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McCarthy: "Everything We Do Starts With Running the Football"

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McCarthy: "Everything We Do Starts With Running the Football"

One of my favorite new features over at Packers.com is "Tuesday's With McCarthy", where the coach answers a series of questions each week, some even reader-submitted.

This exchange in particular caught my eye:

Q. Throw to score, run to win, or is it throw to score AND win these days?

I don’t really look at football that way, and maybe sometimes people think I’m being flippant when I get the questions about our run-pass ratio. I used to pay very close attention to it, but the defenses today play you differently than they did when I first started coordinating back in 2000. There’s a different approach out there, so with that, I feel you have to have a different approach for how you attack the defense. When a team is willing to overload or tilt their scheme to take away an aspect of your offense, I don’t believe in running uphill for four quarters of a game. I understand the toughness, the mentality of it, but I think you need to take that same toughness and mentality and apply it to clean runs. There’s going to be a point in the game where you’ll need to run uphill, whether it’s in four-minute offense, short-yardage or goal-line.  You’ll always have to have that as part of the makeup of your football team, but I don’t count how many times we run and pass it. As a play-caller, it’s ingrained in me the importance of running the football. People may laugh at that when they look at the numbers, but it’s how I was raised in this business and I understand the importance of running the football and stopping the run on defense. Today is Tuesday, and the first meeting we’ll have as an offensive staff today will be the run game. It always has been and it always will be. Everything we do starts with running the football because everything else comes off of that.

I have to admit that on its face its hard not to be completely dismissive of his answer here. The Packers, to borrow a phrase from Lovie Smith, get off the bus throwing the football. It's their lifeblood - so much so that when the Packers faced brutally cold and windy conditions in Chicago in 2007, McCarthy still came out in his patented three and four wide receiver sets and tried throwing the football the majority of the time.

It's actually never really bothered me how stubborn McCarthy can seemingly be when it comes to his penchant for passing. If anything it marks him as a forward-thinker. His offenses back in his New Orleans days were a harbinger of things to come in the NFL - and that was with Aaron Brooks at quarterback.

So when McCarthy says  Everything we do starts with running the football - well, it's hard not to be dismissive.

But upon closer inspection, it may just hold up. Think about the games where his team has been protecting a lead late and fans have lamented McCarthy's "conservative" approach when he starts calling his four minute drill. The opening game of the 2010 season leaps to mind here. where McCarthy was up late against the Eagles and content to run Brandon Jackson for 3 yards a pop while bleeding time off the clock. It can be frustrating to watch and fans always want the coach to "go for the kill" or "keep the pressure on" - but what McCarthy is doing is playing the percentages. As football coaches are fond of saying - a lot less can go wrong on a running play than on passing play. Not to mention that at the conclusion of each run you are guaranteed to see another 40 seconds come off the game clock.

Where McCarthy may suffer a bit in this perception as well is in the fact that he leaves so much in the hands of his quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, as we've talked about countless times, can change the course of the gameplan all on his own simply because of the freedom McCarthy gives him at the line to change plays. (For the exact opposite of this, see Jay Cutler down in Chicago, who is not allowed to audible - ever.) There have been several games where McCarthy has been asked about the imbalance in the run/pass ratio where he has said he had many more run plays called but that Rodgers had changed a good deal of them to passes at the line.

This, of course, is understandable. All passers, all passers worth a damn anyway, want the ball in their hands. Rodgers is no different. So when he sees a matchup he likes, he makes the change. A perfect example of this is Jordy Nelson's touchdown against Carolina. What was originally called to be a run, Rodgers saw a matchup he liked outside and made the switch. It's hard to argue with the results.

It's worth noting then that Rodgers and McCarthy both did a good job of staying with the run against the Rams on Sunday. The problem, of course, was that the team did such an abysmal job executing the runs that were called. From the offensive line to the running backs, there were mistakes galore. And with the new practice rules in place from the new CBA, its hard to see how much can get corrected. You can walk-it without pads and drill it until the cows come home. But allowed only one padded practice a week,  it will be damn near impossible to instill the kind of toughness the running game needs. Continuous reps in pads is the best way to develop your running game - and that option now has been completely taken away from teams.

So back we come to the passing game and McCarthy's statement. Yes, the foundation may be in the running game. It may very well be where McCarthy starts each week. But he ends up in the passing game - and, usually, in the endzone. Such is today's game of football in the NFL.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Tarynfor 12's picture

The run game is still a very important part of some offenses and highly needed for others.Whether as the main offensive weapon,clock killer,lead protector,to open the passing game,dictated by weather etc.

The sole difference in each teams use of it is the abilility of the QB.Of the 32 starters,how many are ALLOWED to change a play,how many Know when to change a play,how many CAN READ a defense well enough and fast enough to change a play and how many teams have a diverse group of talent to go run to pass or pass to run without needing a timeout for personnel or need to just call a timeout.

MM is committed to the run,but as long as the team has the quick change artist in Rodgers,believing MMs committed to and his use of the run will always be questionable through no fault of his own and not through any fault of the play changer Rodgers but simply the situation being offered by the defense.

deelux523's picture

Just a thought:

With the CBA's limits on padded practices, is there a chance that MM used the 2nd half of the STL game as an opportunity to "practice" the run game?

Of course, a better run/pass mix may have converted more third downs leading to more run opportunities....

I cannot imagine any coach publicly admitting to using big lead over a door mat opponent this way, but it would be fascinating to know.

packeraaron's picture

It's a great theory. But I don't think so.

jmac34's picture

I think the main problem in the St. Louis game is the recievers dropped easy passes and Rodgers was a little off. It really wasn't the run game

Bearmeat's picture

GB has more talent to run the ball since at least 04. They've run well a couple times this year. I don't see a problem above and beyond the norm of the NFL, especially considering the fact that opposing defenses are petrified of QB 1 and his WR wrecking crew.

I have confidence they'll get it done when they need to. Sunday was just boredom on the offenses part.

bomdad's picture

When the Packer game ended, there was about 10 minutes left in Detroit. Now thats flimsy evidence, but seems like the clock eating was pretty effective in shortening the game. Granted, the Rams also used hurry up and no huddle for hospice.

But I believe MM. He's a matchup monger. If Starks or Grant on a run is the best matchup, he'll go with it. But its vetted by AR first. And there's lots of better matchups on any given play set.

packeraaron's picture

I'm pretty sure the reason there was so much time left in the DET/SF game was because it was a flag fest.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

That it was, I was flipping back and forth. Amazing SF won, I know they alone had to have at least a dozen.

PackersRS's picture

You can't playaction if you can't run.

The Packers actually do a great job of selling the playaction despite not running well.

But still, they have to set tendencies in some formations to be able to playaction. And it's by far the best type of play the Packers execute. The playaction to McCarthy is like the screen to Mike Holmgren.

So, in that sense, McCarthy is right. To have such an important aspect of his offense, he has to run the ball. It doesn't need to be effective all the time, but he needs to run it anyway.

Specially against Tampa 2 teams.

Nerdmann's picture

I could have sworn this offense was predicated on vertical passing. Shows how much I know about football. Yeah, they playaction, but what team doesn't?
As for the no-pads clause, that goes for defenses too. So offenses don't practice the run game in pads, but defenses don't practice stopping the run in pads either. One would think that would offset to some degree.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Your second point is totally correct, and it kinda baffles me why defenses bite so hard on it... Consistently. Sure glad they do though!

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Sorry, that was to RS. Once again... Damn phone!

PackersRS's picture

Tendencies on certain formations (Kevin Seifert made a great article about it, how on 2/3rds on certain formations the play was a run), as well as the work of the OL, who sells the run hard, instead of pass blocking they run block in playaction. Not a lot of teams do that, it's hard to protect the QB doing so, but you gotta credit Campen on that one, they play it perfectly.

Bohj's picture

Perfect example. Watch the oline sell the run hard on the Rodgers rollout left to James jones touchdown. He has all day.

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