McCarthy: Lack of big target part of Packers’ woes

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy makes a call against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Coach Mike McCarthy intends to keep calling the offensive plays for the Green Bay Packers.

Now if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can just get back a healthy complement of receivers for the 2016 season, the Packers could have an easier time moving the ball.

The process of figuring out what went wrong in 2015 started this week for McCarthy after the Packers lost to Arizona 26-20 in overtime in the NFC playoffs to finish 11-7.

Nelson's absence wasn't the only problem. Rodgers didn't play up to his typical, two-time NFL MVP standards. Injuries battered the offensive line. The running game wasn't consistent.

McCarthy also saw a hole up the middle.

''I've said this for a long time, everyone wants to talk about passing game, speed of receivers,'' McCarthy said. ''Philosophically to me … to have a successful passing game you have to have big targets that can turn through the middle of the field, whether it's a tight end, whether it's a big receiver.''

It's what made the versatile Nelson so valuable for the Packers. The 6-foot-3 veteran could get open for deep balls, or line up in the slot to make catches. The presence of Nelson helped make Randall Cobb better, and vice versa.

''You look at the production of Jordy when he went inside … now you're dictating to the defense what coverage they can play to you. When you don't have that element or the element to complement that, you see what we saw this year,'' McCarthy said.

Six-foot-4 tight end Richard Rodgers had eight touchdown catches, but averaged just 8.8 yards per reception. McCarthy has said Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams, who both finished their second seasons, must contribute more next season.

The Packers could turn to the draft to fill the need, especially since general manager Ted Thompson historically hasn't been busy in the free-agent market.

Otherwise, McCarthy cites the Packers' 6-0 start as evidence of the team having adjusted well enough to being without Nelson, at least up that point. He doesn't think he did a good enough job handling other injuries.

Left tackle was a particular problem spot after starter left David Bakhtiari went down with an ankle injury.

''It's part of your game-planning … and when we had uphill matchups we didn't do a good job helping that individual,'' McCarthy said.

Still, the Packers have made seven straight playoff appearances. Rodgers, who turned 32 last month, is in the prime of his career.

''We take full responsibility for the expectations here. We're not scared to talk about winning world championships and what you have to do to win world championships,'' McCarthy said. ''The fact of the matter is we were a successful football team this year, we just did not reach the level of success that we wanted to attain.''

Green Bay finished the regular season with a 4-6 stretch. The defense played well enough to carry the team at times, while special teams improved following a poor 2014 campaign.

This time, the offense took a step back.

Rodgers finished with a 92.7 passer rating, his lowest mark since taking over as starter in 2008. In the exit interview on Monday with Rodgers, McCarthy said he told his quarterback that ''he did a heck of a job'' dealing with the most adversity he's had to face since that 2008 season.

''I think he was really challenged this year more than ever with what he was trying to pick up for (Nelson) and so forth,'' McCarthy said.

A change in coaching assignments also added a different wrinkle.

McCarthy took back play-calling responsibilities in December from associate head coach Tom Clements. McCarthy had adjusted staff assignments before the season in order to focus more on defense and special teams, but reverted back to play-caller with the offense struggling.

The changes included adding receivers to the supervision of assistant Alex Van Pelt, who was already the quarterbacks coach. McCarthy said he anticipated Clements would return, while an evaluation of the staff and structure would start Wednesday.

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