It’s a message directed toward his team, but it’s a message the rest of the NFL doesn’t want to hear.
Being frank about his team’s performance Sunday at the Metrodome and over the first seven games of the season, Head Coach Mike McCarthy is not overly impressed with his 7-0 Packers, though he remains resolutely confident in the long-term outlook for his squad.
“Based on how we feel we can play this game, at the level and the standard we can play this game, we’re playing above-average right now,” was McCarthy’s assessment following the usual and extensive postgame film review and grading.
“I think that’s very exciting, because we feel strongly as a football team that our best football is in front of us.”
Moments before he was about to release the players for their bye-week vacation on Monday, McCarthy touched briefly on all three phases of his team and where they stand.
His biggest concern, understandably, is on defense, where the Packers rank 27th in the league in yards allowed, including 31st against the pass.
In McCarthy’s view, it’s not the total number of yards that’s bothersome as much as the big plays being surrendered. Against the Vikings, McCarthy said the defense allowed six damaging plays, including a 72-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. Minnesota also had a 22-yard pass, a 24-yard touchdown pass and runs of 29, 25 and 54 yards by Adrian Peterson on his way to a 175-yard day.
On the plus side, the Packers are tied for first in the league with 16 takeaways, including a league-best 13 interceptions, which has helped compensate for the large chunks of yardage allowed.
“We’re not going to make big changes. We’re in tune with what needs to be done,” McCarthy said. “Defensively, we’re giving up too many big plays, and that’s the bottom line. That’s been our issue.”
There’s little to quibble with on offense, where the Packers rank second in the league in points per game (32.8) and fourth in total yards, including third in passing yards.
It all starts with Rodgers, who seemingly took his dynamite season up a notch with a season-high passer rating of 146.5 at the Metrodome (24 of 30, 335 yards, three TDs, no interceptions). Rodgers’ season passer rating of 125.7 is more than 20 points higher than the next best in the league, New England’s Tom Brady (104.8).
McCarthy believes Rodgers’ paramount trait has been his decision-making, calling him the best he’s worked with in that area since Joe Montana in Kansas City in 1993-94, McCarthy’s first two seasons as an NFL assistant coach.
“He does not get bored throwing the easy completion, and that’s a great attribute to have as a quarterback,” McCarthy said. “He’s clearly in tune with taking what the defense gives you.
“He can throw to tight spots, and he has the anticipation, arm strength and accuracy to attack the seams. But he does a great job of staying disciplined and staying within the offense.”
Rodgers’ discipline, which has produced just three interceptions in 239 pass attempts, has allowed McCarthy to design game plans and call games as wide open as he ever has.
“I would challenge anybody in the league with our vertical passing game,” McCarthy said. “We’re not just a three-step, take-what-they-give-us offense. He’s running a well-oiled machine. It’s an offense that has a lot of options, and he’s in great command of it right now.”
Even when Rodgers has a miscue, like taking a 9-yard sack with the offense seemingly on the edge of field-goal range at the Minnesota 31-yard line on Sunday, the Packers have a kicker to minimize the mistake.
Mason Crosby’s franchise-record 58-yard field goal following that sack gave the Packers a 33-17 lead and provided a valuable three points as the Vikings eventually climbed within six in the fourth quarter.
“Mason has earned those opportunities,” McCarthy said of Crosby, who is a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals this season, including 56- and 58-yarders. “That kick could have been good from another eight, nine, 10 yards.”
Now McCarthy is giving his players the boot, as they’re off until next Monday, when they’ll begin preparing for the road trip to San Diego, followed by a critical stretch of the season when the Packers will play three games in 11 days, concluding with the Thanksgiving contest in Detroit.
One hope is that the team returns healthier. Rookie running back Alex Green was lost for the season to a knee injury on Sunday, but receiver Greg Jennings escaped with only a bruised hand. Players who have been banged up but have continued to play – linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson, safety Morgan Burnett and guard Josh Sitton, among others – should benefit most from the time off.
Cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) has been cleared to return to the field following the bye, and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) could be back, as well. Also, updates on tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) may be forthcoming by next week, too.
McCarthy told the players he’d like them to be “not seen, not heard,” during the bye week, meaning he doesn’t need his undefeated bunch providing bulletin-board material for any of the nine remaining opponents on the schedule.
He also left them with the message that it’s important for them to re-charge during their time off, because the expectation is there are more than nine games left in the season.
“The only two priorities that I gave them in the meeting was spend time with your family and get rest,” McCarthy said. “They have strength and conditioning responsibility that’s been covered with them from our strength staff, but it’s important for them to get away.
“We’re planning on playing a lot of football here.” Additional coverage - Oct. 24