Mike McCarthy Was One of NFL's Most Aggressive Coaches in 2017

Much to the dismay of some, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was one of the most aggressive of his kind this past season.

According to the Football Outsiders Aggressiveness Index for 2017, McCarthy measured in the top-five of a multitude of categories that coincide with going for it on fourth down.

According to the index, McCarthy earned an AI [Aggressiveness Index] score of 1.62, meaning he's 62 percent more likely to go for it than the average coach in a similar situation. A measurement that only partially debunks a lot of the criticism McCarthy has faced over the years for being "conservative."

Based off of FO's metrics, McCarthy is certainly far and away from being the latter.

Much of the story in 2017 for Philadelphia Eagles coach and former Packers quarterback Doug Pederson was that he was more aggressive than 31 other coaches. However, according to FO, one of the reasons for that is simply due to the Eagles' tendency to face fourth-and-1 situations more often than any other team. 

"The Eagles ended up with 23 different fourth-and-1 opportunities that qualified for Aggressiveness Index," wrote Aaron Schatz, one of the primary composers of the index. "No other team had more than 17. Tampa Bay only had two."

Schatz's work included a variety of different situations that may or may not have qualified in the metric. For example, they didn't discount teams being in fourth-and-1 situations and then being smacked with a delay of game penalty, forcing them to move five yards in the opposite direction.

They also accounted for game situations, not grouping in teams whose backs were to the wall in games where they had absolutely no choice but to go for it on fourth-and-short.

"The Aggressiveness Index excludes obvious catch-up situations: third quarter, trailing by 15 or more points; fourth quarter, trailing by nine or more points; and in the last five minutes of the game, trailing by any amount. It also excludes the last 10 seconds of the first half, and it adjusts for when a play doesn't actually record as fourth-and-short because of one of those bogus delay of game penalties that moves the punter back five yards. Only regular season is included."

The information displayed through the index goes hand-in-hand with how efficient the Packers were on fourth down during the regular season. Of their league-high 28 attempts on fourth down, the Packers converted 15 of them, second in the league behind -- you guessed it -- Pederson's Eagles, according to ESPN.

The Packers finished the season with a 53.6 percent conversion rate on fourth down, their highest since 2013 (69.2).

Coincidentally, the aforementioned two of the three seasons that the Packers recorded their best conversion rates on fourth down in the McCarthy era are when they were playing with backup quarterbacks for a majority of the season. The only exception is 2012 when Green Bay finished the campaign with a 53.8 percentage.

In 2013, Rodgers missed eight games with a broken collarbone and in 2017, he missed nine with the same injury on the opposite (throwing) shoulder. It could be that with the likes of Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace, Matt Flynn and Brett Hundley, McCarthy felt more inclined to gamble in certain situations.

According to FO's index, the Packers were in 14 fourth-and-1 situations in 2017, and McCarthy went for the conversion eight times, or, 57.1 percent: fourth-highest among coaches. He was only projected to go for the first down in those situations 5.40 times during the course of the season, almost half of the eight he finished with.

When the Packers were in the NFL's average for field goal range -- between the 31 an 37-yard hashmarks, McCarthy didn't call upon Mason Crosby in 57.1 percent of fourth-and-1 situations. 

He converted a first down in four of his seven attempts, making his conversion percentage in that situation the third-highest in the league behind, surprisingly, Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson and the Tennessee Titans' Mike Mularkey, however, both had two and three fewer attempts, respectively.

While playing with backups at the signal-caller position may have attributed to McCarthy rolling the dice more than he typically does, the Packers' defense may have -- unfortunately -- played a role as well. The less time that unit previously coordinated by Dom Capers spent on the field in 2017, the better.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (69)

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 05:45 am

Important to note here:
Go for it and make it: aggressive
Go for it and don’t make it: foolish.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:11 am

Go for it and don't make it: desperate?

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:44 am

Also correct.

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rdent's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:17 am

I was going to say this was more than likely out of desperation than aggressiveness.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:37 pm

I think that interpretation ends up connected to Ws and Ls...

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Duplicate

Deleted

Boop

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flackcatcher's picture

February 01, 2018 at 05:53 am

Success is a team effort. Failure is also a team effort. The failure of this years Packer team on the field rests with Mike McCarthy as head coach. Fair, not really, that just the way it is. What we fans are finding out is how much meddling Mark Murphy did last year. From the front office, to on the field last year's Packers was a total team effort. (Ugh!)

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:13 am

" The failure of this years Packer team on the field rests with Mike McCarthy as head coach. "

If you want to be a HC and you want all the accolades that go with success, you better be prepared to suck up all the negativity that comes with failure. The buck stops for on-field activity with MM. People complain that he's got an ego? I would argue that you have to have at least some ego to want this kind of position.

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croatpackfan's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:35 am

Very well said, dobber...

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cuervo's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:16 am

Murphy, until this year, has zero involvement with the on the field product. You did miss it, because it's not there.

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Coldworld's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:39 pm

Murphy built a sledding hill and a hotel and so on and totally missed the increasing disfunction going on around TT

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 06:54 am

McCarthy has been aggressive in 4th down decisions for a good long while now.

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D.D.Driver's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:50 am

Yeah. I don't get the "conservative" criticism. If anything, I'd like McCarthy to be more conservative. Shotgun on third and short drives me nuts.

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Coldworld's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:42 pm

I like his aggression more often than not. I don’t think McCarthy is at all conservatives. I do however think he lacks imagination some times. I have some hope that Philbin will help with that. Add a little unpredictability and MM’s aggression might yeild a higher dividend.

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Razer's picture

February 01, 2018 at 06:56 am

It would be interesting to see how many of the 4th down attempts were with Hundley at the helm. There was a desperation to win at all cost when Rodgers went down. I get it - go down swinging.

I would also be interested to know how many attempts to go for it on 4th down happened to the Packers. It seemed like, when our defense couldn't get off the field, teams didn't hesitate to 'go for it'.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:20 am

I was thinking the same thing about how much was with Rodgers and with Hundley.

I think the opposing teams went for it more because they didn't fear Hundley. Rodgers they feared giving up field position.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:46 am

If anything, Hundley made the Packers less aggressive on 4th.

Think about it...4th and 3 from outside FG range but on the opponent's side of the field. Are you more likely to go for it with Hundley or Rodgers? Personally, I'd be pretty comfortable counting on Rodgers to get 3. Not so much with Hundley.

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Razer's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:56 am

I was curious if the stats would bear out a difference between Hundley versus Rodgers at the helm.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:11 am

I don't know. But MM has scored high on the "aggression meter" in studies/rankings done prior to last season.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:04 am

I'd prefer he be more aggressive on other downs. Like 3rd!

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Tundraboy's picture

February 01, 2018 at 10:47 am

I guess the MM apologists don't like my comment. Oh well I'll live.

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4thand1's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:24 am

They are not MM apologists, just disgruntled dislikers of everything.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Not me.
I, for one, am extremely gruntled.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Would that make you a "gruntled liker"?

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 03:44 pm

Indeed it would.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:21 am

There is a difference between being aggressive, playing to win, and playing not to lose.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Or playing to tie.
Or wearing a tie.
Or kissing one's sister.
Or kissing more than one sister.

I could go on all day.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:35 pm

"I could go on all day"

Sheesh, just how many sisters do you have?

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 06:46 pm

Just two, after that I’d move on to other people’s sisters, of which there is a plentiful supply.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:10 pm

Or playing for the tie. Well, a 0-0-16 record would be unique, interesting, etc.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:32 pm

As unique as the ‘72 Dolphins!

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Hematite's picture

February 01, 2018 at 01:23 pm

You hit it right on the head!
With a lead in big games McCarthy goes into a shell and plays not to lose.
That's where he's not aggressive, he refuses to keep his foot on the opponent's throat.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 06:47 pm

That means he runs the ball unsuccessfully. If he’d pass the ball unsuccessfully, he’d be labeled stupid.

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Coldworld's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:46 pm

Well at least we hopefully won’t have a defense that will go into prevent mode early in Q3 if we are ahead. A Reason to be cheerful

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Spud Rapids's picture

February 02, 2018 at 10:46 am

Really? outside of the 2014 NFC Championship game when has McCarthy/Packers given up a lead in a big game?

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4thand10's picture

February 02, 2018 at 01:05 pm

My dig on MM is the same as it has always been.... He puts himself in 4th and 1 because he wanted a failed 3rd and 1 pass.

My point is that if you know what your going to do if you don't make it, why not run the ball twice? Especially when your RBs are playing well. Why pass all the time on 3rd and 1? I realize you want to catch the defense but sometimes you just run it on third and short the way football is played.

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TJ Coon's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:31 am

You say aggressive, I say desperate. Imo, for years Mike McCarthy's offense has been very preditable leaving the team in positions where it has been necessary to go for it do to the lack of momentum and the possibility of the game being over before barely starting. It shows desperation and lack of confidence in your team. In the end, it says no Aaron no chance.

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croatpackfan's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:37 am

Oh, you must be another expert!

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:58 am

First off, I'll say this: I agree that the Packers offense lacks from a fan's perspective in originality and in variety. It does only a few things and seems to want for new formations and personnel groups. Plays that really make you stop and say, "did they really just run that?"...and mean it in a good way are few and far between.

That said, we can talk about it being stale, but it has been a high-end offense in the league for many years. If you look over the last 9 seasons (since 2009) the Packers average finish in total yards is 10.8, and in points scored is 7.6. That includes this just past disastrous 2017 season (26th and 21st) and that bizarre 2015 season (23rd and 15th). Absent those two seasons the Packers' average finish is 6.8 in yards and 4.6 in points. We can talk about a stale offense, but the numbers indicate that behind ARod, the offense has been getting it done.

That's the key operator here: an ARod at his peak has been the driving force. When he was off in 2015...ugh. When he was hurt in 2017...ugh. But even in 2013 when he was hurt, this offense was 3rd in yards and 8th in points...they were also -3 in TOs. In the end, that's what's saved this team from being the perennial 7-9 team the Saints have been for awhile now (up til this year): winning the TO battle on an annual basis by a large margin. What does it mean for this offense going forward as #12s skills decline and he likely becomes more fragile and less able to win on his arm talent? What does it mean as his contract gobbles up more of the available cap and his supporting cast turns over?

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:21 pm

I also think this "predictable" idea comes from fans who watch all 60 plus minutes of every GB game, and other teams just occasionally. Naturally the familiarity with GB is going to make MM seem more predictable. And if "predictable" merely means "run" or "pass" and I predicted "pass" on every play, I'd be correct way more than half the time. But GB and all teams self-scout so I have a tough time believing that GB is truly predictable.

I bet you all saw this coming, too.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:33 pm

True...the running joke here for a long time was "first down pass, second down run, third down incompletion, fourth down punt." That's one form of predictable.

The other was with Hundley at QB and the Packers putting Cobb out on the boundary, then running him in motion just prior to the snap. I can think of only one instance out of 7 or more where he DIDN'T get the football, either as a handoff or on a dumpoff. That's telegraphing your tendencies to the point where even I was yelling "NOOOOOO!" before the ball was even snapped. Hey, it worked once against the Saints...

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Coldworld's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:49 pm

Predictable we were as you lay out, but also in the sets we sent out and the route trees. We weren’t always so limited. We used to mix up the personnel and do some different things. I increasingly wonder if that was Philbin. Now he is back I certainly hope it was!

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Tundraboy's picture

February 01, 2018 at 10:50 am

I wouldn't say the game being over but in terms of in-game adjustments McCarthy usually is a step or two behind the momentum swings

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John Kirk's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:49 am

The FO numbers are hysterical. When you have the greatest QB of all time you go for it a lot less than you do with scrubs like Hundley, Seneca and Scott Tolzien.

What these numbers tell me is what most of us know. Mike coasts and rides the coattails of 12 to success. When Aaron isn't there masking his deficiencies he's over compensating for not having the coverage.

When Mike actually gets around to coaching not coasting the results are not encouraging.

Think about that mindset...I have the GOAT, I think I'll punt and trust my defense. When he has Hundley or scintillating Seneca, I think I better go for it? The approach should be the same or the reverse.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:09 am

I don't know if he was more or less likely to go for it on 4th this year or not. But it sure as hell isn't something new for him. I don't want to say he's "always" been aggressive on 4th because I don't remember much about that from a decade ago. But it certainly wasn't something new for this year. He's not been shy about trusting Rodgers on 4th.

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John Kirk's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:23 am

The FO piece indicated he went for it MORE with his backups than with his GOAT, not that he didn't go for it often with 12. When you have our defense why would you ever want to punt it?

The 57 yard FG attempt at Heinz should have been addressed somewhere in that FO piece. That had to be one of the worst decisions by any coach all season.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:58 am

Sample size is a factor.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:09 am

I checked the numbers and the Packers listed as having the most 4th-and-### attempts in the league this year at 28. Philly was second with 26. Some teams (like the Vikings and Steelers) had single digit attempts all season. It's stated above that they whittled out some of the non-play plays, so how the totals looked after that, I'm not sure. I think a telling number would be the average yards to go on 4th after the non-plays have been whittled out. Would tell you something about how many were late game desperation 4th-and-###.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 06:47 pm

Size matters??

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:08 am

I just re-read the article. I didn't see anything about the Packers going for it more with backup QBs. It said they converted more. It said nothing about volume of attempts, only success rate.

Besides, the FO piece was talking about 4th and 2 or less from 2017. I'm not. I'm talking about any 4th down situation in opposing territory where a punt for a touchback is going to net you 20 yards or so, MM has trusted Rodgers more than his defense a lot in those situations over the years.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:25 am

There was a study published several years ago that pointed out that in those situations teams are usually far better served to go for it rather than punt for those reasons: conversion rates are higher than you'd think and the net change of field position isn't nearly as damning. I think a lot of that has to do with exactly what you'd said before: if I punt, is there a snowball's chance in hell that my defense is going to maintain that flipped field or keep the opponent off the scoreboard?

In Edit:
Here it is. It's a dense but interesting read. Note, at the end, the 'go for it' table...

http://www.advancedfootballanalytics.com/index.php/home/research/game-st...

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:28 pm

That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. McCarthy has not been shy about going for it those situations for the past several years at least.

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John Kirk's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:45 am

This is from the piece above:

"It could be that with the likes of Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace, Matt Flynn and Brett Hundley, McCarthy felt more inclined to gamble in certain situations."

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HankScorpio's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:26 pm

It could be said that McCarthy can launch ICBM missiles from his back yard, too.

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WKUPackFan's picture

February 02, 2018 at 06:13 am

"It could be" does not indicate a statistical analysis of 4th down tries with AR vs. other QBs. If there was a statistical analysis it presumably would have been noted. Which, of course, means that your assumption that MM went for it more with Wallace, Flynn, etc. is unsupported by any evidence.

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Ryan Graham's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:35 am

I'm not sure that aggressive, or desperate for that matter, is what I call his approach this year. In fact, I disagree. To call him "aggressive" because he went for it on 4th and short more than most (not to mention more frequently than he had ever before) isn't looking at the entire picture if you ask me. It's slightly unfair to ask, but what about first, second, and third down? What about in the red zone (the few times they made it there)? grantee the majority of the year was played with Hundley, but he was, "our guy".

I would say it was more so desperation and distrust in his failing defense than aggressive, particularly in the second half of the season. He sunk with his ship.

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4zone's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:43 am

Gibberish. Some stupid stat someone invented to make themselves famous. Total rubbish.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:59 am

To quote (and slightly adjust) the Bristol University ad from several years ago on ESPN: there are no stupid stats, just stupid people who believe in them.

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Oppy's picture

February 01, 2018 at 07:13 pm

There are no stupid stats, and you should believe in them (if they are documented), just stupid people who don't have the ability to analyze them for what they are or aren't.

Stats don't lie. They just don't tell the whole story, and when dialed in and piled together- especially when they share no true relation- they can be used to confuse or misdirect. But documented stats are truths in and of themselves.

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GRB1531's picture

February 01, 2018 at 09:52 am

Once we lost Rodgers and Huntley started fourth and one was hardly an issue. The Pack was a poor team with Hundley In control. Yes we won three games and those opponents had a total of eight wins. I think with the change of some position coaches and a key free agent pickup or two, the team will be back on track. The team has to get a better backup QB. Hundley had plenty of opportunities to display his potential.

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worztik's picture

February 01, 2018 at 10:10 am

When I think about MM being conservative is in the 2nd half of games when we had a lead!!! Not so much in the 1st half. It was almost as if he trusted the D to hold the lead... how foolish is that?

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 01, 2018 at 04:21 pm

If he would have been aggressive at the start of 2017 he would have fired that freaking Dom Capers guy but he said and I quote past history should not dictate the right decision.

And if he would have been more aggressive he would have fired Dom Capers 6 7 years ago and if he would have even been more aggressive he would have gotten a better backup quarterback then Brent Hundley.

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dobber's picture

February 01, 2018 at 12:28 pm

"he would have got a decent backup quarterback then Brent Hundley."

Chronology...

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The TKstinator's picture

February 01, 2018 at 05:18 pm

I’m with ya dob!

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Point-Packer's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:29 am

Mike McCarthy also topped the desperation index according to Point Packer’s analysis.

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4thand1's picture

February 01, 2018 at 11:33 am

A Hundley led offense should get 5 downs and the opposing offense should get 3 downs. We would have still ended up with 5th down trys and 2nd down and long being converted. By years end I had absolutely no confidence in our team. 2017 couldn't end fast enough, here's to 2018.........GOPACKGO!

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Coldworld's picture

February 01, 2018 at 08:53 pm

A Hundley led offense is a misnomer

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worztik's picture

February 02, 2018 at 10:04 am

It is truly an OXYMORON...

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Slim11's picture

February 02, 2018 at 07:57 pm

A Hundley led offense is/is not offensive. (circle one!)

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