Pack­ers’ McCarthy will­ing to take risks

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

When it comes to the ingame de­ci­sions Green Bay Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy makes every week, none leaves him more vul­ner­a­ble to sec­ond-guess­ing than when he tries to steal an ex­tra se­ries at the end of a half.

Some might call him reck­less. Others might say he’s ill-pre­pared.

When he used his fi­nal time­out with 43 sec­onds

left in the first half of a 0-0 game last Sun­day against Seat­tle, stupid en­tered the dis­cus­sion.

What­ever the in­ter­pre­ta­tion, peo­ple are go­ing to have to get used to that kind of de­ci­sion mak­ing be­cause McCarthy said he is not go­ing to sit on his hands this sea­son and play it safe. He said his slim-to-none-chance-for-suc­cess de­ci­sion was as much a mes­sage to his team as it was an at­tempt to score be­fore the half.

“I can do the easy way out and never do it and just run out the half,” McCarthy said Fri­day, a day be­fore his team left for a Week 2 game in At­lanta. “Con­ser­va­tive­ness is the easy path if you’re try­ing to keep the crit­i­cism down. I don’t think you can win cham­pi­onships be­ing con­ser­va­tive.

“I think you can get to 9-7. 10-6. You play it down the mid­dle of the road, punt, play great de­fense, play spe­cial teams. I’ve coached in those pro­grams. I know what that looks like. I’m try­ing to win it all.”

McCarthy ob­vi­ously heard the crit­i­cism that his men­tor, Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schot­ten­heimer, re­ceived for be­ing too con­ser­va­tive. In 10 sea­sons with the Chiefs, Schot­ten­heimer had a record of 101–58–1 in the reg­u­lar sea­son and 3-7 in the

post­sea­son.

The Chiefs never made it to a Su­per Bowl.

The gam­ble McCarthy took against the Sea­hawks would have ap­palled Schot­ten­heimer.

Seat­tle had just gained four yards on a run, set­ting up a third and 3 at its own 18-yard line when McCarthy used his fi­nal time­out. The Sea­hawks ap­peared con­tent with run­ning out the re­main­ing 43 sec­onds and head­ing for the locker room, but the time­out meant they had to run off an­other three to four sec­onds — de­pend­ing on if there were any tenths of a sec­ond re­main­ing on the clock.

A run­ning play would take care of that eas­ily. McCarthy still thought of it as an op­por­tu­nity.

“Best-case sce­nario, we fair catch it and it’s a free-kick sit­u­a­tion and Ma­son (Crosby) gets a shot at a 60-yarder (field goal) at the end of the half,” McCarthy said “We had the wind. That was worst case. Best case is if he throws the ball we may get one play. That was my thought process.

“It’s all about as­sess­ing risk. That’s a lit­tle higher (than normal).”

The only way the Pack­ers would have had a chance to get the ball back was if the Sea­hawks threw quickly and in­com­plete or they com­mit­ted a turnover. McCarthy said he felt the Sea­hawks might try to get the first down throw­ing to keep the drive go­ing.

The way his de­fense was play­ing, he thought there was a chance he could pull off the risky ma­neu­ver.

“You have to look at all the vari­ables,” he said. “How’s your de­fense play­ing? We’re kick­ing ass. We’re dom­i­nat­ing. I be­lieve our de­fense is go­ing to stop them there.”

His faith in the de­fense turned out to be a mis­take. The Sea­hawks got the first down on a run­ning play and im­me­di­ately called a time­out. Then quar­ter­back Rus­sell Wil­son com­pleted a 34-yard pass and scram­bled for 29 more.

Wil­son had two shots at scor­ing a touch­down, but the Sea­hawks set­tled for a 33-yard field goal af­ter he threw in­com­plete to the end zone both times.

In­stead of re­ceiv­ing the ball in the sec­ond half with a 0-0 tie, McCarthy had gam­bled and lost try­ing to get the ball back for back-to-back pos­ses­sions. De­spite dom­i­nat­ing the first 30 min­utes, his team trailed 3-0 at the half.

Had the Pack­ers lost in­stead of win­ning, 17-9, McCarthy would not have blamed the loss on that play.

“The only way I’d say it lost me a game is if I didn’t try it and I got backed-to-backed,” he said. “I think it af­fects you more if you don’t try it. To me that’s be­liev­ing in who you’re play­ing. That’s why the one against Seat­tle, I thought based on the way we were play­ing de­fense I was very con­fi­dent we were go­ing to stop them there.

“At the end of the day your team should re­flect the per­son­al­ity of the head coach. I was brought here as an of­fen­sive coach. So, I’ve al­ways taken a lot of pride and ex­tra ef­fort in get­ting that done.”

McCarthy’s record in call­ing time­outs at the end of the half is ac­tu­ally bet­ter than most peo­ple would guess.

What is fresh in peo­ple’s mem­o­ries is that four of the last five times he has done it, the op­po­si­tion has scored. The only time it re­ally cost him was against Dal­las last sea­son when he called two time­outs with the Cow­boys pinned in­side their own 10-yard line with a minute left.

Dal­las drove five plays, 75 yards in 33 sec­onds for a touch­down, in­creas­ing a 10-6 lead to 17-6.

Prior to that, he had got­ten the ball back seven of the 10 times he had used time­outs at the end of halves. There were a num­ber of times dur­ing that span — dat­ing to the 2013 sea­son — that he could have done it but didn’t.

He said his an­a­lyt­ics depart­ment stud­ies the re­sults of his de­ci­sions and pro­vides him in­for­ma­tion on when he’s most likely go­ing to suc­ceed. But most of the time he doesn’t even con­sult with de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dom Capers on how he’s feel­ing about the play of the de­fense.

“End of the day, I’m go­ing off what I’m see­ing on the side­line dur­ing the game,” McCarthy said. “A lot of these de­ci­sions are based on how I feel the game is go­ing. You don’t open up a book (to make the de­ci­sion).

“There’s guide­lines you fol­low. The en­ergy and mo­men­tum; (other peo­ple are) go­ing to feel mo­men­tum dif­fer­ently than I’m go­ing to feel it, just based on where (they’re) sit­ting. It’s based on com­mu­ni­ca­tion I’m in­volved in, too.”

McCarthy has been ac­cused be­fore of be­ing too con­ser­va­tive. He tried to run off clock and wound up punt­ing af­ter three plays in the NFC Cham­pi­onship game against Seat­tle dur­ing the 2014 sea­son. Per­haps sens­ing the tenor, safety Mor­gan Bur­nett slid down in­stead of try­ing to score af­ter an in­ter­cep­tion on Seat­tle’s en­su­ing pos­ses­sion.

In his 11-plus years as head coach, McCarthy has por­trayed him­self as an ag­gres­sive coach will­ing to take chances, but his com­ments this past week are the strong­est he has made about not hold­ing back. Per­haps he sees what many others do — that the Pack­ers are as tal­ented as they have been since their Su­per Bowl XLV sea­son seven years ago.

“I think he’s aware of the type of play­ers he has,” line­backer Nick Perry said. “It al­lows him to make calls freely know­ing ev­ery­body is go­ing to do their job. It might come out good or bad, but nev­er­the­less it shows (ag­gres­sive­ness).”

Added cen­ter Corey Linsley: “I think in the mo­ment it does show con­fi­dence in us, es­pe­cially with the way the game was go­ing. I know we ap­pre­ci­ate the con­fi­dence.”

Maybe McCarthy will change his ap­proach if the gam­bles con­sis­tently fail, but he feels he won’t know whether they will if he doesn’t try. At this early stage of the sea­son, he wants his team to know he is will­ing to push the en­ve­lope.

“It’s that whole thing about when do you put your foot on the gas and pull it off,” McCarthy said. “You have to train your team, too. You can’t just say, ‘OK, I’m go­ing play it straight all the time,’ and then all of a sud­den turn on the gas.

“I want my guys feel­ing like I’m push­ing. When I take a risk and I’m ag­gres­sive, I’m telling them I be­lieve in them.”

Even if it might not be the smartest thing.

MARK HOFF­MAN / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Pack­ers head coach Mike McCarthy says teams don’t win cham­pi­onships play­ing con­ser­va­tive foot­ball.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pack­ers head coach Mike McCarthy is try­ing to seize the mo­ment with this team.

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