INDIANAPOLIS––The fact that the Green Bay Packers got torn up by Colin Kaepernick in a playoff loss in the divisional round for a second consecutive season isn't lost on Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
"Definitely there’s a lot of conversation about the read-option, rightfully so," said McCarthy Friday at the NFL Combine. "579, that’s a number that will stick in our focus as a defense throughout the offseason."
The Packers defense allowed the San Francisco 49ers to rack up 579 yards of total offense, showing that despite improvement from the NFL's statistically worst defense in 2011, Green Bay still has a ways to go if they're to get back to the Super Bowl.
Reflecting on the season, the question needs to be asked, should the Packers have seen this coming? Should they have been better prepared for what blindsided them in postseason?
The read-option, a staple in college football for the past several seasons, became a growing trend in the NFL in 2012. The new breed of young, mobile quarterbacks led by Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson helped to popularize it.
As the old saying goes "hindsight is 20/20," but McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have been wise to realize the read-option was more than just a gimmick.
McCarthy all but admitted the Packers didn't spend any extra preparation for the read-option unless it posed an immediate threat.
"Our practice reps during the week are really focused on the individual (opponent)," said McCarthy.
Whether he's guilty of ignorance or being the consummate stoic leader that says whatever is in the best interest of his team is an individual opinion. Perception is reality.
For better or worse, McCarthy shows no remorse for his defense's preparation, or lack thereof, in regards to the read-option.
"I don’t regret anything about the last season," said McCarthy. "That’s really what this time of year is for. Regret is something I think is an excuse. I don’t really live in that mindset."
To his credit, McCarthy isn't adopting a woe-is-me attitude. He's being proactive in his approach to defending the read-option, albeit one game too late.
Thanks to a common acquaintance through special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, McCarthy is sending his defensive coaching staff to read-option bootcamp led Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin.
"Just the fact with what they've done on offense and the ability to face it on defense all the time in the SEC, we thought this would be a great opportunity," said McCarthy. "We're very grateful for him to bring our staff in."
Sumlin is entering his second year at A&M after leading his team to 11-2 record in the school's first season in the SEC. National recognition comes in the form of Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy campaign, the first-ever freshman to win the award in 2012.
Before A&M, Sumlin directed a prolific offense as head coach at Houston and as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma before that.
So in the offseason, the Packers defensive assistants will go back to school, presumably not in the same fashion as Rodney Dangerfield. It's a business trip to become better acquainted with football latest innovation.
"It’s about getting better, it’s about improvement, and we need to do a better job stopping the read-option," said McCarthy. "That’s definitely something we’re focused on."
The plan sounds good, almost too good. In one press conference McCarthy has avoided public outrage for his squad's ill-preparedness and let it be known that the future is foremost is in his mind.
Coming full circle, it's perhaps appropriate that McCarthy's comments came at the NFL Combine, the meat market for future pro prospects. If you subscribe to the theory that football games are won with "Jimmys and Joes" instead of "Xs and Os," the Draft could be the cure to what ails the Packers defense.
It could be that the Packers defense is just one player away from rejoining the elite. Maybe they find a pass-rushing defensive lineman or a playmaking linebacker or a ballhawking safety in late April.
But in reality, it doesn't matter how the Packers improve. Whether it's the schemes the coaches devise or the players making the tackles, what matters is the final result.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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