In this week's edition, the head coach discusses the running game, the challenge flag and dealing with the officials, among other topics.
The Festival Foods Facebook question of the week is from Dennis from Manitowoc, WI. His question is: Why is it so difficult to establish a run game?
The run game is like any other part of the game, whether it's punt protection, pressure defense, or the vertical passing game. There are intricacies in every segment that are a challenge, and there are a lot of pieces that need to fit together. Running the ball starts with the blocking unit and fitting the design of the schemes to the players' strengths. The fundamentals, combination blocks and time clock of the blocking scheme need to fit. Additionally, it all needs to be in tune with the course, the decision-making and the running skill of the running back. It's a coordinated effort that takes 11 people to develop consistency and efficiency.
Ron from Hancock, MI
Does crowd volume and reaction ever determine if you throw the red flag?
No, not at all. It's nice to be encouraged to make decisions, but the challenge flag is a component of the game that involves more strategy than people realize. The Saints game was a perfect example. Looking back, challenging Jordy's catch was a questionable decision. If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't challenge it because it was in the first quarter. On our second challenge, when Jimmy Graham made the catch on his hip, it was a third-down play that resulted in a first down. I thought about whether or not to throw the red flag because it was early in the third quarter, and I didn't want to be out of challenges. If we win or lose the second one, I'm out of challenges for the rest of the game because I lost the first one. However, with both offenses playing well I thought the challenge was worth it because it would have given us a defensive stop. Unfortunately, the Saints had the kickoff-return fumble in the fourth quarter and I couldn't challenge it. There's a lot of strategy that goes into throwing the red flag. As a coach, you have to be disciplined enough to think everything through, just like your play calls. It's important to consider every implication when deciding whether or not to use a challenge.
Michelle from Nashville, TN
Coach, what are the three greatest challenges you have to deal with on a daily/weekly basis?
The three biggest challenges are keeping a finger on the pulse of the team, managing injuries and developing the schedule. We spend a lot of time on scheduling and the whole season is laid out in advance. However, you have to adjust that regularly based on the health of your team and other factors.
Q. Is the bye week a motivator for teams to win so they can feel good going into the bye?
Absolutely. Like most teams heading into the bye, our team has a little extra motivation to win because it directly correlates to how much time they have off. That's always a good motivator for players and coaches. Everybody understands the week-to-week grind of an NFL season, and going into your bye week with a win is a lot more mentally refreshing than the alternative.
Q. What is your general evaluation of the Jaguars game?
We played well in two out of three phases, and most importantly, we won the game. The special teams played very well, particularly our core players on the coverage and return units. Obviously, the punt block was a huge play in the game. The defense probably played the best of the three phases. Offensively, I felt we left a lot of production on the field because we lacked technique.
Q. What's the perspective going into this week's game against Arizona?
It's an NFC opponent, and we had an opportunity to watch them play live on Monday night against San Francisco. However, we're at the point in our season where we can't get caught up in what the other team is doing. We're focused on doing the things we do, doing them better each week, and playing well. We need to perform better as a football team and that never changes. It's about doing whatever it takes to win the football game while having the highest possible quality of play. We stay in line with the grind of the season by taking it week to week. Outside of this building, people want to talk about a philosophy or single out a statistic for convenient analysis. We understand that's part of this business, but we need to focus on winning. Good football teams win by picking one another up. We often talk about the next man up in terms of dealing with injuries, but picking each other up is one of the biggest principles of winning when things aren't going well. Everybody has to be ready to make plays. We can't stand around waiting for Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews to make all of the plays. Everybody needs to make plays. That was the whole theory behind relying more on our depth coming into this season. It was about improving the whole football team so every player takes advantage of their opportunity to make a play when it comes.
Q. What are your instructions to your players for dealing with their frustration with officials' calls?
It's important to realize they're human and they're competing. We talk every Thursday about the officials and their tendencies before the upcoming game. They're human as well, and they have natural tendencies and penalties they call more than others. We emphasize their tendencies with our team. Players know the best approach with an official is to talk with them, as opposed to yelling. I've tried yelling at officials and it doesn't work. You're better off communicating in a respectful manner. To a man, the officials want to do a good job, administer the rules of the game and keep it about the players competing. That's part of a coach's pre-game conversation with the officials every week. They want to perform well as badly as we do. As a result, you're a lot better off trying to have a discussion rather than taking out your frustrations and emotions on them. Don't get me wrong, it can be difficult. There is nothing like the competitive arena on the football field and it requires a lot of discipline. For the most part, I think our players handle themselves appropriately.
Q. Do you get the sense that you have a young defense on the rise?
Yes, our entire football team is on the rise. Our younger players, particularly on defense, are getting more opportunities and there are a lot of good things to build off of from the Jacksonville game. We knew coming into the season it would take some time for the young players to develop, and it's come to the forefront now because of some of the injuries we've had. In the long run, it's going to make us a lot better football team.
Q. Have you ever been associated with special teams that have made as many big plays as this year's special teams have?
We had some very good special teams units during my years in Kansas City. I've talked about this a lot with Shawn Slocum, our combination of youth and experience on our special teams is finally balanced. In my first few years with the Packers, it was not balanced. I like the look of our special teams. I like its operation, including our meeting structure and the mindset of our guys. It's a good group and the coaches and the veteran players are doing a lot better job of educating and enforcing the expectations on special teams. That's a big part of our success, and a lot of credit goes to our experienced players.
To see previous editions of "Tuesdays with McCarthy," click here.