GREEN BAY – Monday was the type of day-after that Mike McCarthy lives for.
He got to review a big victory with his team while revealing several areas for improvement.
“We’re happy to be where we are at 4-1, but by no means …,” McCarthy said, not finishing a sentence he didn’t need to less than 24 hours after the Packers’ dramatic 35-31 comeback victory in Dallas.
“We need to play better. It’s great to win and coach hard on Mondays.”
The offense certainly had the most exemplary performance, scoring five times in seven possessions (four TDs, one FG), but four sacks and a dropped pass or missed assignment here and there caused some trouble.
The ground game had by far its best showing of the season with rookie running back Aaron Jones taking the reins. Jones rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, leading to the obvious question of just where the depth chart stands at the position right now with Ty Montgomery (broken ribs) currently sidelined and rookies Jamaal Williams and Davante Mays getting little to no snaps.
Asked if he’ll have a 1-2 punch with Montgomery and Jones once the veteran’s ribs heal, McCarthy took a big-picture view.
“I hope I have a 1-4 punch,” he said. “That’s why we drafted three running backs. It takes time. It’s a young man’s league, I get it, and Aaron had an opportunity he cashed in. I’m proud of him. He’s earned more opportunities moving forward.
“But this is not a one-man show. It’s going to take them all. I want to make hard decisions who’s on the 46(-man roster on game day).”
The defense certainly used everybody available, with rookie cornerback Kevin King (concussion) exiting early, safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) leaving late, and other members of the secondary going in and out of the lineup all game.
All the moving parts was one reason the Packers got caught with only 10 defenders on the field when Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott broke off his only big run of the day, a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter.
By the end of the game, defensive backs were being coached on the sideline to take positions they hadn’t played before, and Dallas QB Dak Prescott nearly hit a deep shot right down the middle to receiver Cole Beasley on the game’s second-to-last play.
“It wasn’t clean,” McCarthy said. “We need to be better, and we will be better. Those are things you have to learn from.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said a couple of adjustments helped in the second half against Prescott after he led three straight touchdown drives to start the game.
Adjusting their zones in certain coverage calls led to better breaks on the ball and took away some of Prescott’s safety-valve passes to tight end Jason Witten. It was a zone coverage that led to Damarious Randall’s deflected pick-six in the fourth quarter, as linebacker Clay Matthews was right on receiver Terrance Williams when the ball arrived.
Capers also suggested he changed up the pass-rush plan to take away some of Prescott’s freedom to extend plays the way he did in the first half, especially on third downs. After a 21-yard scramble through a wide-open middle to convert a third down in the second quarter, Prescott didn’t hurt the Packers with his legs again until the read-option run for the Cowboys’ final touchdown.
“There wasn’t a guy in there (at halftime) who didn’t feel we had a chance if we go back out and do our job,” Capers said. “We got them in third-and-longs and let them off the hook.
“Early in the game, we had Prescott moving around, and we have to do a better job. We made an adjustment and were more controlled in our (rush) lanes. Against an athlete as big and strong as him, you want to keep him in the pocket.”
On special teams, coordinator Ron Zook didn’t get into any specifics as to what went wrong on Mason Crosby’s two missed PAT kicks, other than to harp on the inconsistency of the operation with brand new long snapper Taybor Pepper and rookie punter/holder Justin Vogel.
“He’s a pro and he’ll get it fixed,” Zook said of Crosby, “but the ball has to come back consistent. If it’s going to be one way, it has to be the same way all the time.
“They’ll get it worked out. They got it worked out after that second one, and we have to continue to work and get reps.”
For his part, Vogel turned in arguably the special teams play of the year to this point with his booming 59-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Gunner Jeff Janis tackled returner Ryan Switzer immediately for a 1-yard loss, forcing the Cowboys to start from their own 12-yard line, their worst field position of the game.
Two plays later came the pick-six.
“That was a great play. That’s what you want to have,” Zook said of Vogel’s huge punt. “It was a big deal.
“Jeff did an unbelievable job. The guy coming after him had an angle, and his speed, that’s what Jeff does best. It was a really big play on his part.”