GREEN BAY—There is a time this comes up every season.
On his first day as head coach, Mike McCarthy told his players that success would be the toughest thing they’d have to handle.
Well, nearing the midway point of 2013, McCarthy has a young team that has won four games in a row while dealing with injuries galore, and by the head coach’s own account, continuing to steadily improve.
The approach to handling that success right now? No time for reflection, certainly not during Bears week.
“I’m not really in the mood to bang drums about anything. This is the Chicago Bears and the Packers playing,” McCarthy said on Thursday, going on to call Packers-Bears “the game” in the league each year with so much history and tradition behind it.
“I know we’ve had success, but I don’t think this is the time to jump up and down and think we’ve arrived.”
There’s plenty to like, of course, about where the Packers stand, and not just because they’re in first place in the NFC North.
They’ve found a rookie left tackle who hasn’t backed down from any of his formidable challenges, they’ve established a power running game to complement a traditionally prolific passing attack, and they have a defense that is getting sacks from numerous players and possesses a deep stable of cover corners.
But McCarthy continues to emphasize that none of those things is an accomplishment. Rather, each is a building block toward greater achievement, and the players are buying in.
“We’re more focused on our preparation,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “We’ve won some games here and didn’t play well in the past, and Coach wasn’t really happy. He understands it’s all about the process and your performance on Sunday or Monday.”
The process this week reveals plenty that falls into the realm of the unknown about the Bears. This is their first game against the Packers under new head coach Marc Trestman and they’re coming off a bye week, allowing for time to adjust plans without quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs, among other injured parties.
The Packers have faced backup QB Josh McCown before, but not with this variety of weapons. Running back Matt Forte and receiver Brandon Marshall remain major threats, plus receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into a high-impact player in his second season, and free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett was added to the mix this year.
Each of those four players has caught at least 30 passes this season through seven games, a far cry from last season when only Marshall and Forte topped 30 catches for the entire year.
“This Chicago group is a bunch of big receivers,” McCarthy said, while also noting Forte’s three-down skills out of the backfield. “They take shots as an offense. You can see it with Jay Cutler, and I’m sure it won’t be any different with Josh, the ability to take the high-ball or jump-ball approach in a one-on-one situation.”
That’s going to put the onus on the Packers’ cornerback depth, which has some sorting out to do now that Casey Hayward is back in the rotation following a lengthy hamstring injury. Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Davon House and Micah Hyde have all had their moments this season and there simply isn’t room on the field for everybody, at least not all at once.
McCarthy isn’t complaining. Nothing maintains an edge like a desire to play.
“It’s the responsibility of anybody on our football team, particularly when you do have the competition we have in the secondary, for somebody to grab the rope and jump ahead,” McCarthy said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Keep the head down, continue to improve and forge ahead is one recipe for handling success. It’s one the Packers will use as long as it keeps working and pointing toward the next level.
“That’s kind of the status quo there. I don’t think anybody is getting too high about things,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I’m proud of our guys. We do a good job of preparing. Our coaching staff does a really good job making sure we’re ready to play, and not too many people are talking about us right now, which is kind of our comfort zone.
“We’d like to be on the radar eventually. That’s means we’re playing really well.” Additional coverage - Oct. 31