You’ve got to tip your cap to coach Mike McCarthy for turning the best cornerback in the NFL into Mr. Irrelevant.
McCarthy said the Packers didn’t intentionally avoid Richard Sherman as if the mere act of making eye contact would result in two pick-sixes, a $10,000 fine and a trip to the principal’s office. It’s, to steal a phrase used by general manager Ted Thompson when he just happened to pick six defenders in a row in 2012, just the way it worked out.
“I don’t think you ever make a conscious decision not to throw to one side of the field,” McCarthy said on Friday. “Frankly, it was more of a decision to put Jordy (Nelson) on the left and see if (Sherman) would come over and play him. They played their defense and obviously they did a heck of a job. I’m sure they feel good about where they are today. (The) no-huddle, frankly, it’s easier for the receivers to stay to one side of the field than (moving to) the other as far as what we were doing. Our plan was to run our stuff, line up as quick as we can.”
In the 2012 game at Seattle, McCarthy was guilty of being too “Pittsburgh Macho” by throwing it on practically every snap of the first half. McCarthy learned his lesson. Points are not awarded by playing macho. McCarthy’s job as play-caller is to create favorable matchups. What’s a better matchup, Nelson against Sherman or Nelson against Byron Maxwell? The answer to that question is a no-brainer. If the Seahawks want to keep Sherman stationed at left cornerback and have him wasted covering tight end Andrew Quarless, then so be it.
With Nelson and Randall Cobb freed from the incredible challenge of beating Sherman, it’s up to them to catch the ball and make something happen. One of the top big-play receivers in the league, Nelson caught 9-of-14 passes for just 83 yards, failed to haul in one poorly thrown pass that wound up being intercepted, and gained just 25 yards after the catch, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Cobb caught 6-of-9 passes for 58 yards, couldn’t make tough grabs on two deep passes, and was limited to only 18 yards after the catch.
There was plenty of blame to go around, and McCarthy was one of the first to raise his hand.
“Trust me, I get the disappointment,” McCarthy said. “I felt very good going into the game but I had to go back and check my preparation because I think anytime as a coach when you feel your team’s prepared and they don’t perform, I think the first guy you have to look at is yourself and look in the mirror.”
After the game, McCarthy lamented leaving a bunch of “shot” plays – plays drawn up with a big play in mind – untouched on his play sheet. On Friday, he opened his remarks by being critical of the “operation” of the game from the sideline. Seattle’s offense frequently made late substitutions, which left the defense struggling to communicate the call before the ball was snapped.
“It wasn’t having the wrong personnel,” McCarthy said. “It was really getting the call in. We had 10 guys on the field for (Marshawn Lynch’s 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter). We obviously didn’t have the right personnel there. But as far as them catching us, what we were trying to do with their personnel was not a huge issue. It was just the handling of trying to be in the perfect call instead of just giving our guys clean calls.”
Taking a big-picture view, the Packers simply need to beat a high-quality team. It’s getting increasingly difficult to consider this team a legit championship contender when they always lose to legit championship contenders. They’re 0-6 against San Francisco and Seattle dating to the 2012 opener against the 49ers and haven’t beaten a truly excellent team since blowing out Houston in 2012. The Packers had all offseason to get ready for this game – and they used all offseason to get ready for this game. It certainly didn’t look like it.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers’ defense missed 109 tackles in 2011 (No. 27 in league), reduced that to just 68 tackles in 2012 (No. 4) but soared to 116 tackles in 2013 (tied for 19th).
Thursday’s game was a bad omen for a team that made improved tackling a major emphasis. Granted, Marshawn Lynch is far and away the toughest back to tackle in the NFL. Still, Green Bay’s defense missed 16 tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com; Packer Report counted 18.
“The one (flaw) that jumps off the page at you is tackling,” McCarthy said. “We had way too many missed tackles, and the fundamentals of footwork and the things that go into that that’s practiced every day didn’t carry onto the field.”
The disappointing part of it was the Packers tackled well during the preseason. In four games, they missed only 28, according to PFF’s count. Of Green Bay’s core defenders, nobody missed more than two (A.J. Hawk, Mike Neal and HaHa Clinton-Dix). Against Seattle, five players missed at least two, led by Casey Hayward and Brad Jones with three apiece.
“When you talk about the fundamentals of football, the footwork is a key component of all your fundamentals, whether it’s blocking, getting off blocks or sustaining blocks,” McCarthy said. “Tackling is your ability to come to balance or run through the inside hip and all those things. No different than ball security, finishing runs, getting into position to take it away. In regards to tackling, the biggest thing that jumps out on film is we didn’t run through the tackle. Our footwork was poor. When you start leaving your feet to tackle people, it puts you in a compromising position. The biggest part of our tackling issue was the fundamentals of footwork and running through the near hip and the ability to come to balance in stressful situations. We just didn’t do a very good job of it.”
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.