GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy has made good on his promises before, and it’s a safe bet he’ll make good on this one, too.
Back in 2013, McCarthy promised the Packers would run the ball better, and they did. Last year, he promised improvement on special teams, and they improved.
In his recent one-on-one video interview with Packers analyst Larry McCarren, McCarthy revisited the offense’s struggles in 2015 and vowed they wouldn’t be repeated.
“Offensively, we definitely took a big step back in a number of areas,” he said. “That’s why the (coaching) changes on the offensive staff are important. We need to get the detail where it needs to be.
“I promise you we won’t play offense like that next year.”
The Packers’ No. 23 ranking in total offense in 2015 was their worst in McCarthy’s 10 seasons – by 10 spots. Their No. 13 ranking in 2012 was the only other time in McCarthy’s tenure they fell outside the top 10.
There’s no simple cure-all to get the offense back on track, but in addition to the impact of the coaching changes, McCarthy spoke of the ultra-competitiveness of two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, the anticipated dedication of Eddie Lacy, and the continued development of young receivers as the core factors in an improved offense in 2016.
McCarthy believes Rodgers is in his prime and in great shape, seeing no reason his game can’t return to top form after a statistically sub-par season by Rodgers’ standards.
For all the outside talk about a supposedly testy relationship between the head coach and QB, McCarthy called it a healthy one in which both embrace the principle of “conflict is good.” In other words, productivity can result from disagreement.
“I like that personally,” McCarthy said. “That tells you a lot about the salt and the competitiveness. I think he’s probably one of the most competitive players I’ve ever been around, in everything.”
Regarding Lacy, an offseason conditioning regimen is underway and communication is ongoing. Lacy is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a crucial stage of any player’s career.
“He’s definitely a young player making that transition into that veteran realm,” McCarthy said. “When you hit your fourth year, you need to have it all figured out, and I’m confident that Eddie will.”
A number of things could complement a sleeker Lacy on offense. A healthy Jordy Nelson would be one, but so would the continued development of a young stable of receivers that includes Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis.
Janis has generated the most buzz since his breakout game at Arizona in the playoffs (seven catches, 145 yards, two TDs). That performance has sparked criticism of McCarthy for not playing Janis more when the offense was struggling.
McCarthy didn’t voice any regrets, but in Janis he sees a “very raw” player who has come long way in two years from the Division II college ranks.
“The way he’s learned to be a professional, do the little things, I’m very happy with the way Jeff has progressed,” McCarthy said. “Trust me, we were all excited to see him make those plays in Arizona.
“But I think you’re seeing a young guy develop, which is pretty normal. The pace, based on where his starting line was, which was different – everybody’s starting line is a little different – and where’s he’s hit in his second year … we look for him to be a very consistent player in his third year.”
There are strides to be made elsewhere, too. The improvements on special teams need to be just the start in that area, while the defense must reach a “championship” level. Those elements are part of his vision for 2016, too.
While speculation swirls as to how long the Packers’ Super Bowl window will remain open with Rodgers and Co., McCarthy stressed that the only window he’s focused on is the coming year.
“We have a program that works, but we can’t lose sight that each and every day we have to try to make it better,” he said. “When our players get back here in April, we’ll present the vision and direction to them and we’ll start that march to 2016.
“It’s all about getting back to the big game and bringing that trophy back home. Once you stand on that stage, there’s nothing else you want, and everybody understands that.”