To hear Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy tell it, there is no great mystery about how to fix his team’s offensive problems from last season. Some of that has to do with simply keeping players healthy. More of it has to do with the overall approach this team must take to contend for a championship again. If there is one thing the Packers have to do, it’s to remember how they became so dangerous in the first place.
That was the overriding theme of a recent conversation with McCarthy as the Packers wrapped up their offseason training program. The past three months have been about stripping down the offense, taking a hard look at what works best and reinforcing the notion that going back to basics is definitely a good thing. This is the same team that had spent seven straight seasons heading into 2015 as an offensive juggernaut led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Of course, that was hard to recall last year, when injuries and inconsistency resulted in what was best regarded as a weekly struggle to move the football.
Sure, those issues weren’t debilitating enough to keep Green Bay from finishing 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff spot. However, the Packers were expected to be much better than that, and the expectations on this offense are going to only increase. Green Bay may have possessed enough talent to survive in 2015. In 2016, with a healthy roster — and McCarthy calling plays full-time again after reassuming those duties at the end of last season — this could very well be the team to beat in the NFC.
When asked about how this offense will improve, McCarthy said: “The best plays are still the basic plays. It’s not the design of the play. It’s what everybody can do with that design … That’s what we have to get back to — winning with the fundamentals, with players and not plays. When you get in tough times, offensively, we may have leaned a little more towards plays instead of focusing on developing players. That’s a big part of my getting back in there full-time [calling plays]. That’s how I built this thing, and that’s how it should be ran. We got away from that a little bit.”
The Packers actually had never been worse since Rodgers became their starting quarterback in 2008. Last season, they ranked 15th in the NFL in scoring (23.0 points per game), 23rd in total yards (334.6 per game) and 25th in passing yards (218.9 per game). In each of the previous seven years, Green Bay had ranked 10th or higher in two of those categories (points or passing offense) and was never lower than 13th in total offense. All that futility in 2015 resulted in McCarthy pulling play-calling responsibilities from associate head coach/offense Tom Clements — to whom McCarthy had initially given those duties last offseason — with four games left in the regular season.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t special moments for the Packers. They did open the season with six straight wins. Green Bay also beat the Detroit Lions on one Hail Mary play and nearly upset the Arizona Cardinals with another miracle in an overtime loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. When McCarthy talks about fundamentals, he’s referring to the following: coping in a league where most defenses are taking away big plays with three-deep coverages, running the ball more effectively and having enough versatility to keep opponents on their toes. The last thing and wholesale NFL jerseys he wants is for this offense to become as predictable as it was in 2015.
The state of Rodgers’ receiving corps appeared bleak when go-to target Jordy Nelson was quickly ruled out for the game after taking the crown of Leon Hall’s helmet to his ribcage in the second quarter. Cobb picked the right time to play hero, coming through with his best game in two years after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury. Between Cobb, Adams (eight receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown) and secret weapon Jared Cook, Rodgers has enough firepower to hang with the top-seeded Cowboys even if Nelson misses the Divisional Round at Dallas.
All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins showed Defensive Player of the Year form in a three-play sequence during the third quarter. After a forearm shiver stopped Aaron Ripkowski cold in front of the first-down marker, Collins stonewalled the powerful fullback on back-to-back short-yardage carries. Giants general manager Jerry Reese deserves NFL Executive of the Year consideration after refashioning an outstanding defense with cheap jerseys of Collins as the centerpiece.
That said, Reese has his work cut out for him on the other side of the ball. The Giants were held under 20 points for the sixth consecutive game, the longest such stretch of Eli Manning’s career. Manning came out firing in the first quarter, but was done in by shaky receiver play and the offensive line’s inability to open holes in the running game. As promising as rookie tailback Paul Perkins was in December, he was purely a shotgun specialist versus nickel defenses. The ground attack lacked a sustaining element all season long, which left a slumping Manning in poor passing situations. If Eli is going to recapture 2015 form, Reese must fix the blocking and add a power back.
Sources said Dorsey is incredibly well-regarded by the Packers executive committee, including President and CEO Mark Murphy, from his time as a scout, Director of College Scouting and Director of Football Operations. Timing would have to be perfect, but if Thompson steps away to take a senior scouting role as some involved believe, Dorsey would be in a position to step in this year.
Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have worked hand-in-hand over the past four years to build the Chiefs into a consistent winner, and they are seeded second in the AFC playoffs. The Chiefs intend to give a contract extension to Reid this offseason, a source said. After this year, Reid will be in the final year of his deal.
The list of successors to Thompson is an intriguing one. It includes Director of Football Operations Eliot Wolf, who interviewed this week for the 49ers’ open GM job. While he was blocked from interviewing for the Lions’ GM job last year, his interview this year means he could be leaving. There is also Russ Ball, the vice president of football administration, who is universally respected in the NFL and by the executive committee. Director of Player Personnel Brian Gutekunst and Senior Personnel Executive Alonzo Highsmith are among the talented members of the Packers’ front office.
With Dorsey entering the picture, it adds some intrigue to the future of the Packers’ front office.