On Sunday evening, we watched Mike McCarthy coach his 191st game as the Green Bay Packers’ head man. Taking into account the portion of last season that he turned play calling over to Tom Clements, it was also about the 180th time McCarthy did the offensive play calling.
It was certainly one of McCarthy’s best turns ever at play calling. In my mind, the creativity of McCarthy’s play selection was easily the best performance of his career. Congrats to Big Mike!
Let’s go straight to the critical time in the game, with just under eight minutes left to play. The Packers started a drive from their own 25, with the aim being to extend their narrow three-point lead, and keep the clock running while doing so.
At the 6:16 mark, the Packers faced a familiar 3rd-and-1. Unlike the many other times they’ve been in this situation on the year, Aaron Rodgers faked a handoff to Ty Montgomery just behind the left tackle, and strolled around the left side, untouched, for 13 easy yards. It left broadcaster Al Michaels exclaiming: “What a call! What a call!” It’s a play run fairly often – and effectively – by other mobile quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Dak Prescott, and Tyrod Taylor.
The play kept the time-consuming march going. On the ninth play of the drive, Green Bay faced a 2nd-and-1 with 3:50 remaining. In a formation I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, the Packers had Jared Cook behind left tackle David Bakhtiari and left guard Lane Taylor, then joined by Jordy Nelson, who came in motion and reset next to Cook, and with Ty Montgomery three yards behind them. It was a pure power run formation, and the four blockers (Cook especially) drove back the Lions allowing Montgomery to plunge straight ahead for four yards.
The play that followed was from the Lions’ 21-yard line, and with 3:03 to go. The obvious and conservative play would be to run the ball, use up time, and kick a short field goal giving Green Bay a two-score lead. It didn’t happen. Instead, Rodgers play-faked to Montgomery going left, and threw a quick and safe toss to Jordy Nelson on the right, for five important yards.
After a superb tackle-breaking run by Montgomery, the Packers found themselves with a 1st-and goal from the 9-yard line – again an obvious run play with the clock nearing two minutes and Detroit down to one timeout. But the Packers, aided by a strong scouting report, had other ideas. As Rodgers later explained it, the plan was for a short slant pass to Davante Adams, but defender Nevin Lawson lined up tight on him, so Rodgers signaled Adams to do a fade route. Adams faked the slant, and quickly got behind the 5’9” cornerback – the perfectly-lofted touchdown throw by Rodgers gave Lawson no chance.
Now with a 12-point lead, the Packers lined up for a two-point attempt. Near-wide-out receiver Geronimo Allison vacated the left goal-line area, leaving far-wide-out Adams to do his patented quick slant toward the middle. The ball arrived low and just behind the line of scrimmage, allowing Adams to simply dive across the goal line. This play had clearly been planned and practiced to get exactly those two needed yards.
In this one drive and the ensuing extra point, I count five plays that were either things we haven’t seen before or that were highly unexpected due to the score and time left in the game. It’s a Mike McCarthy I’ve never seen before, but I’d love to see again.
Will the success that Green Bay had with its inventive fourth-quarter play calling lead to more of the same in the playoffs?
With the injury situation becoming even worse on the defensive side of the ball, we all know the Packers will need to keep scoring 30 to 40 points if they are to keep advancing. Meanwhile, the competition will keep becoming tougher. Based on the win at Detroit, more creative play calling might be just the ticket.