In this week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," the head coach discusses the short passing game, traveling to the West Coast and self-scouting, 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.
Charles from Coldwater, KS
Q. Is using the short pass as a good as a run?
The short pass is almost as good as a run. It's definitely the same, in terms of a play-calling mindset, of what you're trying to accomplish. When you call plays and devise schemes, there's a risk in what you're trying to achieve. The highest rate of efficiency should be in the running game and short passing game. To determine if those play calls operate at a high rate of efficiency, we utilize the negative play statistic. I would say the short passing game is an extension of the run game, but running the football definitely presents the lowest risk. The next safest aspect of offensive scheme would be the short passing game. I've always felt the short passing game is a long handoff.
Tom from Dexter, IA
Q. I always wonder if maybe taking a loss or two is a good thing. Obviously, you play to win the game, but do you think it is an advantage or disadvantage to see how your team handles a loss going into the postseason?
Philosophically, we could talk all day about winning and losing. Winning and losing are representative of the three reinforcement theories – positive, negative and zero. As you develop a program that gives a team the ability to grow, positive reinforcement is the best formula for growth. Historically and through case studies, that's been proven. Negative reinforcement is a short-term answer for correction, but constant negative reinforcement inhibits growth. I think winning and losing parallels the positive versus negative theory. To answer the question, I don't think a loss is ever good, but it can give you short-term negative reinforcement to get your focus back in line. As a leader, I feel strongly that I can keep the team focused through winning and positive reinforcement to promote growth and confidence as we move forward. As a result, winning becomes ingrained, habitual and establishes a standard. A loss can be a punch in the mouth, but it inhibits progress. In professional sports, it's all about winning and progressing to be the best you can be, because if you're playing the best you can, your chances of winning increase greatly.
Matt from Royal Oak, MI
Q. With the short week of preparation for Thanksgiving, did the coaches use the bye week to game plan for the Lions? Is it difficult working that far in advance, or do teams tend not to change much on a week-to-week basis?
*That's a great question. It falls into how you handle the third quarter, and I will talk to the team about the third-quarter plan. We'll go into the San Diego game well-rested and well-prepared followed by the Minnesota game on Monday night with an extra day of preparation. Then we'll go into the Tampa game on a six-day schedule, so we have to make sure we're smart with our players coming off the Monday night game. We will be prepared, because the six-day work week is the same for the coaches. Following the Tampa game, we head into the short week, Sunday to Thursday, with the game on Thanksgiving. As a staff, we have already started to work on Detroit. Much like everything else in our program, our game-plan schedule is very detailed to ensure we adequately prepare for every opponent. *
Q. What makes playing on the West Coast difficult, or is that a myth?
Based on what part of the country you're travelling from, playing on either coast can be difficult. I've always felt the effect of crossing more than two time zones is significant. While coaching in San Francisco in 2005, it was a distinct challenge. We played the AFC South and the NFC East that year, so for many of the away games we traveled on Friday, and that was difficult. I feel when you're training a group of people, regularity is important to the environment. It's human nature, because we're creatures of habit. For us travelling from Green Bay to San Diego, we only cross two time zones. As part of our travel preparation, we'll concentrate on our hydration earlier in the week because of the climate change and long flight. We'll talk to the players late in the week about getting up and walking around on the flight and all of the potential issues associated with extended travel. It's a four-hour flight, but when we get there it's only a two-hour difference on the clock because of the time change. I'm very conscientious of the human time clock, so I'll be really quick in the Saturday night meeting. It's very important for players to be prepared and understand the effect of traveling because they're the ones who have to put their bodies through strenuous activity on Sunday afternoon. It's our job as coaches and support staff to help them as best we can in their preparation. Coming from Green Bay, our challenging flights are Miami, Seattle and San Diego, but we only cross two time zones. I've always felt if you cross more than two time zones, then you have to consider departing on Friday. The 49ers were the first team in the '80s to travel on Fridays, and they had great success with it. However, I like to keep things as close as we possibly can to the same schedule for both home and away games. I talk to our team about it all the time, and I think our players really appreciate and have bought into how important scheduling is in keeping your body on a consistent time clock.
Q. What does self-scouting mean?
You're scouting yourself. It's an opportunity to go back and look at everything we've done. There's so much statistical analysis in our profession today compared to 1993 when I first got into the league as an offensive quality control coach. I still remember sitting down with a computer programmer in Kansas City and writing programs for all the analysis that used to be done by hand, such as offensive performance versus the blitz or against certain personnel. That was a great experience for me because it taught me a thought process and a more detailed evaluation of the game of football. Now, that is a daily mechanism in our operation. The computer involvement in sports is remarkable. I always enjoy conversations with friends coaching basketball or baseball to see how statistical analysis is used in their preparation. The media also has great resources in that area now. Essentially, self-scouting is going back and checking your fundamental grades. I talked about that with the team. We put the performance grades for every player that has played in the first seven games through statistical analysis and presented it to the team. We talked about increasing the percentage of players having winning performances each week. The statistical analysis is done daily and it is put at your fingertips, whereas 15 or 20 years ago you had to work at it more to make it part of your weekly operation. It's like anything in this game; it goes back to the film. It's the little things done on film that can be entered as data into a computer program that gives you instant evaluation. The league has statistical breakdowns of dropped balls and missed tackles, a number of those things, but we don't just take their stats. We have our own analysis, because we want to know why. Why did we miss the tackle? Was it a competitive drop? An interception isn't just an interception. Was it a bad decision, a drop or a minus throw? It's a different level of evaluation within the basic statistics that everybody in today's game has available.
Q. What did the self-scouting reveal that pleases you?
A lot of production. We're a productive football team. What I look for in production are the things we practice every day. So far in the first seven games, we're a disciplined football team. That's illustrated statistically in penalties and assignments. That is a positive. We can improve on that, but that's something I was pleased with. There's production in all three phases, but we're focused on making improvements.
Q. Why do you break the schedule into quarters?
It's important to have short-term and long-term mindsets. It's all part of the plan. The immediate plan is to beat the next opponent. The most important game is always the next game. That will never change in this league. However, if you can give your team a four-week plan of how it's going to be navigated, it allows them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's just the way we're built. This is a tough profession. What these players are asked to do with their bodies, their minds and their emotions on a weekly basis, that's tough duty. As a result, if you can always give them that light at the end of the tunnel in a short-term vision, it's very beneficial. I'm big into human nature and natural responses to basic situations. If you talk to your team about that, they understand it and they respect that you're treating them like a man. I give them the schedule and I know their initial reaction is going to be to determine how much time they have off. However, they need to be disciplined enough to know that the coach is laying out the plan because he trusts them. I'm more focused on the workload and laying out exactly what needs to be done, so we can hit the next four markers and get to that light. When you break it down into quarters, you get to catch your breath. This third quarter is a great example of that, because not only do we have four games, but we have also that break after Thanksgiving. We can focus on getting to that break. It's like running a race as a kid. The first time you run a mile, you're wondering where the mile marker is. It's human nature. Everybody operates better when you give them mileposts or targets that they can focus on. I think it's a very natural human response to having a schedule with immediate and intermediate goals.
Q. What needs to happen for improvement to occur on defense?
The No. 1 fundamental improvement that our defense needs to make is tackling. That's really for our whole team because our coverage units need to improve their tackling as well. We need to be more productive in tackling. We're not far off from where we need to be, but it's those two or three missed tackles a game that are resulting in big plays. The statistical breakdown shows the defense has given up too many big plays, but we have to look at the tape and ask why. That's the information the players need. Why are we giving those up? We've had too many big plays against our defense, and the No. 1 solution to that is tackling. We've had some injuries and different situations that we didn't have last year, but also, this defense is playing with a hot offense right now so they're seeing a lot more passing. People are being very aggressive pushing the ball down the field against us because they feel they have to score a lot of points to win the game. That's been a slight adjustment from the past. Playing in Green Bay, the starting point is always stopping the run, and we still have to have that mindset. However, the reality is our defense is being challenged differently this year than it was last year. We have excellent players and an excellent staff, and we're going to be better in the second half.
Q. What are the advantages of having two running backs sharing the load?
I just think it's a long season. The game of football is a lot like boxing, you can only take so many hits. At a young age, I remember seeing Marcus Allen in Kansas City utilizing the ice tub up until Wednesday or Thursday. He'd talk about how it takes the running back's body a little longer to recover. Running backs take a lot of hits carrying the football. Because of that, I've always preferred two backs. A fresh 1,500-yard back in Weeks 1 through 8 is definitely different than a 1,500-yard back in Weeks 9 through 16, that's stating the obvious. You'd like to get into games where you're running downhill at people, and it helps to have bigger backs. James Starks, Ryan Grant, they're bigger guys and those arm tackles get a lot harder in December. Fresh running backs take better care of the football at the end of the season.
Q. Do you sense the games getting bigger as the season turns into November?
I think that's the nature of the National Football League. The saying used to be you always remember the games in December, but it's really November and December, because that's when the urgency picks up. Once you get into November, half of your opportunities are gone. You'd better be moving toward playing your best football. Teams start slower in games at this point of the season because it's more of a chess match. In the third quarter of the season, teams have seven or eight games of film on you, and you have an identity, whether you like it or not. They have plenty of film to support how they're going to attack you. I always worry about December football, because that's when the pads come off in practice and you have to be really in tune with the health of your team. Anytime you take the pads off, you start to lose your leverage and fundamentals tend to go astray. That's why I'm a big believer in these padded practices for the individual drills, to keep the triple extension – hips, knees and ankles – flexed and playing with the proper leverage.
For last week's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," click here.