The recent abysmal performance by the Green Bay Packers, a 28-point loss to the New York Giants, has called into question the offensive play calling this season.
While head coach Mike McCarthy gets the most heat for being the primary play caller on game days, it's time to similarly question the role of offensive coordinator Tom Clements in the offensive gameplan and his communication with McCarthy during the game.
McCarthy criticized himself and his play calling in the immediate aftermath of the game Sunday evening during his press conferences saying, "We had a plan and we didn’t execute it very well. We got away from it, went to some spread things, that wasn’t the answer. That was quite poor play selection on my part."
The decision to run too many passing plays out of the shotgun formation, the decision to not run enough against seven in coverage and the decision to attempt a long field goal with a struggling kicker were all head scratchers.
It wasn't the first time McCarthy criticized himself for his own play-calling efforts this season. In fact, it was the second week in a row.
Following the Detroit Lions game a week prior, a Packers win, McCarthy again put himself on notice, saying, "When you go back watching the game last night, there's calls that you don't like; there's a few too many, frankly. Didn't adjust as well or as quickly doing some things as we should've. It's about information that you're given… I probably would've went a different direction early in the game.”
In that game, it was the choice to run the ball 29 times compared to 27 passes (not including plays resulting in sacks) and not giving Alex Green a single carry that were the debatable selections.
The Packers converted only one of three red zone attempts and went scoreless on eight different drives. With the reigning NFL MVP as the quarterback, the condemnation was that the Packers didn't put the ball in his hands enough.
McCarthy is obviously trying to take the heat off his players, and that's certainly admirable. But consider the unfortunate trend of problematic play calling even earlier in the season...
- Week 3 when the Packers ran a highly unbalanced three runs and 27 pass plays during the first half of the highly-publicized loss to the Seahawks that ended on a blown call in the end zone by replacement referees.
- Week 5 when the Packers ran only nine out of 42 plays after Cedric Benson left the game with an injury, including seven straight passes to open the second half (one of which resulted in an interception) when Green Bay was trying to nurse a 21-3 halftime lead.
- Week 8 when a fourth down pass play was called for punter Tim Masthay instead of Rodgers with the Packers leading only 14-12 in the third quarter, which elicited a "we will not be running that play again" response from McCarthy.
With the Packers owning a 7-4 record, a game out of first place in the NFC North and looking to be a long shot for a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Packers can't afford so many play-calling blunders during the stretch run of the season.
Back in mid-September, Cheesehead TV's own Max Ginsberg questioned whether the Packers miss former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. While Philbin didn't call the plays on game day, he was instrumental in putting together part of the gameplan that helped the Packers win a Super Bowl in 2010 and go 15-1 in 2011.
Considering the play-calling gaffes, the time is appropriate to examine Philbin's successor. Clements, likewise doesn't call the plays on game day, and he's different from Philbin in that Clements roams the sidelines instead of the coaches' box during games.
What's worthy of query is whether the game plan is appropriate heading into the contests and whether Clements has the temerity to critique McCarthy's choice of play calls while a game is in session.
McCarthy isn't off the hook either. Is he cultivating an environment where his assistants aren't simply "yes men" now that Philbin is gone? Or should Clements even be the play caller ahead of the head man?
It's not time for pitchforks and torches yet. At the very least, McCarthy and Clements have deserved the opportunity to adjust and turn things around.
But it's becoming clear that defenses are catching up to the Packers' offensive philosophy. Word is out that you should rarely blitz, rush only four and keep two safeties deep. Even though the Packers are three games over. 500, they're only 18th in the league in total offense, averaging 342.9 yards per game.
That's a stat that must improve lest the Packers suffer another early exit from the playoffs for a second-straight year or an even worse fate, not making the playoffs at all.
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