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Green and Bold: Mike McCarthy Couldn't Have Gone for Two

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Green and Bold: Mike McCarthy Couldn't Have Gone for Two

As the shock from the ending of the Packers' instant classic against the Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round wears off, rational thought begins to return and, with it, questions as to what Green Bay could have done differently to change the outcome. 

One such musing that has taken root in the days since has been that head coach Mike McCarthy could have gone for two after the touchdown in the final seconds of regulation that resulted, improbably, from Aaron Rodgers' Hail-Mary pass to Jeff Janis. A successful two-point conversion would have clinched the victory for the Packers at 21-20 rather than tie the game and force overtime—and we all know how that turned out. 

But the truth is that McCarthy didn't have the freedom to go for two at that time—not really.

Think about it: After what many perceived as his poor play-calling in the 2014-15 NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks, where McCarthy, among other decisions, elected to kick a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line twice and also from 4th-and-1 at the 22-yard line, the head coach apparently caved to the pressure and handed off play-calling duties for the 2015 season to Tom Clements. 

The backlash resulting from those questionable calls, which did their fair share in eliminating the Packers from the postseason, reached a fever pitch.

Sure, the coach had other reasons for making the move, including wanting to spend more time supervising the special teams and defensive units both in preparations and in on-field decisions.  But ultimately, his (short-lived, it turned out) decision to delegate play-calling will always be inextricably linked to the failures of the NFC Championship Game. 

Fast-forward again to the Divisional Round matchup with Arizona last week.

Given all that transpired last offseason, do you think McCarthy was truly free to make the decision to go for two and risk losing the game in regulation—especially when you consider that the Packers went 55 percent in red-zone scoring in 2015, 17th in the league per Team Rankings

 

It doesn't seem like a call the admittedly conservative coach would have felt confident in making—even if it might have given his team a better chance to win in the end. An ESPN probability model showed that recipients of the opening kickoff under the league's current overtime rules won the game 53.8 percent of the time, via Deron Snyder of the Washington Times

And while the Packers did convert four of their six two-point conversion attempts this season, that's an awfully small sample size for such a crucial, potentially season-ending decision. 

A more aggressive coach may have taken his chances. Arizona's Bruce Arians almost definitely would have had the Cardinals been in the same situation.

But we all know that McCarthy is about as conservative as they come. 

"Frankly where we were as far as our young guys at receiver and the two-point plays we had available, I wasn't comfortable with those particular calls,” McCarthy said in his end-of-season press conference Monday.

He makes a good point; had Randall Cobb or Davante Adams been in the game at that point, perhaps that would have opened up the playbook enough for McCarthy to feel comfortable going for two. But ultimately, his choices were not great: young, inexperienecd receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis; struggling Eddie Lacy; fumble-prone James Starks. 

But given what transpired in the game against the Seahawks a year ago, McCarthy's back was against the wall. In having to coach to keep his team in the game, he ultimately made the safer choice. Statistics worked against him as soon as the Cardinals won the bizarre coin toss, and once Damarious Randall blew his coverage of Larry Fitzgerald, the fate was sealed. 

The difference between now and last year, however, is that McCarthy won't feel compelled to give up play-calling next season—because he played it safe. 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (61) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Same thing I've said.

Look at who we had available. The confidence could not have been high on our sideline.

Bearmeat's picture

Exactly. No Cobb. No Nelson. No Adams. No Montgomery.

Patrick Peterson on Jones. Phat Ed (or James Starks) out of the backfield and Richard Rodgers. Or a sneak from 2.5 yards out. Or Abby (whom the Cards had taken away throughout the 2nd half), or Janis. Not exactly a who's-who of skill position talent.

This offense couldn't pick up a yard when it needed to with ANY consistency throughout the regular season.

The fact is that while Janis and Rodgers did an amazing job getting the team 100 yards in 2 plays, that was more luck than skill too. We were lucky to be there - just like the Cards were lucky to have gotten the 7 points in their final TD drive.

It was the right call. Randall screwed up. Game over. It happens. I just wish it wouldn't happen to us so damn much.

Tundraboy's picture

"This offense couldn't pick up a yard when it needed to with ANY consistency throughout the regular season.'

Agree about the Randall miscue, shit happens and the D in OT is another story, but what does the season performance have to do with it. The offense improved enough the last two games to get us to that point, and if we had so little confidence that we could not score from short yardage, why bother. Not to mention I remember we did score from 8 yards out earlier.

Was the plan to win with a FG in OT? Just seems like a defeatist approach hiding behind rationalizations. Not you but the coaches.

WinUSA's picture

Roger THAT Tundra!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks. The more and more I think about it the more it bugs me. With the year we had and after playing the way we did in that game, I mean what did we really have to lose, especially after all the missed opportunities. The Hail Mary gave us one more chance, a free play!

zoellner25's picture

I said at the time, go for 2! You have the Cards in total shock, and since MM's known for conservative-ism, you catch them totally off guard. Run your best play and go for the win on the road. I didn't think we had a chance in OT. Took two hail marys just to get to OT.

Denver's picture

We are definitely in the minority, but I felt the same way and still do.

D.D. Driver's picture

I would have liked to seen the Packers go for 2 in that situation just because I'd rather put the whole season on the line with one play rather than force an overtime when the Cards seemed to have all the momentum up until the hail mary. That said. Where does the notion that McCarthy is conservative come from? He goes for it on fourth down as much as any coach I've ever seen. He also isn't afraid to dial up the surprise onsides kick or fake punt. Fourth an 2 and McCarthy goes shotgun spread... not what I would call "conservative."

pacman's picture

I don't fault MM for this one but I would have approved of it if he did.

But I don't think he would have done it even with his starting receivers.

I am imagining putting Raji and Lacy in the backfield with a QB read option.

Tundraboy's picture

Wasn't sure at the time but my gut said go for it, and I do admit a part of me didn't want the game to end just yet, the high after the Hail Mary I guess. But the smart part, said who am I kidding we won't win if it goes to OT. Go for it nobody will think we will or can.

Jocelyn Hopkinson's picture

I really disagree with this. I think McCarthy is one of the most aggressive coaches out there and I doubt he made a decision based on what fans and media would say, especially if it was something regarding last year.

Of course the offense wasn't great, which is all the more reason why he should've gone for two. Say they stopped Arizona in OT, why have much confidence the offense could've scored?

Think he had an opportunity in a game where less talented team could've had the ball in its best player's hands with a chance to win, and he passed it up.

After the Hail Mary, seemed like the most opportune time to tell Aaron "Throw it and let's get the hell out of here."

mnbruton's picture

Hey Jocelyn,

Love the Lombardi quote reference!

I had thought it was a universally accepted truth that McCarthy is on the conservative side when it comes to coaching; in 2014, he went for it on 4th-and-1 six times in 10 opportunities and he went for it on 4th-and-2 zero times in six opportunities. That certainly doesn't make him the most conservative coach in the league, but we can't call him Riverboat Mike, either.

Then of course there's the NFC Championship Game last year, opting for a field goal try on 4th-and-goal from the Seattle 1-yard line twice rather than attempting to score. That's ultra-conservative.

I do agree with you that the Packers attempted a lot of two-point conversions this season - they went for it six times and made it four times. Perhaps that could have emboldened McCarthy to go for it against Arizona - but without Adams and Cobb on the field, that is REALLY stretching the playbook.

But that's kind of skewed data anyway given the change in the extra-point rules that went into effect this season. For example, if you go back to 2014, the Packers attempted a two-point conversion just three times (and made it just once). In 2013, the Packers had the fewest successful two-point conversions in the league.

D.D. Driver's picture

"I had thought it was a universally accepted truth that McCarthy is on the conservative side when it comes to coaching."

I think we should be careful with the universal truths. Anything repeated often enough becomes a universal truth (whether its true or not). In 2015, unofficially, I count the McCarthy going for it 20 times (over once a game). 7 times on 4th and 1 (converting 5); 4 times on 4th and 2 (converting twice) and 9 times on fourth and three or longer (converting five times). What does it mean? What's the significance? I don't know? It's all in the eyes of the beholder. There is no metric for whether a coach is conservative or not.

For the record, I don't think when you are on the road, in the playoffs, against the premier defense in the league and you kick a field goal, it means you are ultra-conservative. In that situation: you take the points.

Dan Stodola's picture

Its about the distance, yes. But its different when its on the goal line. The only place you should really count as a comparison is on 4th and 3 or less on the goal line. In the middle of the field, the D has to cover alot more area, they can't just all pack at the LOS like on the goal line. When its on the goal line, the amt of field the D has to cover is MUCH less than in the middle of the field. Thats the ONLY true comparison that matters!

Jocelyn Hopkinson's picture

Michelle, I was really hoping there would be a mic that caught him saying that!

Thank you for the numbers. I agree he's no Riverboat Ron or Bruce Arians.

I do concur, to your point, that the offense is not very good at two-point conversions/goal-to-go situations. Thinking back to last year and certainly this year, the offense did have to kick a lot of short field goals (or lose home games versus Chicago and Minnesota).

Be that as it may, I do still contend he should've gone for it. I've seen a lot of OT rules complaints, but as Nagler pointed out on Twitter this week, Mike had a chance to put the ball into his best player's hands and opted not to do it. That would've enough for me considering the talent mismatch between the teams.

But all will be good. Looking forward to the season next year and to reading some more of your articles. Thanks for the discussion!

Tundraboy's picture

"Of course the offense wasn't great, which is all the more reason why he should've gone for two. Say they stopped Arizona in OT, why have much confidence the offense could've scored?"

I agree. Which is why we should have gone for 2. Given momentum was on our side and if we did not win the toss, then have to not only hold them, go the length of the field to score, maybe twice...... Rather have had the opportunity to win,, then and there with the ball in our hands than a big maybe.
If we failed I would have rather lose trying and if we won, that would have been a hell of a statement that we play to win.

Bugeater's picture

I think the compromise here is they should have gone for 2, but they should've lined up for it on their own 50 yard line. They were 100% for Hail Mary plays this year.

mnbruton's picture

Ha! Love it. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Rodgers was 2-of-3 on Hail Mary attempts this season...but hey, that's a 66 percent success rate! The rest of the league was 3-of-10.

Dan Stodola's picture

Great article Michelle. I agree it was the right call taking the xtra pt and playing in OT. I don't really believe that anything that happened last season or offseason had anything to do w/ the decision against AZ, its worth considering.

In the end, being w/o our top 4 WR and w/ a fat overweight and out of condition Lacy and beat up OL, it just didn't make sense to go for 2. A healthy OL, WR corp and fully functioning Lacy would have been a different matter. But if all that were the case, the Packers wouldn't have been in that situation to have to consider going for 2.

Keep up the good work here! Thanks

mnbruton's picture

Thanks, Dan! Yeah, the shape the offense was in I think was the determining factor for MM. The offense has really struggled in short-yardage situations this season.

Dan Stodola's picture

You can call me Stroh. LOL

WinUSA's picture

Hate to disagree...your presumption was that they were dog tired....makes more sense to have them suck it up big time for one play...adrenaline flowing faster than the Niagara Falls Rapids.....ONE play...all on the line...this team would have done it!

Evan's picture

That's exactly why I've thought about the possibility of lining up to go for 2, but just trying to draw them off-sides. Defense super amped up, aggressive pass rush, Rodger's hard count, I think he would have had a good shot of drawing someone off sides.

The issue is if no one jumps, they didn't have a timeout to use.

EDIT: I misread your post. I thought you were saying the Cards would have been full of adrenaline. Either way, I still like the idea of going for the off-sides in that situation.

Tundraboy's picture

That's right, burned up those TOs. Could we have used it anyway?

Evan's picture

double post

Tundraboy's picture

Yes I keep hearing we were exhausted, we were shorthanded, but we were all year and even more so in this game. Didn't stop us from playing our butts off all game. Why stop then.

egbertsouse's picture

Mike McCarthy couldn't go for two because he has no nuts, which is kind of what you're saying in the article. Only Bill Bellichick, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, and Jim Harbaugh can get away with stuff like that.

EdsLaces's picture

If we did go for 2 Rich Rod would have been the guy that coulda been our savior. He's the guy that gets open on a scramble drill and he's the guy with the best hands. Just sayin...

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

"But the truth is that McCarthy didn't have the freedom to go for two at that time—not really."

This just isn't true.

Razer's picture

I would have had no problem with us going for two but I think that MM did the right thing. If our offense was healthy and hitting on all cylinders, then the chances are good. The 2015 Packers did't have the WR/TE to make this a higher percentage play and our run game was totally hit and miss. Just look at our 3rd down conversion in this game alone.

Overall, our defense was playing well, making them work for yards and downs. Our defense was being presented with turnover opportunities and Palmer is susceptible to picks. Like many games, it comes down to a mistake and we made it.

Rather than wonder about the 'would if' of a two point conversion we should be talking about another 'prevent defense' loss. When the pressure is on, I want the guys to man-up and bring our best heat. Dropping Peppers is our two point conversion missed opportunity.

Handsback's picture

I also would have had no problem going for two, but after looking at the talent for the extra point it would be a hard call to make. Pass play would have to be a bunch with Janis catching a high lob with the other 3 receivers in front making a picket fence. Janis was wiped and some wrote he wouldn't have come back on the field for the first offensive series. So a bunch receiver look wouldn't work. A fullback of Raji with Lacy getting the ball in a dive play might not work because Lacy was soooooo slow. It might have done better with Starks. Maybe an option using another QB. None of these looked very promising and probably the only way it would have happened is a trick play.
So OT looked like the best promise. Would give Janis a breather and get back to attacking their secondary with his speed.
Either way, it was a great game and look forward to next year.

marpag1's picture

Wait a minute.... don't we have some kind of rule around here that CHTV authors need to be kinda scruffy-looking ugly dudes? I'm not sure I know what's going on here.

The 2 point conversion thing... to me there is no "right" answer. It wasn't, or wouldn't have been, foolish no matter which way the coach decided to go.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of Pete Carroll in last year's Super Bowl. Had the pass play at the end worked, everyone would hail him as a genius and a hero for coming up with something that no one had expected. And even if he had run Beast Mode on that play, there is certainly the possibility that it could have been stuffed.

People aren't really judged so much by the play call itself, but by whether or not it was successful. But sometimes good play calls are not successful, and sometime even bad play calls are.

RCPackerFan's picture

'Wait a minute.... don't we have some kind of rule around here that CHTV authors need to be kinda scruffy-looking ugly dudes? I'm not sure I know what's going on here.'

I'm sure Jayme greatly appreciates this...

D.D. Driver's picture

I couldn't agree more. I would have preferred that McCarthy have gone for two, but I'm hardly OUTRAGED that he didn't.

RCPackerFan's picture

To me the only decision was to tie it up. I said at the time tie it up and go to OT. Just with the WR's on the roster, they were playing without Cobb and Adams. So they were without 2 of their top 3 WR's already. Jones had been shut out the entire day. Janis and Rodgers were not on the same page most of the day.
Add in that Arians is no doubt going to bring the blitz in that situation, so the ball is going to have to come out fast, which the DB's will be breaking on everything. The refs were not likely going to call Pass interference in that situation.
To me odds weren't great to win in that situation.

If they were at full strength at their skill positions, I maybe would have been tempted to go for it. That is if they had Jordy, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery. I maybe would have went for it. But not when your down to Jones, Abbrederis, Janis.

dobber's picture

Going for 2 would have sent a message to his team: we're not good enough to hang with Arizona for an OT, so we're going to wing it now. The OT didn't help to disprove that, though.

WinUSA's picture

Rubbish...the team would have been jacked up not "we are going to wing it now" they just had a fantastic play...they made a successful 2 point conversion in the playoffs against the skins....the Cardinals were in SHOCK of the turn of events of the successful HAIL Mary....I just don't see them receiving a message that they "weren't good enough to win in OT...doesn't sound to me that would be a competitors mindset. Just saying.

WinUSA's picture

I wrote this the day after the game...and I will stand by it.
Here is my post:

"The dagger was there to be plunged. Sure maybe we didn't make it...that certainly was a possibility...one has got to consider what was happening to this point of the game. Number 11 was on fire, our D was exhausted, Names are made and ridiculed on decisions like this.

When playing away, in a hostile environment and you have a chance to put the game away, you have the offense, you have the ball in your MVP's hands and, THEIR 2 best players are on the bench, Palmer and Fitz.......you TAKE IT! PERIOD.

It was a paradigm...they did it McCarthy's same old conservative way.......well the results are the evidence.

I wouldn't be so non nonchalant as many have said that kicking the extra point was the ONLY way to go....it comes back to my main criticism of McCarthy and how the game slipped thru our fingers...McCarthy did it the way he ALWAYS does, like he did in Seattle last year and now against the Cards (I could make many more examples but I am old and might not get through this post)....he played not to LOSE!

Personally I am sick of this same old shit. And don't think I am NOT a Packer fan because there isn't anyone who is MORE of a Packer fan than myself...but I just couldn't see why they DIDN'T go for the two."

Since this post several football coaches have claimed they would have gone for the extra point. Poppycock!
It is a matter of the old boys club...or..".He who has not sinned cast the first stone", or "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones"...in other words not one coach is NOT going to criticize another coach...less they find their own buttocks in the bear trap!!!

The only logical thing to do in my opinion is to go for the throat!!!!!!!

D.D. Driver's picture

Arians went for the throat and was lucky he didn't slit his own. Seriously. Fitzgerald saved Arians from being the laughingstock of the league.

WinUSA's picture

I don't understand Donald what you meant by "Ariens went for the throat", please clarify.

Evan's picture

The pass play in the final minute instead of running the clock out, I assume.

D.D. Driver's picture

Exactly. That was idiotic and nearly cost him.

WinUSA's picture

ah..yes...I did forget that one.....good call....but the guy had the philosophy of keeping the foot on the peddle. I don't think people would have knocked him because we had one prayer and one hope of which the outcome was so against the odds.... and so fortuitous.

Dan Stodola's picture

So what your saying is its OK for arians to have his philosophy but its not ok for McCarthy to have his philosophy because you don't agree w it? Nevermind that McCarthy is aa successful maybe more successful, than Arians!

Talk about horseShit!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I am in the minority regarding Arians and the pass play. Arians played football, not the clock. The pass was a high percentage play. The difference is that GB gets the ball with 1:50 minutes left versus about 1:15. Reminds me of MM running into a 9 or arguably a 10 man front in the NFCCG last year. MM played the clock, not football - he lost. Since the pass was incomplete, one can say that Arians would have been better off running it, but over time playing football and trying to take what the defense is giving is better imo than playing the clock.

As for going for 2, I can make a pretty good argument both ways. Personally, I would say GB converts the 2 pointer about 35% or 40% of the time, given the situation and available personnel. That % is based strictly on my gut feeling and the flow of the game. Given the flow of the game, I would have given GB about a 35% to 40% chance of winning in OT. I was seeing only big plays, nothing working consistently. Most likely case imo was a FG, and hope the D holds even though Arizona would be using 4 downs to get a first if GB had scored. Course, by Mike Reuter´s stats, we score from the 20 about 40% of the time, but that stat is based on data from pre and post bye, against good and bad defenses. Arizona has a good D. No stats given for the distribution of TDs and FGs in that 40.5% but using 2012 to 2015 stats (much better offense in some years) it is 26% TD and 19% FGs. I think it is a close call between going for 2 and going into OT.

http://cheeseheadtv.com/blog/how-starting-field-position-impacts-the-pac...

Tundraboy's picture

Reminds me of MM running into a 9 or arguably a 10 man front in the NFCCG last year. MM played the clock, not football - he lost. Since the pass was incomplete, one can say that Arians would have been better off running it, but over time playing football and trying to take what the defense is giving is better imo than playing the clock."

Clock is usually not our friend,

Dan Stodola's picture

When you have the ball and the lead, the clock is certainly your friend. And you want to run as much of it as you can. Let that clock run or make your opponent use his timeouts.

WinUSA's picture

If it is horseshit it coming from your buttocks. I said nothing of the sort...McCarthy has HIS own philosophy...in my writings I have said that I DISAGREE with McCarthy!

dcbaker07514's picture

I see where McCarthy is coming from, but I thought going for two was the better option. Without your top WRs, don't you think it would be easier to gain two yards versus winning the coin flip, driving the length of the field, and scoring a TD (or FG then stop AZ)? I would have gone for two, but maybe that's why I was watching the game on my couch with crumbs on my chest.

Tundraboy's picture

Exactly my point. Getting two yards would not be a gimme but by far easier than what OT would take.

RCPackerFan's picture

I am not sure it would have been easier. They have struggled all season on converting short yardage plays. Also they would be doing it with 3 WR's.

If the defense makes Arizona go 3 and out they potentially could have gotten the ball around mid field. Which they would only need 15-20 yards for a game winning FG. I think it would be easier to go 15-20 yards in 3+ plays using the entire field vs, 1 play in a jam packed area.

There really isn't a wrong answer here, just everyone's opinions which I respect.

Razer's picture

If we have Cobb, Adams, Nelson and a run game hitting on all cylinders, I think the red zone 2 pointer is tilted in our favor. In light of our offense, I agree with RCPackerFan's thinking. Ultimately, you work to your strenghts.

paxbak's picture

Because of those reasons you go for two - this team could not sustain a drive and the offense was working better in desperation mode (all season). Called for one last desperation two yard play. The defense was finished and gassed out without any pop left. I wish this team could win the close ones. We endure the most heartbreaking losses in NFL history.

At least we would have gone down swinging if we missed it.

alaskan tundra's picture

I understand where MM is coming from but disagree with the decision. I know there are a few of us in this minority but this is my main point. The ONLY thing one can control in football are the decisions that you make when you have the ball. The ball was in our hands...
The chance to win or go home. Thats where greatness comes from.......I know MM is no Lombardi.....but if he ever wants to be close he has to make Lombardi type of decisions and be willing to take the consequences ....win or lose. I would respect him a lot more for trying and failing than I do for going the safe route as he did. Now Im not a fire MM TT guy I just want to see a team and coach who are willing to sell out for it all.
Go Pack Go.

Tundraboy's picture

Could not have said it any better. That is why going for it was the thing to do. I would have been even more proud of this team than I already am.

WinUSA's picture

Totally agree...and one last reflection on this topic. As a coach...preparation of the team should have been that this scenario that was a possibility...that being said...a coachin the class of Lombardi, Belicheck, Shula, Halas, etc., would have had his team prepared for just this situation!!!!!

TommyG's picture

Could've and should've gone for two. We criticize MM for being too conservative. Had he pushed for 2 I would've been happy even if we failed. I hate pro overtime rules and think that any chance to avoid it is best. This game was insane with a Hail Mary, rumbling power runs, multiple INT, a coin that didn't flip (the physics of which are staggering), and what could've been a game winning conversion. We had nothing to lose by going for two. We were heavy underdogs. Break some hearts MM.

Tundraboy's picture

Great description of the game!

jlc1's picture

I enjoy this site but there are times when I just have to say C'MON MAN! The coach bashing just doesn't add up to me. You pretty much say MM did everything this season and this game in reaction to the Seahawks game. Let's look closer at that. If the Pack's special teams and defense had failed only in that game then yes MM was too reactionary. But special teams stunk last year. Better this year by any measure. Defense also improved this year. So maybe MM was looking at the whole season when he made his decision about play calling. And you have to draw some kind of a line from that improved play to MM's increased involvement with both units.
Now let's look at this year and his decisions against the Cards. Which was the better unit, defense or offense? Defense. Which did he bet on by choosing to go to overtime? Defense. That's not dumb and that's not scared, that's smart.
Anyway keep it up Cheeseheads, next year looks pretty good.

mxr124's picture

I think MM did the right thing by kicking it to go to OT. I guess we'll all have to wonder for a lonngggg time what would've happened had he chosen to go for two. When I think about it, I visualize something involving Kuhn. Of course, he gets in every scenario I imagine.

Curry Rambeau's picture

I like your thinking. Let's wonder eternally like.

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