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Looking for offensive improvement, Mike McCarthy, Packers coaches borrow some new ideas

November 28, 2018

GREEN BAY — Remember when Aaron Rodgers called the Green Bay Packers’ offense “terrible” — and did so after a shutout victory in which his team gained 423 yards?

That was back on Sept. 30, when the Packers beat the Buffalo Bills 22-0 at Lambeau Field. The quarterback felt he and the offense should have put up more points than they did, having had their best day of the season on third down (11 of 19, 58 percent). Rodgers went so far as to say he and the offense should have had “about 45 points and 600 yards” in their Week 4 game.

Rodgers also vented about No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams and veteran tight end Jimmy Graham not being involved enough in the game plan, and assessed the effort by saying they played at a “non-playoff team offensive level.”

The comments made national headlines, and it’s worth noting Rodgers has since muted any frustrations he may or may not have with coach Mike McCarthy’s game plans — even as the team has fallen to 4-6-1 and become a playoff longshot entering Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

While Rodgers never said what prompted him to speak out about the offense’s lack of proper productivity that afternoon, it was hard not to notice his comments came three days after both he and McCarthy had watched the Los Angeles Rams put up 556 yards and 38 points on a short week in a 38-31 Thursday Night Football victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The day after Rodgers’ postgame remarks, McCarthy said he and Rodgers had talked about the Rams’ impressive performance when they got together that Friday morning.

Asked whether he could incorporate some of the Rams’ concepts into his own offense, McCarthy said he could, in part because some of them were already in his own playbook.

To McCarthy’s credit, the Packers have done just that in recent weeks. And while it perhaps hasn’t resulted in significant improvement — in last Sunday night’s 24-17 loss at Minnesota, the Packers managed a measly 254 yards and converted just 2 of 10 third-down situations — at least he, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and passing-game coordinator Jim Hostler have tried some new things.

From sending receivers in motion more often and calling more play-action passes and jet sweeps (and even some play-action passes off of jet sweep fakes) to lining up receivers in bunched formations, the Packers’ previously unseen play-calls have been obvious to even the casual football observer.

“You’re always looking at other schemes,” McCarthy said Monday. “It’s more adjustments within a scheme, really. But at the end of the day it’s about fitting it to your players, fitting it to what they do best and obviously challenging the defense.

“You have to remember, there’s a lot of video that’s being studied on each opponent. There’s also video being studied on trends. When we’re working this week on the Cardinals, there’s a group of our coaching staff and our football tech that they’re already working on next week. There’s a lot of different things that go into that.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Rodgers has been more self-critical in his post-game assessments and has mentioned the offense’s lack of “execution” more often than he’s brought up play-calls or the game plan.

Philbin said the coaches still believe in McCarthy’s scheme, one that has generated plenty of yards and points with Rodgers under center for the past decade.

“The offense, I think from its inception when Mike came here in 2006, I think there’s a real strong foundation,” Philbin said. “I think it’s built on fundamentals and execution — both the run game and the passing game, the protection system, the pass concepts. There’s both simplicity and multiplicity both. I think there’s variation in there.

“Everybody loves whatever’s working at the current time, you know? And that’s OK. That’s fair. But as I said about the players and the staff, I have a lot of faith in this system we have in place.”

That said, according to Philbin, the offensive coaches got together during the bye week and watched film of the Rams — a team that’s still No. 2 in the NFL in total offense (448.6 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring (35.4 points per game) — and several other productive offenses, including the New Orleans Saints (No. 5 in yards, No. 1 in scoring) and Kansas City Chiefs (No. 3 in yards, No. 2 in scoring) to get ideas.

The Packers, for the record, are currently 10th in total offense (385.6 yards per game) but just 17th in scoring (24.0 points per game).

“Absolutely. Totally. And that’s an ongoing process,” Philbin said. “We’ll certainly peek at what other people are doing, how they’re attacking (upcoming opposing defenses).”

It’s fair to wonder whether the Packers’ copy-catting came too little, too late, especially since McVay told Wisconsin reporters before his team’s Oct. 28 win over Green Bay that he constantly looks for plays he can borrow from other teams — including the Packers themselves.

“It’s being able to continue to try to do things that ultimately give our players a chance to make plays,” McVay said. “I’m certainly not afraid to admit if there’s some good plays you see around this league – I’m not afraid to admit we’ll copy them. I’ve done that with things that you guys do. It fits for your players. There’s a lot of really smart coaches and players around this league that you’d be silly not to try to use some of their ideas when you have the ability to see all of their film on a week-to-week basis.”

Philbin cautioned that teams can’t go overboard with taking other offense’s concepts, for two reasons: One, you still want to do what you do, and two, you don’t want players running plays where they’re not sure what to do if the defense gives them a look they’re not ready for.

“You have to be careful because you want to make sure it fits big picture-wise,” Philbin said. “All of a sudden if you don’t know a play well enough or a concept well enough and you install it with the offense and all of a sudden they decide to call a whole different defense and you’re sitting there going, ‘Uh … uhhhhh … uhhhhhhh …’ and you don’t have a good answer, that’s not a good feeling as a coach, you know?

“But we definitely look at a lot of different teams, there are some teams that are doing some great things and if it fits and we feel like we can teach it and we can utilize it and it makes sense, we absolutely steal with the best of them.”

Extra points

The Packers signed offensive lineman Gerhard de Beer to the practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound de Beer signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent from the University of Arizona this spring and spent some time on the Bills’ practice squad this season. He came to America to play football at Arizona after being a discus thrower in his native South Africa. … The Cardinals signed ex-Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins. A 2015 second-round pick, Rollins reached an injury settlement with the Packers following training camp.

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