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Mike McCarthy Back in a Bad Way

Nov. 8, 2016
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The statistics coming out of this game are dirty, filthy liars. Someone who paid little attention to the actual Packers-Colts game might conclude from the box score that this was a shootout between two great offenses facing completely helpless defenses. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The Packer defense actually played quite well, as the Colts opened the game with a 99-yard kick return touchdown from Jordan Todman to take an instant 7-0 lead. They would later get an easy field goal off a Jordan Todman 61-yard kickoff return, and capitalize on a missed Mason Crosby 48-yard field goal to score another touchdown. The Colts scored 31 points, but between 10-14 points were a direct result of special teams play. While the Packer defense has had better performances this season, especially in the pass rushing department, they were not nearly as bad as the score indicates.

Conversely, this was a return to the uncreative, simple offensive plan from before Eddie Lacy was injured. Mike McCarthy once again relied on his receivers to win isolation routes, and the Colts (to their credit) stayed almost exclusively in man-to-man defense. The final score may look impressive for the offense, but it did not go well, and there were indicators that the staff itself simply doesn’t know what it’s doing. I still think the Packers are easily the most talented team in the division, and I think we saw that in the Bears and Falcons games, but the Colt game exposed McCarthy for the stubborn, boring play caller and manager many accuse him of being.  McCarthy did a lot that was inexplicable and just downright weird. For instance: 

Richard Rodgers Sees 10 Targets

The Colts entered the game as the worst team in the league at defending tight ends, and it makes some sense to attack them with your tight end as long as said tight end is not one of the worst receiving tight ends in football. I’m not sure why the Packers threw to Rodgers 10 times over the course of the day, but if they were attempting to exploit an Indy weakness by highlighting one of their own biggest weaknesses, they have it all wrong. Rodgers did a nice job on a 22-yard reception, but outside of that he averaged just 4.7 yards per target, and two Packer drives ended when Aaron Rodgers tried to force the ball to Richard Rodgers on third down. Rodger trailed only Jordy Nelson in targets on the day, and featuring the plodding TE as a focal point of your offense is a terrible idea no matter how weak the opponent may be.

Deep Shot After Deep Shot

The Packers don’t possess a true deep threat and any time they try to wing it downfield they are playing a low percentage game. Moreover, the Colts are bad at nearly everything on defense except defensing the deep ball, where they rise to the level of mediocrity at 15th. Against short stuff they are the 2nd worst defense in the league.

The Packers did hit a few deep shots including a 40-yarder to Davante Adams and a 26-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson, however, Nelson was targeted deep 6 times in the game, and that touchdown, which came on a free play due to an offside call, and was delivered late and probably should have been intercepted, was the only catch he pulled in. One of McCarthy’s (and Rodgers’) worst habits is trying for the home run on 3rd down when it is much more important to simply move the sticks to give yourself more plays. Deep passes are lower percentage plays than short passes, and failing on third down essentially causes a turnover. There was far too much of that in this game including the inexcusable drop by Jeff Janis. Deep passing also exposes the quarterback to more pressure, and Rodgers took a few sacks both last week and this week as a result.

Despite the fact that this is not a team equipped to repeatedly throw downfield.Rogers threw 11 deep balls in this game, many of which came on high leverage downs. If they do want to dial up more deep throws, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison should be seeing more than 12 combined snaps in the game, especially if Cobb and Montgomery are limited. The Packers needs to dial this back, and focus on the short game, which is still working.

Cobb and Montgomery

Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery were likely to be big players in any Packer win. The Colts are abysmal at covering pass-receiving running backs, and Randall Cobb should have had no trouble exploiting a weak middle of the field. Instead Montgomery played on only 31 snaps - McCarthy would say after the game that he was on a snap count - and Cobb would not see any time until the second half.  McCarthy said after the game that Montgomery was on a snap count, but someone should have mentioned that to Montgomery.

McCarthy also said they did not plan to use Cobb unless they needed to, and Rodgers seemed visibly frustrated with his hamstrung offense throughout the game as a result. Both of these decisions were odd to say the least. If you are worried about Cobb aggravating his injury you should not play him at all, and you definitely should not make his first play a 3rd quarter running play, exposing him to the big hits of the defensive line (and causing him to fumble).

Likewise, if Montgomery was truly limited, it is an odd choice to start him at running back, and immediately hand him the ball (for a 24-yard gain). Trying to have it both ways, to both protect these players from further injury, and enjoy their on-the-field talents, is impossible, and in taking half-measures you get the worst of all worlds. The Packers have to scheme for opponents, and if two major weapons may or may not play, that impacts preparation immensely. When the staff finally caved and put both of them on the field, things opened up. They should have either planned as if they would not be playing, or integrated them fully and lived with the risk. Instead they both exposed themselves to risk and hampered their offense for much of the game.

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers missed a lot of open receivers in this game, make no mistake about it. He deserves as much blame for the loss as anyone, but McCarthy did him no favors with play-calling. Rodgers has struggled to find and hit open receivers running their base offense against man coverage, and just because you happen to be down a few players doesn’t mean you have to run boring offense. Rodgers’ numbers look fine for this game, but in reality most of his production came when the it was already out of hand. Rodgers was excellent on their final 2 drives, but before that he was just 16 of 31 for 178, one touchdown, and one pick. On each of the final two drives nearly every Packer receiver was involved including Cobb and Montgomery, and everything worked as it had against Atlanta. That offense opened up a big gain for Davante Adams, opened up big lanes for Rodgers to run, and resulted in numerous successful plays to Montgomery, Nelson, and Cobb. An Indianapolis prevent defense helps everyone, but the variety and creativity briefly returned and the Packers almost got back in the game. Maybe that late rush will make an impression on McCarthy and the return of Cobb and Montgomery take care of these issues, but at this point it is pretty clear that the offense has the tools to be productive, and when things go wrong, we should look first to the coaching staff.

Finally, Aaron Rodgers ranks 25th in QBOPS and I have had people ask me how a player on pace for a 4000+ yard, 40 TD, 10 interception season can rank so low. It’s a good question, but there are good answers.  Rodgers has a very low yards per attempt, so even though he has made strides with his completion percentage, he is still limited in terms of big plays. But the bigger reason is more about how we overvalue passing TDs. Packer running backs have scored 0 touchdowns this year. Every offensive TD has come either on the arms or legs of Aaron Rodgers. On a different team, a few of those probably would have been taken in by a RB instead. Matthew Stafford, for instance, has 18 touchdown passes, but Detroit running back have an additional 3. If a large majority of Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown passes were from far out, this would be a truly impressive season, but 10 of his 20 touchdown passes were 5 yards or shorter, and only 5 of his 20 touchdown passes were 10 yards or longer. Rodgers has really bulked up on relatively easy touchdown throws. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, as any touchdown is good, but he has had a hand in 100% of their touchdowns, which isn’t the case for most quarterbacks.

Rodgers has been fine, and occasionally great, but he has also punished some really poor defenses for his gaudier numbers, and genuinely struggled against the Vikings, Giants and Cowboys. On the back half of the schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to have more 2 touchdown games than 3-4 touchdown games.

The Packers have passed a lot, especially since the Lacy injury, and counting stats such as total yards will come easy to just because that’s how they move the ball, but the sheer number of touchdown passes belies how poorly he has actually played. Rodgers is on a very inefficient path to some gaudy counting numbers, and that is precisely why they haven’t added up to wins. 

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