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Mike McCarthy’s Achilles’ Heel Rears Its Ugly Head in Packers Loss

Mike McCarthy

There is much to admire about Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. He is a good football coach and I think that’s a pretty obvious statement. He’s won a Super Bowl. He calls all his own plays. He has a steady approach and patience in developing players that he is often criticized for in the media, on message boards, and in everyday conversations. There have been plenty of times where the general football public, myself included, have been proven wrong by McCarthy.

The most notable recent one being Mason Crosby. I wanted Crosby gone, you likely wanted him gone… we all wanted him gone! But McCarthy stood by “the man” and let him get his groove back. Now Mason Crosby is one of the best kickers in the game again and everyone calling for him to be cut looks pretty foolish.

But if someone were to ask me if Mike McCarthy was doing his best to improve as a head coach in the NFL, I’m afraid my answer would be emphatic.

No he is not.

Over the years and time and time again, Mike McCarthy has proven himself to be one of the worst situational end-game football coaches in the NFL. In my eyes it is simply impossible to accept that he has attempted to improve upon it because he continues to make blunders in the crucial moments at the end of the game.

Yesterday McCarthy was responsible for three major errors that cost the Packers.

1) The Packers should have been dragging the Steelers Le’Veon Bell into the end zone on first down, allowing the Steelers to score on purpose and enabling the Packers to keep their one timeout. This would have given the Packers the best chance to score a game-tying TD on the final drive.

2) With 22 seconds left in the game and no timeouts, facing 2nd and 1, the Packers should have spiked the ball to stop the clock. This would have allowed them two opportunities to score from the 1-yard line, with the added help of being able to huddle and calmly approach the line of scrimmage. A false start penalty was the result of the panic and lack of preparation on the sideline for this particular situation and in essence doomed the Packers chances of winning.

3) After the Packers got the false start penalty and the clock began to run, Matt Flynn still could have spiked it again, made it 3rd and goal from the 5 with under 10 seconds to play. This would have allowed the Packers to huddle and approach the final play (or possibly two plays) of the game with poise. Instead, they looked like exactly what they were… a team totally unprepared for the situation.

I’m getting ahead of myself though.

In 2010, my opinion of McCarthy was nowhere near as positive as it is today. I had watched the Packers coach blow so many crucial situational decisions and watched players make less than optimum decisions in crunch time that it was painfully obvious it wasn’t part of the coaching curriculum. I was so effusive in my anger and negativity toward McCarthy I told anyone willing to listen, “We will never win a Super Bowl with Mike McCarthy as head coach.” I said it often enough that I even started promising to write a letter of apology if he did in fact prove me wrong.

See, I figured in the midst of any Super Bowl run that at least one crucial mathematical, situational decision would make or break a game. I was ultra-confident that during that moment Mike McCarthy would make the wrong decision and not give his team the best chance to win.

Well, we all know what happened in 2010 and early 2011. The Packers managed to go on the road, win all three playoff games and the Super Bowl without McCarthy facing one crucial situational decision the entire run. In fact, Green Bay never even trailed in the second half of any of those games. The Packers simply got out to early leads and then hung on for dear life.

Sam Shields did display complete lack of awareness in trying to return a late Caleb Hanie interception in the NFC title game, and we all remember the image of McCarthy telling Shields to give himself up to effectively end the game. But had Shields been coached t0 do that before the game? Based upon the numerous times he made similar mistakes after the title run, the only logical answer is that he was not. Even though Shields’ mistake didn’t end up costing the Packers, the whole point is that it could have. The Packers win percentage was about 99.9 percent when Shields made the pick, but as he started to make his return that percentage dropped.

One need look no further than the “Marty Schottenheimer: A Football Life” to witness the exact same scenario. However, in this case in 2006, Chargers defender Marlon McCree made the pick and got stripped of the football by the Patriots’ Troy Brown. Reche Caldwell recovered it for New England, giving the Patriots a first down. The Chargers would go on to lose that game and be eliminated from the playoffs after going 14-2 in the regular season and Marty Schottenheimer would never coach another NFL game.

This could have just as easily happened to Shields and the Packers.

Nonetheless, McCarthy and the Packers got it done and I cracked my knuckles and sat down at the keyboard to write a letter of apology to Mike McCarthy.

I told him about how I questioned him and that I didn’t think he was capable of getting it done and I explained some of the reasons why I questioned him. Hell… if I was going to be eating some humble pie and taking the time to write the coach an apology, you can best be certain I was going to try and explain how I thought the Packers could improve and why it was that I felt he was incapable of succeeding. The entire letter I wrote and sent twice (once during the lockout, once after)  revolved around his poor decisions in regards to situational football.

Here’s an excerpt…

“But Coach… I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak my mind about situational football. Sometimes it just seems we’ve (the Packers) been in games where even though the situation is unique, as is each game, our team seems ill-prepared to handle the situation. Being the offensive play caller as a head coach must be a headache when it comes down to crunch time, and I feel the Packers have substantial room for improvement in being better-prepared to handle situations… by simply thinking more about potential situations before they occur.

Not allowing the Bears to score (in 2010 at Chicago) on purpose was a poor decision. You have to now know that was a mistake. You never did publicly say that it was, or if you did I never heard it. As a knowledgeable football fan and probability and stats geek, I wanted to hear that admission from you. I wanted to know that you learned from that and would think differently if presented with that situation again. I wonder if given the exact same scenario today… would you let them score on purpose?”

In yesterday’s press conference Mike McCarthy admitted that the Packers defense did let Pittsburgh score on purpose, but only after they blew their final timeout and passed up a golden opportunity to let them score on first down.

I am not a football coach, but I have researched statistics and situational football to the point where as I was watching the game live, I was screaming at the television to let the Steelers score. I knew this was the Packers best chance to win and yet I’m not paid millions of dollars a year to even think about these things. Yet, this head coach who has made similar mistakes before, felt the need to waste the crucial final timeout to come to that conclusion. To me, this is inexcusable just as it was when I wrote my letter back in early 2011.

I feel mathematical and situational errors by a head coach are inexcusable. You are calling the plays though, so someone needs to be in your ear who is only thinking of game management. It’s not fair to put that all on you. You need research before the fact. With access to detailed statistical information and creating scenarios before they happen, I know you could maximize your win percentage in key spots more often than you currently do, but more importantly maximize it more than your opponents do. Bill Belichick has a man named Ernie Adams in his ear at crunch time… do you have someone like that?

Maybe you have someone doing that already, but either you weren’t listening to that person, or he/she isn’t doing a good enough job.

So now we cut to three years later and Green Bay’s coach is still one of the worst situational coaches in the game. Did McCarthy’s game management errors cost Green Bay the game yesterday? No they didn’t. Did McCarthy’s game management decisions put the Packers in the best position to win? Absolutely not. There is an obvious lack of preparation by the Packers in this regard and it has gone on for McCarthy’s entire regime.

Although I now know it is possible for McCarthy to bring home a Super Bowl title, he has given me and the rest of Packers nation zero reason to believe he has ever addressed this major deficiency in his game. Until the Packers do start taking mathematical analysis and situational football more seriously, we can expect more ill-fated decisions from the Packers head coach when the game is on the line.

Andrew Chitko

Andrew Chitko is an excellent handicapper and a below average bettor. Although he is capable of uncovering keen insight in to sides and totals, he will almost certainly derail his profit margin chasing ridiculous parlays that have almost zero chance of cashing. Despite his self-awareness on these matters, expect the trend to continue until he hits a 12-teamer for a six-figure score. If he steps out of line and is convinced he has a lock, mortgage your house and bet the other way.



  1. Jey Jewwel December 23, 2013

    Last play was a misread by Flynn Nelson was wide open, Matt Flynn tends to lock into receivers without scanning the field…. The play was there he did not capitalized on it. Plus the defense is soft as twinkie filling.

    1. Andrew Chitko December 24, 2013

      He was definitely open and you’d think he’d look for Nelson before Boykin. That being said it was a totally chaotic situation that didn’t need to be.

  2. Jurgens December 23, 2013

    Totally agree. In fact, one of the guys I was watching with called it after the kickoff. We always botch clock management late in games. The players always look completely unaware of the clock, rules etc.

    1. Savage57 December 24, 2013

      Some of it goes back on Flynn too. If you recall his performance against the Pats in his first start, at the end of that game he was all ‘chicken with his head cut off’, too.

      Some guys just get rattled easier than others and MM should have known that Flynn is nothing like AR in the cool factor.

      1. Andrew Chitko December 24, 2013

        I can’t put this on Flynn in either case. In both cases it’s obvious he just wasn’t prepared to know what to do in the most important seconds of a game and obviously no one on the sideline was either. This results in a lot of people looking to each other for answers when no one has them.

  3. Derek in CO December 23, 2013

    I have to agree with this. I think MM gets too caught up in calling the plays that he lacks good judgement on managing the clock and situations. All great evidence here.

  4. Gort December 23, 2013

    It is not just clock management. Remember that pick that wasn’t last year at Seattle? If MD Jennings was coached properly, he would have known that incomplete was perfect for that situation and would have batted the ball to the ground. Instead, he tried to get a stat for his resume’. Remember OT vs. Minnesota. Apparently some players expected a second OT period. Proper pro coaching would explain the rule differences between NCAA and NFL. Those are just a couple quick examples from a dummy. I am sure that smart guys have plenty more.

  5. Iltarion December 23, 2013

    McCarthy should have let the Steelers score but Tomlin shouldn’t have been going for it in the first place. So, that play is a wash.

    2) and 3) involve the same situation. The whole point of the 2nd down play was by hurrying up, you force the Steelers to keep their same personnel on the field. This is a tactic used by the Patriots and Broncos all the time. When you get down to the one, you hurry up to the line and run it right up the middle. If you spike the ball there, then you defeat the whole purpose of the play.

    McCarthy could not have foreseen TJ Lang’s false start or the refs running the clock before we could snap it. That screwed everything up. In HINDSIGHT, yes, it would have been best if Flynn would have spiked it and stopped the clock. But we were all hoping for two more plays.

    EVERY coach could improve on situational coaching. Coaches have a lot to worry about, especially if they are calling the plays, and little time to make decisions. Mistakes will happen.

    It should be no surprise that situational coaching is not one of McCarthy’s strong suits since he calls plays.

    Sam Shields was a 21 year old rookie who played WR in college. You could have had a blowhorn telling that guy to get down and he might not have. Marlon McCree caught the pick, took two steps and was immediately stripped. No amount of coaching in the world could have stopped that play. Dude never had time to get down.

    1. Andrew Chitko December 23, 2013

      I was astonished to see the Steelers attempting to score a touchdown but thought about it. After seeing Mason Crosby have a chippy blocked in the semi-snowy conditions of his home stadium Tomlin probably felt that tipped the percentages to take a TD and not risk a FG. Regardless, it was a gift. One the Packers didn’t take. The Packers made the right call. They just made it one play later than they should have.

      The false-start runoff rule for a team with no timeouts is so extreme in its magnitude that it deserves an article all its own. With a running clock and no timeouts, a false start is so completely debilitating that spiking in this spot is an automatic. If you have one timeout and want to salvage it and call a quick running play up the middle like you suggest, I’m all for it. If you false start there you lose a timeout and five yards. It hurts but it’s not the end of the game like a runoff usually ends up being. With no timeouts in that heightened chaotic environment, you calm everyone down, bring the clock down to 20 and spike it. Now you are back to a moment of normalcy and you eliminate the devastation of the false start. Now after spiking it if a man jumps, you just lose the five yards. You don’t lose the 10 seconds. But one thing…make sure your men are set before snapping it before the spike, otherwise it’s the same deal.

      That’s all. See how that works? We just talked it out in like ten minutes which apparently was too much time for the Packers coaching staff to consider. This stuff can be taught and yes I think the severity of this very unique rule in the waning seconds of a game, the only time it is relevant, deserves a ton of attention in the coaching ranks. Like I said…this rule could have been a whole article. This response almost is.

      My arguments here almost beg that McCarthy ask for help with game management, not that he do it himself. That being said he is the head coach and it’s his job to recognize when there’s something not working and fix it, getting help when required. Ernie Adams is Bill Belichick’s game management expert. He is the only person allowed to speak in his headphones in crucial end game decisions. McCarthy should take the proper steps to become better in this area and so far he has not.

      Marlon McCree took two steps too many.

  6. Richard Cranium December 23, 2013

    Mccree was running with the ball!!! Catch it and fall… Plain n simple!!!

  7. lars December 23, 2013

    Situationally, does it really matter? The Packers defense failed again and they are 7-7-1. Mediocrity personified. Does anybody really think the packers have a snowball’s chance in hell even if they beat the mediocre Bears.

    1. Andrew Chitko December 24, 2013

      Probably not.

  8. Wow December 24, 2013

    Wow so May negative nannies out and about….go home for the season and leave it to real Packers fans. Thank you.

  9. Eric December 24, 2013

    I think one of the underlying themes of this article, which I totally agree with, is that Mike Mccarthy is flat out stubborn. He is not an “out of the box” thinker, everything he learned about Football he learned 20+ years ago and he will never shy away from that, even if it is wrong(ie not giving up a touchdown on defense). How sad is it that MM had no clue what was going on with the rest of the league and it resulted in him giving a “season is over” speech after the game.Dude, I know all of your energy and focus is going into your team but you have to think more on a macro level.

    1. rebelgb December 25, 2013

      Brilliant and RIGHT ON THE HEAD! I have been saying this for years. MM’s biggest faults are his stubborness and his arrogance. He refuses to change or ever be wrong.

      Just fucking ask him.

  10. Organicbuzz December 24, 2013

    Can not give up.

    1. Andrew Chitko December 24, 2013

      Are you suggesting that letting a team score is giving up? That simply isn’t true.