In this final edition of "Tuesdays with McCarthy" for the 2011 season, the head coach discusses the gameday roster, preparing for the playoffs, and his backup quarterbacks, among other topics.
Kailyn from Racine, WI
What was your most challenging experience so far this football season?
The most challenging experience for me is the same every year, dealing with injuries, particularly injuries that occur during a game. The Kansas City game was a great example when our two right tackles went down with injuries. Anytime you have two injuries at the same position, it’s a challenge, because you have to move two or three people around. That’s especially difficult on the offensive and defensive lines, where the technique and coordination is so important. It’s a challenge to overcome. Those in-game injuries were probably the biggest challenge we faced as a team this year.
Paul from Phoenix, AZ
What is the process you go through to determine which players will be inactive for a game?
As a staff, every Monday and Tuesday we get a report on the health of our team. We then try to project whether or not certain players will be available, and that’s always a challenge. Players are usually competing during the week for those last few active spots, and the decisions often come down to each player’s ability to contribute on special teams. Shawn Slocum and I spend a lot of time together talking about our depth chart and all the potential combinations of special-teams players. We try to get all the guys reps during the week, because a lot of times the final decisions aren’t made until our coaching staff meets on Friday afternoon. Special teams is the key. That’s the tiebreaker in deciding when to activate one player over another for the game.
Chris from Geneva, IL
You've played four out of the five other teams in the NFC playoffs (including the three that you could play in the second round). How will you use what happened in those games to help with the game plan?
It’s definitely part of the preparation. Before we played Detroit, we had done some pre-planning on Atlanta, and then once the Giants beat the Cowboys on Sunday night, we got to work on the Giants. We’re ready for all three of those teams, and our pre-planning will continue as a staff through Thursday. We’ll spend most of the time with our players on Wednesday and Thursday self-scouting. Our focus will be on the things we need to improve on and some concepts that we want to highlight, regardless of who we play. We’ll definitely look at the prior games against those teams as we put together our plan. In the end, it’s the physical matchup that you want to prepare for. The scheme will take care of itself. We’ll have plenty of time to get that installed in practice, and our players will get a head start on some concepts this week on Wednesday and Thursday. The best film is always from the previous game that you played against a team. It allows you to focus on the physical one-on-one matchups.
You’re as good as the film says you are. That’s something you can’t get too far away from. He’s played two full games, and he’s had a lot of production as a quarterback against two good defenses. New England was a 14-2 team last year, and he played very well in their stadium. Then he played against a Detroit team with one of the league’s best third-down defenses at Lambeau Field in winter conditions. He really hasn’t had any experience in bad weather, being from East Texas and playing at LSU. That’s something we talked about prior to the game, getting the experience in bad weather. There’s nothing like playing in it. You can try to practice in it, but you have to play in it to understand how the wind swirls at Lambeau and which direction you’re going to take your shots downfield. That whole process of preparation was great for Matt. That experience in itself is something any young quarterback will benefit from. He had a good cast around him and it’s a good offensive group, no doubt about it. I’m very excited about what he’s accomplished, and what’s in front of him.
We definitely hope so. We’d like to get a full year and offseason with Graham. We like what we see in Graham. We like his personality, how he fits in the quarterbacks’ room and his skill set. I think people forget how productive a college player Graham was. He played in a very prolific pass offense at Texas Tech. He definitely fits the makeup as far as running this offense and showing the ability to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. I think he’ll definitely benefit from a year in our quarterback school. The school incorporates fundamental training that every quarterback benefits from. Since 1993, I’ve never seen a quarterback not improve by going through that training. Tom Clements has done a great job of continuing the quarterback school each year and implementing the drills in training camp and throughout the year. We’re excited about Graham.
Q. What’s more important at the quarterback position, being smart or being athletic?
I think being smart, because smart, non-athletic quarterbacks have made it in this league. They’ve done some good things. Conversely, athletic quarterbacks that aren’t smart are an injury waiting to happen, in my opinion. Defenses today are as multiple and diverse as offenses, and I don’t think that was the case in the past. I think you’re in for a long day if you don’t have the understanding of how the defenses are attacking you as a quarterback in the National Football League.
Q. Do you like the way your team is playing football heading into the playoffs?
Yes, I do. We have things we’re going to work on this week, but our margin of victory was almost two touchdowns per game. That says a lot about the production we’ve had as a football team throughout the year. We’re averaging 35 points per game and we’re allowing 22.4. That’s who we are. We know the areas that we need to continue to work on and we know where the stress points are for our football team. However, we also know the stress that we can cause for our opponents. We’re in tune with that, and at the end of the day, the playoffs are about winning. You can throw all the statistics out the window now. It’s about winning football. The Detroit game is an excellent example of what’s to come. I’m not talking about the score, but the environment. That was as real a football game as I’ve been a part of in some time. It started snowing, the wind was blowing. That’s what real football is all about, and that’s what we’re going to experience next Sunday.
Q. Playoff football is about dealing with pressure. How does a team do that?
The best thing about us is that we have players in the room who have been there before. We’ll talk about our playoff identity as a team on Wednesday and we’ll talk about peak performance on Thursday. We have some educational presentations about what to expect. At the end of the day, we don’t care who comes out of the opposing tunnel. It’s going to be about us.
Q. What about the defense? What needs to happen there?
Defensively, we need to stay true to our fundamentals. Our opponents have played us as wide open as we’ve ever seen, in part because of the production of our offense. We need to continue to do the little things, stop the run and try to make the game one-dimensional. It then comes down to pass rush and coverage. That’s been the pattern for our defense throughout the season. We’re going to get our hands on the ball, and when we do, we have to get turnovers. We take the ball away better than anybody in the league, and that’s something that has to be at the forefront of our performance throughout the playoffs.
Q. Would you give us a few thoughts on the regular season?
I’m definitely proud of what our football team accomplished, finishing the regular season 15-1. It can only get a little better than that. It’s unfortunate that when you compliment your football team, everybody wants to bring up the one negative. We had an opportunity in Kansas City and we didn’t play well enough to win, but 15 wins in the regular season – I’ll take that every year. It speaks volumes about our players. That’s an impressive run. We set forth our goals in training camp, one of which was to put ourselves in position to have the road to Indianapolis go through Lambeau Field, and we accomplished that. Now it’s time to play real football. That’s what playoff football is all about. It’s exciting, it’s fun. Players and coaches live for these types of games. Playing at Lambeau Field in this weather, it’s going to be great.
For last week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," click here.