Notebook: Coach Isn't Scrooge

Packers coach Mike McCarthy changes up his schedule to accommodate the holiday. Plus, special teams, injury report, outside linebackers and more from Friday.

With the season on the line, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy still has the Christmas spirit.

To accommodate the holiday and the players' desire to be around their families, McCarthy adjusted the meeting schedule so the players would have more time on Christmas.

"I think it's important to always have the ability to separate anything significant in your personal life and what's important professionally," McCarthy said after Friday's practice. "We've been able to put together a very favorable schedule. We're actually going to spend a little more time today with the players, so they'll get out of here later than they normally do on a Friday, which will give them the ability to be with their families tonight for Christmas Eve and be with their families tomorrow morning throughout Christmas (day). So, we've basically taken our schedule and split it up between today and tomorrow night. We'll spend a lot more time together at the hotel tomorrow night."

McCarthy liked the focus and energy at practice this week, with his team facing a do-or-die game against the Giants. Veterans with families, like Donald Driver and Ryan Pickett, said Christmas week wasn't a distraction. Driver pointed out that with Christmas falling on Saturday, that's basically his day to relax, anyway.

"Definitely everybody fully understands the importance of this game," McCarthy said. "It's a playoff game, and that's our mind-set. As I stated Monday, we addressed it in the locker room Sunday night after the New England game. We're on course to have a good week of preparation. We'll do the things needed here down the stretch, and we'll be ready to go when we kick the ball off Sunday afternoon."

Special teams advantage

The two big NFL highlights last week came on special teams. One was Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson running through the Giants' punting team for the game-winning touchdown. The other was 313 pounds of veteran New England lineman Dan Connolly doing his best Jackson imitation in running through the Packers' kickoff team for 71 yards to set up a key touchdown right before halftime.

While the offense-vs.-defense matchups are getting all of the attention this week, the special teams battles could loom just as large and — shockingly — Green Bay's perennially lousy units actually have the advantage.

Sam Shields averages 23.1 yards per kickoff return and the Packers are allowing 22.4 yards per runback. By contrast, the Giants are averaging a 31st-ranked 19.1 yards per kickoff return, though their coverage unit has been outstanding with a third-ranked average of 19.9 yards allowed. On punts, neither returner (Green Bay's Tramon Williams and the Giants' combination of Will Blackmon and Darius Reynaud) has been effective, but Tim Masthay's 15th-ranked net average of 37.7 yards is well ahead of rookie Matt Dodge's 30th-ranked net of 34.6.

New York does have the advantage at kicker, with the Giants' Lawrence Tynes having made 17-of-20 kicks (85 percent), including 3-of-4 from 40 to 49 yards and 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards. Mason Crosby is 20-of-26 (76.9 percent), including 8-of-10 from 40 to 49 yards and 2-of-4 from 50-plus.

With neither unit playing up to expectations, both coordinators — Green Bay's Shawn Slocum and the Giants' Tom Quinn — probably are on the hot seat.

"I'm realistic enough to know that sometimes perception becomes reality," Slocum said. "We're in a business where we play football games for fans. I understand that. I understood that when I took this job. I'm fully confident in my ability to coach. I know I'm a very good coach. It's a real challenge, coaching special teams in the NFL. I love it."

Packers injury report

Out: DE Cullen Jenkins (calf); G Marshall Newhouse (back). Doubtful: LB Frank Zombo (knee). Questionable: LB Diyral Briggs (ankle); S Nick Collins (ribs); LB Erik Walden (knee). Probable: T Chad Clifton (knees); CB Pat Lee (ankle); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion); C Scott Wells (back); CB Charles Woodson (ankle).

There are only four players listed as either doubtful or questionable. Unfortunately for the Packers, three of those are at outside linebacker. Zombo practiced for the first time since injuring his knee against Detroit but that didn't go well, McCarthy said. McCarthy was equally pessimistic about Briggs. If Walden continues to improve, he'll get the start. Otherwise, it'll be Robert Francois, who has bounced from the active roster to the practice squad to off the team altogether all season.

Walden, who made his first NFL start last week, wants another chance to show he belongs.

"That was my whole mind-set at the beginning of the week," he said. "You come off a decent game — we didn't win, but you've got another opportunity to display your talent and this occurs. You've got to stay positive and keep the faith."

Giants injury report

Out: CB Will Blackmon (knee); DE Dave Tollefson (knee). Probable: T Shane Andrews (back); T David Diehl (illness); WR Mario Manningham (heel); C Shaun O'Hara (foot); WR Devin Thomas (hamstring); DE Osi Umenyiora (knee).

Not only is Blackmon a former Packer, but Tollefson was the team's seventh-round pick in 2006. He did not make the final roster.

Four-point stance

— Injured running back Ryan Grant was in the locker room on Friday. For the first time, he'll watch the Packers from the sideline since he's been allowed to toss aside the crutches following season-ending ankle surgery. He promised to come back a "monster" next season and said he'd be ready to roll for the offseason practices — assuming there are offseason practices with the collective bargaining agreement in flux.

— Driver has two kids, Cristian and Christina. Was Santa coming to the Driver house? "I don't know. I haven't talked to Santa about them yet. I've got to call Santa tonight to see if he's going to come by the house."

— Not surprisingly, the Packers' average losing deficit of 3.3 points is the lowest in the league.

— The Packers have to beat the Giants to stay in the playoff race but they could sneak in with a loss to Chicago. Under that scenario, the Giants would have to lose to the Redskins in their season finale and the Buccaneers must lose one of their final two games.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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