In this week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," the head coach discusses holiday games, pregame rituals and the development of LT Marshall Newhouse, among other topics.
Three fan questions will be selected each week and presented to Coach McCarthy. Go to the Green Bay Packers’ official Facebook page on Monday mornings to post your question.
Travis from Connecticut
Q. How do you feel about the team having to play on both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year?
Professionally, it’s an honor when you’re picked to play on a holiday. It says a lot about your football team when the broadcast networks feel strongly enough to put you on national TV. Personally, I also feel it’s a positive. Detroit is in close proximity to Green Bay, which will allow the players, coaches and support staff the opportunity to get home in time to have a normal Thanksgiving with their families, and more importantly, have the day off afterwards. I’ve enjoyed the Thanksgiving game because of the timeline and the schedule it puts you on. It’s a tough challenge to play in the game because you’re always the visitor, and it will definitely be an incredible atmosphere in Detroit. As far as the game on Christmas, it’s going to be another weekend that will be personally special. We have the schedule set so our team will be able to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with their families. That doesn’t happen very often and then we’ll get to play the national TV game that night at Lambeau Field. I think it’s great for our team and it’s always fun to play in those games. Our organization’s priorities are in order, as everyone will be with their families on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Andrew from West Palm Beach, FL
Q. What makes this year’s team different from last year’s?
You always start with the makeup of the team. We have different players this year than we did last year. That’s stating the obvious, but every team is different. I’ve had experiences in the past where we’ve been very successful one season and tried to carry it over to the next season by improving on where we finished the year before with no changes. You have to watch that because every year is different and every year brings new challenges. It’s important to stay with the philosophy of your program. We’ve been a draft-and-develop philosophy from Day 1, and that will continue as we move forward. We feel that gives us the best opportunity to continue to build the bottom of our roster and create new, healthy competition. Younger (healthier) teams have an opportunity to work longer into the season and history will tell you that. As far as last year’s team and this year’s, you can’t really compare them. Last year’s team was a great team. It achieved greatness and won the Super Bowl. This year’s team is off to a good start. We’re a very good football team. We know how to win. We have some components in place that we can definitely build on as we move forward. Greatness is achieved by only one team every year and that’s what we’re striving for.
Colleen from Cottage Grove, WI
Q. It seems many athletes have pregame rituals. Do coaches? Do you have a good luck charm?
I don’t have a good luck charm. However, I’m very systematic in everything I do, as far as my daily routine during the season. I can almost set my watch to it, particularly the day of the game. I go to Mass, and when Mass is over I head to the stadium if it’s a home game. For a road game, we leave for the stadium a half hour after the pre-game meal. When I get to the stadium, I have a routine of going through my call sheet one last time. Starting Friday, and no later than Saturday morning, I start calling the game. I like to be to the point where I’ve already called the game through my whole call sheet twice, and then the last and final time is in the locker room before the game. That’s when I put the final touches on my call sheet and really set my mind on the direction that I want to attack their defense. Game management and all of my other responsibilities as a head coach are already done and prepared at that point. I spend that final hour and a half before the officials’ meeting, about three hours before kickoff, preparing and going through my call sheet.
Q. Is it necessary for teams that have to play games in cold, windy conditions, as the Packers do, to have strong-armed quarterbacks?
I had the opportunity to work in adverse weather conditions in Kansas City from 1993 to ’98 and of course in Green Bay in 1999, before heading to a dome team in New Orleans. It became very clear to me in the evaluation process that it’s important to pay more attention to the physical characteristics of a quarterback, specifically, the length of his arms and the size of his hands because it does factor in their success in such conditions. I really learned the fundamentals of the quarterback position from a great teacher and mentor in Paul Hackett. I also had the chance to be around Alex Van Pelt at Pitt from ’89 to ’92 as he developed into a fine college quarterback and then with Joe Montana in ’93. We’ve always done a lot of ball drills, handling the football extensively, a lot of the same drills you do in basketball. I learned it in ’89 and still today in 2011 we’re doing the same drills, because the quarterback has to handle that football every single play. It’s no surprise that Aaron Rodgers is clearly the finest handler of the football in those drills of all those quarterbacks I’ve ever been around. The drills have been timed and counted for 20 years, and Aaron is at the top of the list. It tells you a lot about his athletic ability, his big hands and his hand-eye coordination, that he can handle the football so well. I’d like to think in our time here he’s really improved in that area because we do the drills throughout the year. Tom Clements does an excellent job with the quarterbacks, and that development will always be in place. My experience in Kansas City in winter games, and learning the specifics of handling the football in bad weather, was great training for myself as a young coach.
Q. Maintaining a sharp focus for 16 games, can it wear a team down mentally and emotionally? How do you do it?
It’s really a week-to-week business, and one of the positives of the media is they make it loud and clear and help you with that. You can swing from one end to the other in just one week, based on the coverage of the team. That in itself is a great reminder to take it one week at a time. I feel our team has done that. I feel that’s my strongest attribute as a head coach and I’m very conscious of being extremely consistent in front of the team. They know what’s important to me. They know when I’m backing off because you can’t keep the foot on the gas the whole time Monday through Saturday if you expect your team to play with incredible energy and passion on Sundays. A lot goes into scheduling, a lot goes into the environment you’re training your team in. There are three environments we operate in, the classroom, practice and the game. That’s why it’s distinctly designed and communicated to the football team. There’s a certain protocol and behavior that goes on in the classroom environment. There’s a certain protocol, behavior and tempo that goes on in the practice environment, and there’s a way we do our business in the game environment. That’s one of the first messages I communicated to the team upon arrival in 2006. The expectations of everybody when we’re in the classroom, on the practice field and on the game field. When you talk about job responsibilities as a leader, I feel strongly that you make it clear what the environment is supposed to look like and what everyone’s responsibilities are.
Q. Heading into a game that precedes a bye week, what’s the approach and mindset? Any different?
No, it’s not different at all. We’re on a one-game season right now. We break our season down into quarters. Our second quarter is only three games because of where the bye week falls, so we have an opportunity to finish the second quarter 3-0 with two road wins. This will be our second road opportunity in the division and to have two division victories on the road would be huge for us going into the bye week. Our focus is all on Minnesota. It’s a tough environment to play in. Every time you go through your film study prior to the Viking games, it’s clearly evident they’re a different team in the dome than they are on the road, and that’s normal for dome teams. Those are the type of elements that we really have to be focused on and will be part of our preparation this week.
Q. What’s the word on Marshall Newhouse after two games at left tackle?
He’s doing a good job. We feel very good about Marshall’s play. One thing we really liked about Marshall coming out of college was his footwork and his hand speed. He’s doing a very good job with that. He knows the offense now and he’s a very intelligent young man. He can play every position on our offensive line except center, so that tells you how he’s doing. Mentally, he’s played flawlessly as far as his assignments and responsibilities. He’s getting better each week. He’s put together two good performances and I’m very pleased with the way Marshall has played so far. This will be his toughest challenge of the year against Jared Allen up in the dome.
Q. Newhouse is one of your draft-and-develop players. How far has he come in one year? Where was he at this time last year?
You really have to give Marshall a lot of credit, because the biggest jump in development is from Year 1 to Year 2. Marshall has made a significant jump, and he did it without an offseason program. That’s a credit to him and what he did in his strength and conditioning training back home in Dallas during the offseason. He’s done an excellent job. He’s like all your young guys, you want them to be ready to deliver when their opportunity comes and he has done that. I’m very proud of what he’s done so far.
Q. Throw to score, run to win, or is it throw to score AND win these days?
I don’t really look at football that way, and maybe sometimes people think I’m being flippant when I get the questions about our run-pass ratio. I used to pay very close attention to it, but the defenses today play you differently than they did when I first started coordinating back in 2000. There’s a different approach out there, so with that, I feel you have to have a different approach for how you attack the defense. When a team is willing to overload or tilt their scheme to take away an aspect of your offense, I don’t believe in running uphill for four quarters of a game. I understand the toughness, the mentality of it, but I think you need to take that same toughness and mentality and apply it to clean runs. There’s going to be a point in the game where you’ll need to run uphill, whether it’s in four-minute offense, short-yardage or goal-line. You’ll always have to have that as part of the makeup of your football team, but I don’t count how many times we run and pass it. As a play-caller, it’s ingrained in me the importance of running the football. People may laugh at that when they look at the numbers, but it’s how I was raised in this business and I understand the importance of running the football and stopping the run on defense. Today is Tuesday, and the first meeting we’ll have as an offensive staff today will be the run game. It always has been and it always will be. Everything we do starts with running the football because everything else comes off of that.
For last week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," click here.