McCarthy gathers info as well as victory
Packers News – Packers fans shouldn’t mistake boring for unimportant.
Between kickoffs and crickets chirping, Green Bay’s 24-15 victory over Jacksonville didn’t offer an abundance of excitement at Lambeau Field.
However, it did yield plenty of information. Apart from counting in the NFL standings, which is what matters most, Sunday’s bump-and-grind had the feel of an October preseason game.
- The opponent was mostly unknown and largely inconsequential.
- Key players such as Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, John Kuhn, Charles Woodson, Nick Perry and Sam Shields were sidelined by injury.
- The Packers’ fans couldn’t wait to get home afterward; the Packers’ coaches and players couldn’t wait to watch the film.
Amidst all the craziness en route to 5-3 at the season’s mid-point, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy seems to have embraced several absolutes.
First, the offense needs to develop a semblance of true balance. Run plays need to be more than a breather between passes.
Second, the defense needs to infuse youth and improve cohesiveness, always a tricky proposition.
Both are ambitious but necessary undertakings wrought from injury, inadequacy and lessons learned.
The Packers might’ve steamrolled the Jaguars by lining up in shotgun and throwing it all over Lambeau Field. I suspect it is what they would’ve done a year ago.
And where did that get Green Bay last season? Sure, the 15-1 record and weekly barrage of blowouts was exciting during the regular season. The problem was it didn’t hold up in the playoffs.
After Sunday’s win, McCarthy told WTMJ radio analyst Larry McCarren that the Packers worked on no-huddle much of the week. However, McCarthy opted to run the football out of the I-formation with Aaron Rodgers under center more than in any game thus far.
There was a method to the madness.
The Packers’ running game is only going to improve through repetition, film study, and more reps. Making that happen demands patience and commitment, concepts that are easy to espouse during meetings and practice but difficult to cling to in a tight game. Also, the league’s decision to limit padded practices complicates McCarthy’s task.
So time and again, the Packers’ run game was stoned by Jacksonville. Ball carrier Alex Green seemed to be banging his helmet against a wall. Even Rodgers seemed a bit perplexed.
No matter. McCarthy managed to do a bit of reconnaissance in a game where the outcome was never really in doubt.
The conscious decision to run the football didn’t reap much yardage, but it did give McCarthy ample opportunity to discern what’s wrong.
“We’re going to have a great week of practice,” McCarthy said, as if he couldn’t wait to analyze the problems and devise solutions in the run game.
The coach knows the answers to the Packers’ problems must come from within.
While the possibility of the Packers trading for a running back such as the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson is provocative, it also is unlikely.
The solution is continued hard work.
Green needs to run more decisively and instinctively. It takes time. The offensive line and tight ends need to block better. There were way too many whiffs against the Jaguars by both.
Bottom line: McCarthy knows what he has in the passing game, especially when all hands (and legs) are on deck. What he doesn’t know is how much he can demand of his running attack.
Sunday’s game will give him plenty of film to dissect.
Defensively, the Packers’ secondary bent but it didn’t break. That may not sound like much against Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars, but don’t discount Woodson’s absence.
On paper, M.D. Jennings replaced Woodson in the base 3-4 defense. Then, Jennings would give way to Davon House (at cornerback) and Casey Hayward (in the slot) in the nickel defense. In the dime, Jerron McMillian entered as the sixth defensive back.
Throughout, safety Morgan Burnett played big. He had a hit and forced fumble on Gabbert. He made numerous knifing tackles near the line of scrimmage. He also broke up a deep pass by preventing Cecil Shorts from hauling it in.
Today’s question: Did Burnett step into Woodson’s role? Or did the secondary simply substitute and play it straight?
I suspect Burnett was asked to do more and he responded.
“It’s good to be on this side of an ugly win,” Rodgers said. “The way we played on offense, especially the last couple weeks, the expectations were we were going to come out and maybe blow them out. But we didn’t start fast, we didn’t have enough juice early on and didn’t play well enough on offense to get that done.”
For the record, Rodgers was 22 of 35 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, which moved him past Bart Starr into second place on the Green Bay career list with 153. Brett Favre the Packers record with 442. James Jones added seven catches, Donald Driver caught a touchdown pass and the special teams blocked a punt that resulted in a touchdown.
It was enough to defeat the Jaguars, and it provided McCarthy and his staff with valuable information. Now it’s up to them to capitalize on it.
Last week’s prediction: Packers 35, Rams 10 (Packers 30-20)
This week’s prediction: Packers 27, Cardinals 13
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.