Regular Cheesehead TV reader (and all-too-infrequent commenter) "Paul Ott Carruth", a former player and coach who wishes to remain anonymous, breaks down different aspects of the Packers. Today he takes a look at the adjustments head coach Mike McCarthy will need to make on offense with a new starting quarterback.
Flyswatter or Sledgehammer: How do you kill a fly?
The easy answer to the question is “both.” You can kill a fly with either instrument. The difference lies in the efficiency and recognizing the inherent characteristics of both. While both will kill the fly on contact only one is truly efficient by comparison given the size, weight and reaction time of the object (the fly) being struck.
Most intelligent fans know Seneca Wallace will never be confused for being Aaron Rodgers. The only thing that matters is McCarthy’s awareness of this fact. Should Rodgers be sidelined for 4 to 6 weeks, as has been speculated by numerous media outlets, this 6 week stretch will show you just how good of a coach McCarthy really is. In short, this is proving ground time.
Now some may suggest this will show up in wins and losses. I will respectfully disagree (although wins and losses will certainly be part of the litmus test as it coincides with the Green Bay’s playoff chances). As many of you know I’ve been highly critical of McCarthy’s “offensive prowess.” Casual observers of the game often get mired in the “he should’ve run it/he should’ve passed” it game. I don’t get caught up in that debate simply because the game of football is not linear in nature as say baseball. If the batter hits the ball he runs to first base before he can run to second. Certainly there is discretion as to when to stretch a hit in to a double but before that can happen the runner has to touch first base. You have to get 10 yards to get a first down but you can get more or less depending on the down and distance, time on the clock, timeouts available, personnel inserted in to the game, etc. etc. etc. I’m not suggesting there isn’t strategy in baseball but the sheer fact that you aren’t playing against time is a huge characteristic which makes football far less linear. But that doesn’t mean McCarthy couldn’t learn something from baseball.
If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know how Billy Beane, then GM of the Oakland Athletics, attempted, quite successfully, to put together a playoff team after losing some of his major batting power and run production. Instead of trying to replace a player like Jason Giambi, as his scouts suggested over and over, Billy Beane took a different path. The situation he was facing, primarily financially, would not allow him to take the traditional path. They were, as he said, “runts of the litter.” Now I’m not suggesting McCarthy can turn to a football equivalent of sabermetrics to address the present issue of losing perhaps the best QB in the NFL. The comparison I’m trying to draw is the fact that McCarthy has to recognize offensive production will look very different given Wallace’s skill set. When you have a quarterback that can make all of the throws and put the ball in places only his receivers can catch it is possible to become overly reliant on that individual regardless of what a defense might present. In my humble opinion, this is has been McCarthy’s biggest coaching flaw.
Mike McCarthy often gets lumped in with other coaches who have coached for “West Coast Offense” type coaches. The WCO is not plays. If you look at every NFL offensive play book you will find a “WCO” play or set of plays that the great Bill Walsh/Mike Holmgren/Paul Hackett devised. These plays have permeated the professional landscape. The WCO is an all-encompassing philosophy of attacking defenses and helping out your offense/QB regardless if they’re Joe Montana/Aaron Rodgers type quarterbacks or of the Ty Detmer/Steve Bono mold. Certainly Montana and Rodgers are in a different category when it comes to skills sets as compared to the latter two QBs. However, watching Rodgers and Montana you can clearly see Rodgers puts more velocity on the ball than Montana ever did. Does that mean Montana was never put in situations to push the ball downfield? Absolutely not. Any five step passing play has big play potential and Montana made those big plays when they were available. Rarely did you see a coach Walsh team force the ball in to coverage. Only after a defense became impatient with the “nickel and dime” approach would they strike deep.
Therein lays the difference between McCarthy and a true WCO philosophy. Just ask yourself these questions: Had the offensive line, Eddie Lacy and James Starks not elevated the running attack, how would the Packers move the ball against 2 high shells with pattern matching linebackers? How would they move the ball against Tampa 2 on 2nd & 8? If history is any indicator it would probably be by pushing the ball vertical…..right in to the teeth of coverage. Even though I’ve been critical of his approach, I do recognize McCarthy has changed his approach. Early on in this season I saw more check down opportunities presented in the “underbelly” of the coverage. I’ve seen more WCO staples, attacking the field horizontally, on simple 3 step concepts. It has gotten better. Never before has it been as important to attack the entire field considering the skill set now at QB for the 3 or so weeks, perhaps longer.
Wallace is not Rodgers….but he doesn’t’ have to be.
McCarthy’s approach can go a long way to helping out his QB and his team move the ball. It would be wise for McCarthy to use his backs in the passing game, not as after thoughts on checkdowns, but as viable receiving threats against overly aggressive linebackers playing the run now that Rodgers is out and the Packers are wounded in the deep passing game. But you see, this approach could have been utilized even with a healthy Rodgers and only supports the notion of McCarthy’s stubborn reliance on Rodgers abilities instead of looking at the pragmatic demands a defense presented.
Following the 2011 loss to the Chiefs the blueprint was established. No one is expecting John Kuhn to become the next Tom Rathmann and Eddie Lacy, while a phenomenal specimen of a running back/athlete, won’t be expected to become the 1,000 yd rushing AND receiving threat in the mold of Roger Craig, these players can run and catch. At the very least they can certainly catch a screen pass don’t you think? Accumulating yards and scoring points is going to have to look different. A change of approach may or may not translate in to wins (there are 2 other phases of this game) but we will certainly find out how good McCarthy’s “offensive prowess” really is in these next few weeks.
In Rodgers, McCarthy had both the sledgehammer and flyswatter. In Wallace he has a flyswatter. He may not inflict pulverizing damage but he can be efficient….as long as McCarthy recognizes what he has at his disposal.
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