl caliber, B=Solid NFL starter, C=Average NFL player, D=Below average player, F=Fringe NFL player.
I don't have a corresponding scale for coaches, so please grant me the liberty that the grading curve is relative to other coaches in the NFL. I'll also be sticking to the head coach and coordinators rather than trying to get into position coaches.
Without further ado...
Head coach Mike McCarthy (B)––Coaching football is an outcome-based profession. And so much of judging the performance of a coach, head coaches in particular, is based simply upon their record and how far they advance in the playoffs. Including the postseason, Mike McCarthy compiled a 12-6 record, twice as many wins as losses and won the NFC North division title. But for the second straight season, the Packers also exited the playoffs in the divisional round in embarrassing fashion. One can't help but wonder how the season might have been different if one play in Seattle would have been ruled differently and the Packers received a bye and a home game in the divisional round instead of having to go on the road. For perhaps the first time as the offensive play-caller, McCarthy made more than few questionable decisions, primarily in how he would abandon the run game and lose the time-of-possession battle. In spite of sharp criticism of players like Mason Crosby and Jermichael Finley, McCarthy gets points for staunchly defending his players with dividends paid down the stretch by turning things around. Next we see how he handles the defensive coordinator position.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers (C-)––The playoff loss to the 49ers, the third in the Dom Capers era in which the Packers have given up an average of 44 points and 510 yards, has more influence on the image of Capers than any other game, and rightfully so. It's one thing to lose in the playoffs, it's another to look like you're not even deserving to be a playoff team to begin with. That being said, the Packers made major strides in 2012 compared to 2011 when they were the NFL's 32nd-ranked unit in overall defense and gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL. Capers also did it with a young defense that, at times, featured five rookies on the field at the same time. The Packers ranked 11th in the NFL against the pass, 17th against the run and 11th overall in the regular season. The interceptions were down, but the sacks were up. The red-zone defense was among the worst in the NFL. Where the Packers choose to go from here is anyone's guess.
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements (C)––It's difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about Tom Clements as an offensive coordinator after just one season, but with 18 games of evidence, Clements didn't do as much with the Packers offense as former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin did. As NFL defenses devised game plans to defend against the Packers' spread-em-out, receiver-heavy attack, Clements and the Packers offense was forced to adapt. Seeing many teams play two safeties deep, the Packers ran more often than in the previous few seasons and had to settle for fewer deep passes. The run game ranked 20th in the NFL, up modestly compared to 2011. The passing offense ranked ninth in the league, down from last season. Overall, the Packers were the 13th-rated overall offense. Unlike the defense, the Packers had one of the best red-zone offenses in the NFL.
Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum (B-)––Unlike 2011 when the success of the special teams was defined almost exclusively by the success of the specialists (kicker, punter, kick returner), this season, the special teams achieved in spite of the struggles of the specialists. The coverage units were the best they've been in the Slocum era. The Packers gave up a long kick return of only 41 yards and a long kick return of only 25 yards in the regular season. Their kick and punt return averages were better than that of their opponent, and the Packers had better field position than its opponent by an average of five yards per possession. This came despite the relatively disappointing season turned in from Randall Cobb as a return specialist. Outside the punt return from a touchdown in Week 1, it was downhill from there.
Kicker Mason Crosby (D-)––Crosby entered 2012 coming off the best season of his career in 2011 when he made over 85 percent of his attempts. Then things fell apart in 2012. Crosby's saving grace might be his late resurgence when he converted on the final six field-goal attempts of the season. Still, his 63.6 percent field-goal percentage in the regular season ranked dead last among regular NFL kickers. In Crosby's defense, his biggest struggles came from attempts of 50-plus yards where he converted only two of nine field goals. Those with no mercy will point out that the kicker across the border, Minnesota's Blair Walsh, made 10 of 10 field from 50-plus. Crosby did a good job on kickoffs, part of the reason the Packers had better field position than their opponents most of the season. Now that kickoffs have been moved up in the NFL, it might be more important for the Packers to make sure they have a kicker with good accuracy rather than one who has a big leg.
Punter Tim Masthay (C+)––While continuing an upward trend that began from the moment he joined the Packers, Masthay appeared to fade down the stretch for the first time in his career. From a statistical standpoint, he was an average NFL punter in 2012. His 45.6-yard gross average ranked 15th in the league, his 38.6-yard net ranked 21st. At midseason, Masthay ranked among the league leaders in punts downed inside the 20, but he finished with only 23, which ranked 18th. Masthay's strength is his placement, an innate ability to place a punt exactly where he wants it to land, especially when he's pinning opponents deep in their own territory and not having to worry about distance when he's pinned deep inside his own. Having a guy like Jarrett Bush downing punts by using his speed and selling out his body helps in this regard. The get-off time on Masthay's punts avoid blocks. He was also an adequate holder and deserves credit for the perfect flip to Tom Crabtree on the fake field for a touchdown against the Bears.
Long snapper Brett Goode (B)––Some people give pass/fail grades to long snappers. Either they get the job done or they don't. If that's the case, Goode gets a "pass." In his fifth NFL season, Goode has yet to have an blatantly inexcusable snap on either a punt or a kick. He expertly executed blocks on the fake field goal for a touchdown against the Bears and a fake punt for a first down against the Saints. You perhaps would to see him record more than one tackle on special teams over the course of an entire season, but the punt unit as a whole did a good job from a coverage standpoint.
I encourage you to leave grades for the position coaches in the comments if you'd like to further the discussion.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.