Nowhere to go but up

Talk about a stinker. Mike McCarthy's debut as head coach of the Packers could not have gone any worse. Well, actually Noah Herron could have dropped a pass from Jon Ryan on a fake punt. That would have been worse. It really was the only Packers highlight of the day.

All kidding aside, McCarthy will not want to remember his first game as Packers head coach. For all the pomp and circumstance and hype leading up to the game, the rival Chicago Bears delivered a 26-0 beat down in one of the worst season openers in Packers history - so bad that it was the largest margin of defeat for the Packers in an opener since 1988. The Packers were shut out for the first time in 15 years. McCarthy did not want to be a part of such dubious Packers history, but it only took one game.

Not much went right at Lambeau Field for the home team and if McCarthy is ever to become the next legendary Packers coach, he will forget what happened on Sunday as soon as he eats breakfast Monday morning. Starting a new week preparing for the Saints, it can only get better, but not by much – at least not this season. Like his team, McCarthy showed on Sunday he is learning with his young team and he has a long way to go.

Realistically, the Packers are set up for a bad season with the way the team has been structured inasmuch as they are preparing long-term for their next Super Bowl run. They, McCarthy included, will be outmatched in almost every game this season, but what will not kill them will make them stronger. That is not to say, though, that such losses like Sunday's will not be tough to swallow.

Not many thought the Packers would beat the Bears based on where the two teams are headed, but the way the Bears handled the Packers was methodical and dominant. The former is not a word normally associated with the majority of Bears' teams that Brett Favre has seen, but Chicago fans have to be ecstatic about this season. The play of quarterback Rex Grossman in Week 1, minus an ill-fated interception in the end zone to Nick Barnett in the first quarter, has got to have them dreaming of a Super Bowl run.

The Packers-Bears matchup was a classic case of one team knowing exactly what it is doing and one team not knowing what it is doing just yet. A coach on one side, Lovie Smith, is a master of his defense, while the coach on the other side, McCarthy, is still trying to figure out what he wants to do with his offense.

After just one game, it certainly is not time to write off McCarthy, because early signs have shown he is a good fit for Green Bay. It will take him some time, though, to find his style. Reigning in Favre to a much safer approach on offense will be a challenge, but is necessary with where the Packers stand; Finding a mix of defensive calls and blitzes on defense will be a work in progress under new defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, who is not as experienced as Jim Bates; And on special teams, the Packers may be shuffling in specialists this season like an American Idol audition.

One call and one non-move by McCarthy on Sunday were particularly eye-opening in an otherwise sleeper of a game. His call for a fake punt in the second quarter facing a 16-0 deficit was really gutsy, if not a sign of desperation. He put what could have been a huge turning point in the game in the hands of a rookie punter who was self-admittedly nervous in his first NFL game. Ryan displayed as much with his first couple of punts and when a fake was called on his third attempt, it could have been disaster. Like all good fake punts, though, the Bears were entirely fooled. Ryan's Garo Yapremian-like pass fluttered onto the finger tips of Noah Herron for a 16-yard gain and a first down. It was not the prettiest play, but it worked and got the crowd excited. The spark on special teams should have ignited the Packers offense, but it did not. They could not move into deep scoring position, which is probably one of the reasons McCarthy decided for the fake in the first place. The Packers offense struggled to sustain any drive all game.

McCarthy's non-move, keeping Favre in the game in the fourth quarter with the game essentially over, was perhaps his biggest missed opportunity of the day. Backup Aaron Rodgers is the heir apparent, and with the Packers down 26-0 it was a perfect time for him to run the new offense that he studied all off-season.

Instead, McCarthy put Favre in a bad situation. He forced the gunslinger mentality out of the 16-year veteran quarterback after reining him into a promising start in the first half. Favre knows no better than to give it his all when his team is behind and he was probably the only one on the team who thought the Packers could still win in the fourth quarter. That is why he again began winging passes wildly leading to two late, but meaningless interceptions. It made him look bad on a day when he looked pretty good early against a team the Packers were clearly overmatched by. More than anything, the Bears were just better.

Enticing the Bears "Cover 2" defense in somewhat of a desperation mode like the Packers were in late does not do anyone good. The Packers got out of their offense in the fourth quarter and it showed. Why not give Rodgers some time and run the offense that they did in the first three quarters? Continue to run Ahman Green, run two- and three- tight end sets, and run slants to Donald Driver to get Rodgers into the flow. Instead the Packers spent more time spreading out the field four-wide late looking like Tom Rossley had returned to the booth to call plays.

McCarthy was Sherman-esque by sticking with Favre in a meaningless situation. To Favre's credit, he continued to play hard until the end, but his wasted throws late could have been replaced by the value of playing Rodgers. At the risk of hearing the boos of the fans and being called conservative in his play-calling, McCarthy could have stuck to his first-half game plan and carried it out with the quarterback he will one day hope to coach in a Super Bowl.

All McCarthy said after the game about possibly playing Rodgers was that he "thought about it, but didn't consider it," a confusing answer to a simple question.

McCarthy is as young to the head coaching ranks as many players on his roster are to the NFL, so mistakes and indecision are bound to occur whether the subject is play-calling, replay challenges, or quarterback management. He just needs time like his team does and then outcomes like the one on Sunday are much less likely to happen.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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