McCarthy Turns Focus Inward

How the Packers play, not who they're playing next weekend, was the focus for coach Mike McCarthy. Thus, Saturday's practice focused on some situational areas that needed strengthening. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

From the Green Bay Packers’ perspective, this weekend’s NFC playoff games mean everything and nothing all at once.

After two days of practice dedicated to self-scouting, fundamentals and trying to stay sharp during their playoff bye, the Packers left Lambeau Field on Saturday afternoon to watch Arizona, Carolina, Detroit and Dallas slug it out on Wild Card Weekend. If the Cowboys win on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be coming to Green Bay for a divisional game next weekend. If the Cowboys lose, the winner of Saturday’s Cardinals-Panthers game will be the Packers’ opponent on Jan. 11.

None of that mattered to McCarthy, whose immediate focus was on watching sons Jack and George play middle-school basketball.

“‘Whatever happens here in the next two days is totally irrelevant,’” McCarthy said he told his players after Saturday’s practice. “‘This is about us. It’s about what we’ve put into this. It doesn’t matter who comes out of the south end-zone tunnel come noon on the 11th.’ We’ll be ready to go.”

Saturday’s padded practice hit on some situational areas, such as third down and red zone.

Offensively, the Packers finished third in the NFL in third-down conversions (47.2 percent) and 10th in the red zone (57.8 percent touchdowns). However, after converting at least 54 percent of their third-down plays during a four-game stretch from Week 11 through Week 14, the Packers fell short of 50 percent in two of their final three games. In the red zone, they scored nine touchdowns in 20 red-zone possessions the last five games.

Defensively, the Packers finished 18th on third down (40.3 percent) and 20th in the red zone (56.3 percent). While third-down defense has been outstanding – no team converted more than 45.5 percent since the bye – the red zone has been a sore spot all season. Detroit went 2-for-2 in Week 17, giving opponents 11 touchdowns in 13 red-zone possessions the past six games.

As usual, the players went through ball-security drills. Green Bay finished the season No. 1 in the league with a plus-13 turnover ratio, but the Packers were minus-1 against the Lions. And in 2011, when the Packers had a first-round bye, they turned the ball over four times in a loss to the Giants.

“Ball security is a team fundamental that we work on (extensively) every practice,” McCarthy said. “It’s about turnover ratio. Winning the turnover ratio obviously increases your opportunity to be successful greatly. That’s the way we’ve always gone about it and I think starting tonight with the games that’ll be played, the teams that take care of the football usually win.”

The team went through practice without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson and cornerback Demetri Goodson. Rodgers won’t practice until Thursday and Nelson was out due to a personal matter – though he strolled through the locker room at the end of media availability. Goodson is sick; linebacker Sam Barrington returned after missing Friday’s practice due to illness.

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.


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