I spend a lot of time on this here blog writing about what I think the Packers and coach Mike McCarthy should be doing better. I’d like to take a moment to point out something McCarthy and the Packers do probably better than anyone else at the moment. Simply put, they use their offensive personnel in so many packages and formations that they make opposing defensive coordinators’ heads spin.
It wasn’t always like this. McCarthy started 2006 with about as basic a playbook and the most rudimentary personnel packages you can find in football. But as his offense has evolved, McCarthy has become a master at mixing and matching his personnel to his schemes. (In fairness, he did this to an extent when he was the offensive coordinator in New Orleans, though not as much as he does currently. I’m sure stops in San Francisco and then a talent-depleted Green Bay made him scale back a bit.)
One thing that most fans don’t even think about is the effect that the personnel the offense sends in on any given play has on the defensive coordinator. The DC will get the information and then have seconds to decide how he wants to counter. For example, if the offense sends out three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back, depending on down and distance, he may chose to counter with an extra defensive back or he may try staying in his base set, especially if he thinks the offense might try to run the ball. (Yes, this is incredibly simplified, but you get the idea)
McCarthy does an amazing job in this area. (And an under-appreciated one if you ask me, especially by fans who like to blame “McCarthy’s playcalling” for everything from a loss last season all the way up to the BP oil spill) Take a look below at two plays from last season’s Monday night game against the Ravens for an example of what I’m talking about.
Both these plays occur during the same drive, the first on 2nd and short, the second on 1st and 10. What the videos don’t show is the presnap motion but the idea is there – both huddles featured three tight ends, one wide receiver and a running back. The defense, on both plays, counters with their base set, playing man to man then zone.
Now, before you watch the first play, try not to pay attention to Ryan Grant completely missing the cutback lane (somewhere, Jersey Al just shed a tear) or Mark Tauscher’s late execution on the cutblock.
Try instead to focus on the second play. It’s first and ten. You have Donald Lee lined up in the traditional tight end spot. You have Spencer Havner split wide. And you have Jermichael Finley in the slot. If you’re the defense, this is probably not what you were expecting when you broke the huddle. Advantage: Packers.
This is obviously just one very small example. There are literally dozens of examples in each game that I could point out. McCarthy, as stated above, does a better job than just about any other playcaller in the league at the moment of using his personnel in a dizzying array of formations, causing headaches for defensive staffs week in and week out.