McCarthy Will Evaluate Coaches Before Changes

Special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum's job appears to be on thin ice after two costly errors derailed the Packers' road to the Super Bowl. Coach Mike McCarthy, who is back after the death of his brother, will start the evaluation process next week. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

During his belated season-ending news conference on Wednesday, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy used the word “change” or “changes” 19 times. Four times, he used that word in the future tense.

What McCarthy wouldn’t say is whether those changes are coming on the coaching staff, in general, or special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, in particular.

The special teams, which ranked 31st in Packer Report’s rankings and 32nd in the Dallas Morning News’ rankings, were guilty of two major gaffes in the NFC Championship Game loss at Seattle. Those miscues were a major reason why McCarthy was wrapping up the season in the Lambeau Field media auditorium rather than looking ahead to Sunday’s Super Bowl against New England from a podium in Phoenix.

“It’s important to evaluate. I obviously haven’t had that opportunity,” said McCarthy, his press conference delayed by a week because of the death of his brother, Joe. “So, we’ll look at everything. We’ll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance -- mine included -- and we’ll look to make changes. That process will begin.”

If there’s any change on the coaching staff, it will be on special teams. After solid seasons from the kicking game in 2011 and 2012, those units have regressed. Since Slocum took over as coordinator, the Packers finished 31st in 2009, 29th in 2010, tied for 13th in 2011, 12th in 2012, 19th in 2013 and 32nd in 2014 in the annual Dallas Morning News rankings conducted by columnist Rick Gosselin. With three bottom-four finishes in six years, the Packers’ average ranking in Gosselin’s analysis is 22.7.

Three things stick out in this year’s performance. One, the Packers were incredibly healthy, unlike past seasons, meaning relatively stable personnel. Two, the seven blocked kicks – the most allowed by Green Bay in at least a quarter-century. And three, for the first time under Slocum, the special teams cost the Packers dearly in a big game.

So, what now? The coaches are off this week. Exit interviews with coordinators Slocum, Tom Clements and Dom Capers will begin at the start of next week, with the rest of the coaching staff to follow. McCarthy said those interviews will take a “good week” to complete.

“Special teams has been no different than offense and defense,” McCarthy said. “It comes down to healthy scheme (and) knowing your opponent. You’re looking for the personnel matchups and, ultimately, executing the fundamentals. Our special-teams errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game.”

The first of those was a fake field goal, with punter Jon Ryan throwing a momentum-turning touchdown pass with 4:44 left in the third quarter to help get Seattle out of a 16-0 hole. On the right side of Green Bay’s defensive formation, Brad Jones and Davon House rushed hard, meaning there was no contain for Ryan. A.J. Hawk, who was stationed in the middle of the Packers’ defense about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, chased Ryan rather than playing coverage. That made for an easy touchdown pass for Ryan. Had Hawk stuck in coverage, it’s possible House tackles Ryan – perhaps short of the first-down marker on the fourth-and-10 play.

“Well, I mean, fakes are risky,” McCarthy said. “And Jon Ryan can run, we know that. I think from the responsibility standpoint, pursuit and so forth, I think it would’ve been a foot race for the first down. We did not execute our particular responsibilities as best we can, and they had a better play call than what we had called.”

Then, late in the fourth quarter, Brandon Bostick didn’t carry out his assignment on an onside kick, which Seattle recovered to set up its go-ahead touchdown drive. Had Bostick allowed Jordy Nelson to make the recovery, the Packers would have had the ball with 2:09 remaining with a chance to run out the clock or, at least, put Seattle’s offense into a hole with about a minute to go and no timeouts.

“Definitely a game like we felt like we had plenty of opportunities to win and I felt like we let it get away,” McCarthy said. “Special teams, definitely a tough performance for us. Anytime you give up seven points and have a turnover, it's very difficult to overcome that, especially when it occurs in the second half like it did.”

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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