McCarthy shows good coordination

When it comes to winning a war, the president is only as good as his generals. Likewise, when it comes to winning a football game, the head coach is only as good as his coordinators. While it's far too early to tell how good Jeff Jagodzinski and Bob Sanders will be, at first blush, Packers coach Mike McCarthy made two sound hires.

In Jagodzinski, McCarthy hired a Wisconsin native and lifelong Packers fan. That won't help him win games, of course. What will help him win games is destroying game plans that call for the quarterback to throw the ball 50 times in a December game in frigid Chicago.

Jagodzinski likes to run the football, which is a good thing if you're the Green Bay Packers. This winter notwithstanding, Decembers and Januarys around these parts aren't made for throwing the football.

Running the football is never a bad idea — just check out who's playing in the Super Bowl — and Jagodzinski will make sure the running game isn't something to do just to give Brett Favre's arm a rest.

Sure, Michael Vick's wondrous legs skew the figures a lot, but the Atlanta Falcons led the league in rushing the last two seasons, when Jagodzinski was tight ends coach (2004) and offensive line coach (2005). In 2004, Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler blossomed into a Pro Bowl player, just as Packers tight end Bubba Franks earned Pro Bowl honors from 2001-2003 under Jagodzinski's tutelage. In 2005, the ageless Warrick Dunn rushed for a career-high 1,412 yards.

Jagodzinski preaches a different style of blocking than did the beloved Larry Beightol, who McCarthy decided not to retain for his staff. The Packers' bread and butter up front had been the counter game. That was all well and good when you had a freak like Mike Wahle leading the way, but when the talent level of the line slipped, then you get what happened this past season, when the Packers' rushing average too often was measured in feet per carry, not yards.

Jagodzinski learned under one of the best, Alex Gibbs, in Atlanta. Gibbs' results are beyond dispute; his methods, however, often were called dirty — especially by defenders who were dribbled up and down the field by Gibbs' blockers.

What it means is, once the line gets on the same page with a revamped offense, the Packers might be able to count on a bruising, physical running game, which will make life much easier for Favre or Aaron Rodgers. Jagodzinski's running game won't be as pretty as the record-setting attacks of a few years ago, but you don't have to lead the league in rushing to be effective. A consistent 4 yards per carry will allow the Packers to dig deep into the playbook on second and third downs.

On the other side of the ball, while McCarthy wasn't able to keep the esteemed Jim Bates, he did the next best thing by selecting Bob Sanders. Sure, Sanders doesn't have NFL experience as a defensive coordinator — unlike the other candidates, such as former Jets coordinator Donnie Henderson and former Vikings coordinator Ted Cottrell — but Sanders will run Bates' system, which propelled the Packers from 25th to seventh in total defense with mostly the same players.

By choosing Sanders, McCarthy chose continuity. That's critical for a defense with as many young faces as the Packers. With the offense in flux at best — if Favre returns — and in disarray at worst — if Favre retires — the defense will have to be the life preserver to prevent the Packers from sinking before the calendar turns to November.

Last year, in the first four games, the Packers allowed 23 points per game. The rest of the season (the Ravens debacle excluded because it was such an anomaly), the Packers allowed 18.5 points per game.

With a new coordinator, much of the progress young defenders such as Nick Collins made as the season progressed would have been erased. With Sanders using the same playbook, the players will be able to play without worrying about who's supposed to be where.

Besides, it's not as if Sanders didn't earn his promotion. Sanders' focus this past season were the defensive ends, and Aaron Kampman posted easily the best season of his career. The same can't be said for defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, but KGB improved as his comfort with the scheme improved. He recorded four of his eight sacks in the final five games.

Without serious upgrades to the personnel, McCarthy could have hired Romeo Crennel to run his defense and Charlie Weis to run his offense and it wouldn't have made a huge difference. But with Jagodzinski and Sanders, it appears McCarthy hired the right men to carry out his battle plan.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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