Packers’ Mike McCarthy under pressure to return to Super Bowl
This is the 11th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers’ July 26 start of camp.
TODAY’S POSITION: COACHES
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8
Head coach: Mike McCarthy (eighth season), 80-42
Coordinators: Tom Clements, offense (second season in position, 18th in NFL); Dom Capers, defense (fifth season in position, 27th in NFL)
Position coaches: Edgar Bennett, wide receivers; James Campen, offensive line; Jerry Fontenot, tight ends; Ben McAdoo, quarterbacks; Alex Van Pelt, running backs; Winston Moss, inside linebackers; Kevin Greene, outside linebackers; Darren Perry, safeties; Mike Trgovac, defensive line; Joe Whitt, cornerbacks
From the top down: Mike McCarthy is about to face one of his biggest challenges as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach. After winning Super Bowl XLV in February 2011, McCarthy earned the ring that every NFL coach chases. Now, after consecutive divisional-round blowout losses, McCarthy has to find a way to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl.
McCarthy has an advantage over most coaches in that he is calling plays for a superstar quarterback who’s still in his prime. While it’s a fair debate whether Aaron Rodgers is currently superior to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (NFL Network ranked both of them ahead of Rodgers), McCarthy’s QB in Green Bay still has a long career ahead of him. But that extra time can’t be wasted.
If the McCarthy/Rodgers era ends in 2020 with just one Super Bowl ring, is it not a huge failure? In New England, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have won three Super Bowls together and made it to the final game in two other seasons. Even if that’s the final tally for Brady/Belichick, it was clearly an overall success. McCarthy, with Rodgers just 29 years old and one Super Bowl victory already in tow, has time to catch up to that dynasty-like level of the Patriots. But with that possibility comes a lot of pressure.
This is a Packers team built for sustainable success. That’s good and bad news for McCarthy. This year’s roster has many young players at key positions who are expected to make major steps in their development. If that doesn’t happen, another Super Bowl in Green Bay is highly unlikely for the 2013-14 season. But, having that youth and relatively positive financial flexibility means McCarthy will have several realistic opportunities at Super Bowl trips between now and the end of Rodgers’ new contract in 2020.
As a play-caller, McCarthy will have to prove this season that he is truly committed to a running game. The Packers finally have a few seemingly legitimate running backs after drafting Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin and having DuJuan Harris for a full season. McCarthy has often talked about offensive balance but not defined it in terms of numbers. That’s convenient, because the numbers show that Green Bay hasn’t had a team rushing attack finish better than 20th in NFL rankings since 2009. It may be running back by-committee or perhaps Lacy ends up as a true feature back, but however it happens, McCarthy needs to take some of the heat off of Rodgers. Everyone involved in the offense deserves some blame for the league-worst amount of sacks Rodgers took last season, but an improved commitment to the running game from McCarthy would help.
Defensively, Dom Capers has a lot to overcome. It’s been the Packers’ defense that has deservedly taken much of the blame for Green Bay’s two recent postseason exits. Giving up a combined 82 points in two win-or-go-home games is rarely going to result in success. Neither is allowing Colin Kaepernick to put together 579 yards of offense, embarrassing the Packers in the process.
McCarthy stuck by Capers this offseason despite the local and national bashing taking place of Green Bay’s defense. Capers will now need to show that the team’s patience with him was worthwhile and that he can help gain the Packers’ defense some respect back at a league-wide level.
Rising star: There are several coaches on McCarthy’s staff who will likely be head coaches elsewhere in the next decade, but Edgar Bennett’s name could be called first. First serving as running backs coach in Green Bay for six years, Bennett has made the successful transition to coaching one of the NFL’s best groups of wide receivers. Winston Moss nearly became a head coach last year with the Oakland Raiders, but that fell through. Still, Moss’ title as the Packers’ assistant head coach will eventually help him land a job.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers, 2. Vikings, 3. Lions, 4. Bears.
This isn’t very close. McCarthy and the Packers’ staff are top-notch and have a winning formula in place. After a Super Bowl victory followed by back-to-back NFC North titles, Green Bay’s coaches are unmatched within the division.
Leslie Frazier didn’t inherit an easy situation in Minnesota in 2011, but he took his 3-13 debut that year and made the Vikings a 10-6 playoff team last season.
It’s difficult to get a read on what Jim Schwartz is capable of as Detroit’s head coach. The Lions were 2-14 in Schwartz’s first season, but they rebounded to go 10-6 in 2011 and make the playoffs. However, Schwartz followed that up with a disappointing 4-12 record last year, and he can’t afford too many seasons that bad considering some of the talent on his roster.
Lovie Smith’s time in Chicago is over after nine years with the Bears. Chicago now turns to Marc Trestman, who had been coaching the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. Jumping from the CFL to one of the NFL’s toughest divisions will be a major challenge for Trestman.
McCarthy says: “This team has a different edge to it, a higher sense of urgency than I can recall. I don’t know how to sit down and measure that and put it on a scale each year. Maybe it’s my higher sense of urgency. I feel the leadership of this football team is a very consistent and steady personality as far as the everyday work. We haven’t had the big swings — the highs and lows — that are normal during this time of year. I’ve walked off the field pretty much every day feeling that there was a lot of quality work that we can apply to the future.”
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter