November 19, 2007
Gadget Play Un-Called For
The Packers' offense has been operating at a high level for most of the season. Over the past few weeks, Brett has been building on a pre-existing chemistry with his receivers and tight ends. This chemistry is allowing Brett to comfortably work through his target progressions on every passing play, and exploit the mismatch he eventually identifies. On top of that, we seem to have finally found a running game with Ryan Grant, who has put up respectable numbers over the past four weeks. Opposing defenses are clearly on their heels, and our defense is proving to be a somewhat dominant counterpart. That being said, I find one particular offensive play call against the Panthers somewhat disconcerting.
It was the first quarter of a game in which our opponent was clearly outmatched on paper. Carolina's most dangerous offensive threat (Steve Smith) was sidelined with an injury, and they were starting a 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. On defense, their starting mike linebacker (Dan Morgan) was also not able to play due to injury. Green Bay should have stuck to their relatively safe passing game, balanced it out with a reasonable amount of running plays, and used what they've already proven capable of to dismantle the Carolina 'd.'
It is for these reasons (among others) that I was completely baffled by Mike McCarthy's gadget play call during the first quarter. Lining up in a three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back set, the Packers looked to be running a fairly routine formation. The first thing that stuck out in my mind was seeing Donald Driver lined up in the backfield, next to Brett Favre. Then, amazingly, McCarthy had the stroke of genius to send Brett in motion to the flat, and snap the ball directly to Donald. Although the play went off as a rather benign five yard run off of the right tackle by Donald, the risks far outweighed the benefits in my mind. First of all, Donald Driver is not a running back. His body is not built to attack the line of scrimmage, and he is not strong enough to sufficiently protect the ball while attempting to burst through the line. I understand that Donald is very talented at picking up YAC, but those yards come downfield, typically away from defensive linemen and linebackers. Second, why take Brett Favre out of the play by splitting him off as a wideout? Does McCarthy really expect Carolina's defensive backs to pay attention to Brett? I'm pretty sure I could out-run Brett, and I might even have better hands. The thought of Brett catching a pass is laughable (yes, I know, he caught his own first pass). I believe, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a football fan who doesn't, that Brett is most dangerous while in the pocket, with options to throw to. Finally, why risk an injury to Brett on a silly play that has little chance at creating an explosive gain? Can you imagine the outrage (not to mention embarassment) in Green Bay if Brett Favre's consecutive start streak was ended on a play where he never even touched the ball? If Brett's career is going to end on an injury, at least let it happen while he's hanging in the pocket long enough to throw a touchdown, or running down the field to throw a block on a reverse like the lunatic he is. Don't put him in harm's way if you don't stand to gain much from it.
The only valid reason I could see for calling this play would be to set up a similar, but potentially more explosive play for later on in the season. Possibly an end-around or an option pass. But honestly, is that what this team is about? Last time I checked, the Mike McCarthy Packers were about playing hard-nosed, smart, physical, and fundamentally sound football. I have yet to see a need for gadget plays in our offensive scheme, and would definitely like to see those plays stay where they belong, the practice field. Now don't get me wrong, I love a great gadget play. By all means, continue practicing whatever tricks you've got up your sleeve McCarthy, and if the perfect opportunity presents itself, take a shot. A shot, however, is exactly what a great gadget play should be. All of this silly trickery for a five-yard gain in the first quarter of a less-than-paramount game seems more than a little reckless to me. Please Packers' coaching staff, don't out-think yourselves. Stick to what you know, don't put your marquee players at unnecessary risk, and respect the fundamentals of the game. I swear, if I see another poorly-planned gadget play end up in a turnover or a crippling injury, I might just have to turn the game off for like two or three minutes.
December 2, 2004
Trades and Acquisitions
Mike Sherman, as both Head Coach and General Manager, has ultimate control over the Packer's coaching decisions. The season began with Sherman using his top two draft picks to sign cornerbacks...
This was an excellent decision in my mind, and the number one pick (Ahmad Carroll) has shown significant improvement throughout the season. He displayed his ability to play with the pros on Monday night, when he recorded two tackles, one interception, and a defensive touchdown. These are great numbers for a rookie cornerback, especially going up against one of the leagues most dangerous passing units. The Packers have had injury problems in the secondary throughout the season, losing cornerbacks Michael Hawthorne, Al Harris, and Bhawoh Jue, as well as All-Pro safety Darren Sharper for at least one game each. This has put increased pressure on the healthy players (i.e. rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas) to perform on nearly every defensive down. While these draft choices have made some rookie mistakes (and gotten burned more than once), they are consistently improving each game and show constant dedication and hustle. Joey Thomas, for example, got beat for a first down on Monday night by Isaac Bruce. Instead of simply tackling the reciever and accepting his mistake, he stripped the ball and allowed his fellow rookie corner to return it for a touchdown. These promising corners could become the future of the Packer's secondary, and represent Sherman's astute ability in drafting new players.
On the other hand, Sherman did make one questionable call as Packer's GM when he traded veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie to St. Louis for an NFL Europe quarterback and a third round draft pick. McKenzie has provided more than adequate coverage for the Packers over the past few years, and is arguably one the most effective shut-down corners in the league. Why would Sherman settle for simply a back-up quarterback and a weak draft pick? While I disagree with Sherman's decision, the blame cannot be placed solely on him. McKenzie made it clear before the trade that he was not happy in Green Bay, and refused to play another season there. An unhappy player can bring an entire team down, and would most likely put forth a marginal effort in any game played. So while Sherman got very little in return for a great player, his hands were tied. Overall, the trade was unconstructive but unavoidable. Only time will tell how good Sherman really is at drafting players, as the burden will now be on his young cornerbacks to fill the void created by the unfortunate McKenzie situation.