GREEN BAY — The day Mike McCarthy was hired as the 14th head coach in the history of the Green Bay Packers, he sought out to build an offensive system that would last.
The NFL is a passerby league in which new ideas constantly flare and fade. What works one weekend easily can be outdated by the following Sunday with 31 other teams critiquing and analyzing each game plan with a microscopic attention to detail.
It takes ingenuity to last and foresight to succeed. Coaches have to stay on the cutting edge and keep their eyes centered on the not-so-distant future to prevail in a league that promotes parity.
Entering the final stretch of his 11th year as Packers head coach, McCarthy has fashioned one of the most consistently prolific offensive attacks in both franchise and NFL history.
The 2016 season has seen adversity wound into his fabric. A four-game midseason skid followed the loss of Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook and several starting offensive linemen to injury.
However, McCarthy has adjusted his scheme to better serve the remaining personnel, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played some of the best football of his career to steer the Packers’ offense forward.
Right now, Green Bay sits seventh in the NFL in points scored (25.9 per game), 10th in total yards (364.6 per game), 10th in passing (256.9 ypg), second in third-down offense (46.2 percent) and eighth in turnover margin (plus-five).
If current projections hold, the Packers’ offense is on pace to finish inside the top 10 in both total offense and scoring for the 10th time in McCarthy’s 10 seasons as the team’s primary playcaller, and for the ninth time in passing yards.
That consistency has set the bar high for offensive football in Green Bay. The Packers have scored 540 touchdowns under McCarthy’s watch, while averaging 26.2 points and 368.2 total yards per game, all tops in franchise history.
Vince Lombardi’s Packers are a close second when it comes to scoring (25.2 points per game) and stand in a virtual tie with McCarthy’s offense in touchdowns (3.1 per contest).
A deeper dive into the Packers’ record book shows seven 11-year intervals since the team formally began keeping statistics in 1940, with the latest offensive incarnation leading the way in scoring, total yards, passing offense, first downs and touchdowns.
McCarthy’s teams have registered a plus-97 turnover margin in his 11 seasons, second only to New England (plus-135) and more than twice that of third-place Atlanta (plus-44) over that span. Only nine other NFL teams are in the black in takeaways since 2006.
That turnover margin puts McCarthy’s Packers in elite company with Curly Lambeau’s final decade (plus-124) in Green Bay and Lombardi’s historic nine-season run (plus-115).
In an interview before the 2016 regular season, McCarthy said his approach is a reflection of advice he was given by his mentor, Marty Schottenheimer, upon getting hired in Green Bay.
“They hired Mike McCarthy for a reason,” Schottenheimer told him. “Make sure you be Mike McCarthy.”
For McCarthy, that meant marrying his West Coast offensive principles to a diverse and multifaceted approach. His Midas touch working with quarterbacks was evident with Aaron Rodgers, who rapidly developed into a two-time NFL MVP in McCarthy’s quarterback-friendly system.
Nearing the end of his ninth regular season as the Packers’ starting quarterback, Rodgers ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating (103.7) and is the only quarterback in league history to record a 100-plus passer rating in six consecutive seasons.
That efficiency has been established with an extensive menu of effective personnel groups on offense. Whereas Lambeau revolutionized the forward pass and Lombardi the sweep, McCarthy has left his mark on Packer football with a chameleon-like approach to maximizing his personnel.
Going into the 2016 season, McCarthy planned to mix-and-match receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery in the backfield in a way to disorient opposing defensive coordinators, who would have to make a decision whether to have a linebacker or defensive back match up against the hybrid threats.
Chicago coach John Fox admitted before last week’s game that the Packers’ deployment of Montgomery in the backfield caught the Bears by surprise during Green Bay’s 26-10 win over Chicago in Week 7.
While injuries to Lacy and James Starks forced the Packers to alter their course and make Montgomery’s move to running back permanent, the second-year playmaker still rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers’ second meeting with Chicago.
When asked about the Packers’ utilization of Montgomery earlier this week, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer couldn’t think of another skill-position player during his 23 years in the NFL who made such a radical in-season switch.
“Honestly, I think it’s pretty innovative by them,” Zimmer said. “That’s what good coaches do, they work to the ability levels of their players. I think Montgomery is doing a great of job running the football. … He’s bounced (outside), he’s cut the ball back well, he’s run physically. They’re doing a good job with him.”
When Montgomery wasn’t available against Atlanta due to an illness, the Packers instead opted to use third-year receiver Davante Adams as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
The absence of Lacy necessitated the Packers deploying more four- and five-receiver sets in the second half of the season, with Montgomery often serving as the running back in two-minute situations.
It’s been 11 years since McCarthy brought his brand of offense to Green Bay and the Packers continue to reap the benefits of what has become the franchise’s greatest generation of offense.