In this week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," the head coach discusses play-calling, the halftime mood during the Atlanta game, and the next steps for improvement, 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.
Suzi from Oelwein, IA
I've heard you have the next play picked out before the last play is played. How do you decide what that next play is or do you actually see how the outcome is before you pick the next play?
I clearly see the outcome of the current play before I pick the next play. However, I do have a play picked out for the next situation that our offense may be in. If it's second-and-8 and we're able to convert a first down, I have the first-down play that I'm looking to go to based on field position and the result of the last first down, or what occurred the previous time we were in that particular personnel group. If it's second-and-8 and it goes to third-and-1-to-5, I also have a call in mind for that situation. If it's second-and-8 and the next play is third-and-8, then I have a different call. It's just staying one play ahead based on the potential results of the current play.
I'm always navigating my game-plan chart, working it before every offensive series starts. I have a vision of how we want to attack the defense on every series and I believe every series is a microcosm of the game, an ongoing strategic chess match.
James from Beaver Dam, WI
Do you think being undefeated makes the season more stressful?
The answer is no, because the game of football doesn't really cause me any stress. It's the things surrounding the game that cause stress as a head coach. I love game-planning. Besides Sunday, Tuesday is one of my favorite days because it's game-plan day. It's the coaches sitting around the grease board, talking about how we're going to attack the opponent. I really, truly enjoy that part of the game of football and I always have. I really get a lot out of the camaraderie in the meetings, the ideas everybody brings to the table, particularly with our offensive staff. We've been together six years. Dom and the defensive staff have been together for three years now, and their ideas and how they visualize the game plan progresses very smoothly as well. Shawn Slocum is also very comfortable with the special teams game-planning. That part of it is a lot of fun for all of us, but there's still nothing like game days. It's a chance to go out and compete. The players ultimately compete on Sunday, but as coaches you get to compete in a lesser form.
The stress comes from the management of all the things outside of the actual game, such as dealing with the media, handling potential distractions or personal situations that always occur during the course of the season. If anything, it's less stressful being 5-0.
Tyler from Orlando, FL
When you lose a player on defense, does the new player have to fit into the defense or will the defense have to change for that person?
That process starts during the acquisition of players. The NFL is about player acquisition, player instruction and player finance. Those three components have to be in place to be a successful NFL organization. To merge player acquisition and player instruction, there have to be systems and structures of systems that you're able to tailor to any player you bring into your program. It's limiting to go into a pool of players and only acquire players that possess a specific physical skill set. The Packers have a view that's pretty simple – we're looking for good football players. If an individual is a very good player and has a certain set of skills, then our system of offense, defense and special teams has to accommodate that player. We don't turn good football players away.
Q. What was the mood of the locker room at halftime in Atlanta?
Confident. This team is mature and there's no panic. The only message the coordinators spoke about was the direction we were going in the second half. My message to the team was simply that we had taken Atlanta's best shot to start the game, including the surge of the crowd. I talked about adversity football. The game was going to come down to making big plays, key plays, and that's our strength. We feel that's been our strength all year, and this game was coming into our wheelhouse. The momentum was coming back to us, and it was time for us to just play our game. There was no panic and an abundance of confidence. With the score 14-6, we felt the toughest part of the challenge was behind us, and it was time for us to take over the game. Our defense led the way in the second half by shutting down the Falcons.
Q. How does it put added stress on a defensive coordinator when you involve 12 different pass-receivers in the game?
It's a little bit of pick-your-poison. I think it's well-documented that we don't line up and try to throw the ball to just one person, and that's evident in the way our perimeter players rotate through the different positions. We're a systematic offense driven by concepts and the execution of those concepts. Ultimately, it's about making the quarterback successful, because when the quarterback is successful, the offense is extremely successful, and success follows for everyone else after that. That's our progression of teaching and responsibilities, and that's the way we always operate. Aaron's done a great job of handling the football. He's a perfect example of a quarterback going through his reads, playing the game, taking what the defense gives him, and moving the football down the field.
Q. What did you see in your defense that you liked in the second half against the Falcons?
I thought they were dominant. They forced five punts and recorded two interceptions, that tells you how they played. Defensively and on special teams, we didn't tackle as well as we are capable of in the first half, but we were able to clean that up in the second half. I thought the players did a great job of tightening things up and going out and playing after halftime. We were reacting quicker. We were winning first and second down and started getting our hands on a number of passes. We applied some pressure on Matt Ryan, and that was as good a pressure game as we've had all year. Our pressures were getting home, we were getting there, and it definitely changed the game.
Q. How did Derek Sherrod play?
Derek played a solid game, as far as his grading, but you always have to take into account how he entered the game. He's probably taken more repetitions at left tackle than right tackle, but the way the game plan was set and based on Marshall Newhouse's experience, we felt it was best to put Marshall on the left and Derek on the right. I thought they both did a nice job.
Q. Your decision to have Mason Crosby attempt a 56-yard field goal – weren't you worried about field position if he missed?
Definitely. Anytime we attempt a long field goal, we take into account the field position we may be giving the opponent if it's missed. However, Mason hit the ball extremely well before the game in warm-ups. Every game we establish a mark, a yard line where we feel comfortable that we can attempt a field goal. Mason's mark is typically around the 35-yard line, but he's been kicking it extremely well and it was indoors, so we established the 40-yard line before the game as the mark. Shawn Slocum and I talked about wanting to make sure we were aggressive in this game, taking the points every chance we could, that was our mindset. When we didn't convert the third down on that drive, it was a situation that I would typically go for it on fourth down, but Mason was kicking the ball so well. I was very confident he would make it.
Q. In terms of improvement, what's the next step?
It's the fundamentals. When we come together after the game as a team, when the offense, defense and special teams have all seen the film and it's been graded, I talk about the assignments and the challenges of the next week's preparation. I talk to them extensively about tackling, and we'll practice that both Wednesday and Thursday. It's staying after the fundamentals, the things that don't really show up on a normal statistics chart, because that's what it comes down to. We're always going to have a good game plan for our players. Our players are doing a great job of staying with the game plan. We're getting better as a team and you can see it. There's a way that practice is supposed to look, the way they carry themselves, the crispness in and out of the drills. We are seeing that established, and we are seeing it carry over to the field. There are segments of all five games this year where we've felt like it's looked the way it's supposed to look, we're just not sustaining it for 60 minutes. That's our next step. We want to have a great week of preparation, and we want to go out and perform at a very high level for 60 minutes.
For last week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," click here.