I would not nominate Green Bay Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy for NFL Coach of the Year, but I have continually been impressed with his tenure in Green Bay. He suits the city and the organization. Two of his strengths have been his play calling and his flexibility.
To start with his play calling, McCarthy’s success certainly deserves a caveat. He has the best quarterback in the league, coupled with the best receiving corps, and a talented, if inexperienced, defense. His challenges are much lesser compared to some of the other coaches in the league.
That said, McCarthy knows how to use the talent at his disposal. Though he has stumbled at times in abandoning the run too early in games, McCarthy, overall, has consistently put together game plans that allow his team the opportunity to win.
With Aaron Rodgers as his field general, McCarthy has pushed a no-huddle offense at which the Packers have excelled. This year, with more teams playing the Packers with a keep-them-in-front-of-us defense, McCarthy has been willing to change the formula. The Packers are forcing fewer throws downfield, focusing more on short passes and checkdowns, and starting to establish the run after a strong ground performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
McCarthy, a by-the-books guy if there ever was one, is also willing to take risks and be flexible. The last two seasons, the Packers have pulled out some fun tricks, particularly on special teams. The opening on-side kick against the New England Patriots two years ago, as well as the onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl shows that McCarthy is willing to think outside the box to gain a competitive advantage.
This year, they have already faked a field goal twice (one for a touchdown, one … that didn’t go so well), faked a punt, and kicked a surprise onside kick. With the exception of the faked field goal that ended up in a turnover on downs, McCarthy does not force these decisions. With the other trick plays, the players all said the same thing: we’ve been waiting for the defense to show us a particular look.
Some of these plays they’ve had in their pocket for months or years, but they are smart enough to wait until the coverage is right. McCarthy’s mix of risk and conservative football has led to several game-changing plays over the last few seasons. Particularly this year, McCarthy has been judicious in the timing of these types of plays, knowing when the offense might be in trouble and need a little extra help from special teams.
McCarthy’s understanding of how to use the talent and skills of his players, combined with his willingness to take calculated risks have been a major reason for the Packers’ offensive success over the last several seasons and looks to continue for several seasons more.