Packers beat reporters Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski preview the game against the Lions.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – If there’s a responsibility Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy hates more than having to answer questions about his relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it’s having to pull the strings that landed him in that position in the first place.
In a wide-ranging interview regarding the state of his offense, McCarthy said Rodgers’ left knee sprain, too many penalties and lost-yardage plays and poor ball-handling have kept him from digging deeper into his playbook and running some of the new material that was added during the offseason.
Mostly, he said those circumstances have forced him to put the brakes on a player he has designed the entire offense around.
McCarthy said he understood why Rodgers was so frustrated after the 22-0 victory over the Buffalo Bills that he called the offensive performance “terrible” and suggested the game plan was no good. But he said it’s his job to look at the big picture, and that picture needs to feature a healthy Rodgers supported by a healthy run game and a healthy offensive line.
He has not had any of those at the same time the first four weeks of the season. It has led to the offense being average in many categories, even though the 2-1-1 record heading into the Detroit game Sunday at Ford Field has the Packers a half-game behind Chicago in the NFC North.
It is not the way Rodgers envisioned his comeback year.
“You have what happened last year (Rodgers’ broken collarbone), you could see right away in OTAs, he came back in great shape,” McCarthy said. “In the new stuff we put in on offense, the guy put in a frickin’ clinic. I have videotape of him in footwork drills and individual drills that I will use for the rest of my life.
“The point I’m making is the guy is dialed in. I mean, he is prepared to have a great year. He gets hurt in the first game. And what he’s playing with (the injury) is not small. It’s significant.
“He’s Secretariat. He’s got the bit in his mouth and his knee hurts a little bit. But he wants to run because he still can. And he’s got the big-head Irishman yanking on the reins a little bit. He doesn’t like it. I get it. But that’s my job. That’s the reality.”
MORE: USA TODAY Sports’ NFL picks: Who wins Battle of Texas, NFC title game rematch?
McCarthy said he had an unusual offensive package planned for the Chicago Bears in the season opener, but in the first two series, the Packers suffered two holding penalties and a sack, changing the play-calling dynamic. One series after that, Rodgers got hurt and he had to scrap the entire thing.
When Rodgers came back in the second half, he went to a base offense and somehow the Packers won.
Since then, McCarthy has had to come up with game plans that fit what Rodgers can do physically. Against Minnesota and Washington, Rodgers had to take all the snaps in shotgun or pistol.
As a result, the running game wasn’t as effective because without the quarterback ever being under center, the defense has a pretty good idea which direction the run is going. In addition, some of the effective play-action schemes he has in the offense, like what the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers are using, were out the window.
Rodgers took Wednesday off as usual, but he was a full participant in practice Thursday and was taken off the injury report Friday. He began taking some snaps under center against Buffalo and probably will expand that number against the Lions.
A lot of the game plan may be contingent on the health of the team, which may not be very good Sunday because Randall Cobb (hamstring) is out and Adams (calf) and Allison (concussion/hamstring) are questionable.
But the healthier Rodgers gets, the more McCarthy can do with him. He said the new things he and the offensive staff put in the playbook have been mostly sidelined and he’s hoping to get to some of them as the season wears on. The fact the running game got in gear last week will be extremely beneficial to Rodgers this week.
Whichever way the game plan sorts out, McCarthy said people do not need to worry about the working relationship between him and Rodgers. They are two completely different people from two different walks of life and they don’t always see eye-to-eye.
“(That) people keep bringing up the relationship is mind-boggling to me,” McCarthy said. “This is a personality business. My brother (Joe, who passed away in 2015) is as close as anybody I’ve ever been around. I’ve had conversations with Aaron about things in life that I didn’t even have with my brother.
“I know this young man on a very deep level. We don’t run around together. That’s not really my personality. I think you have to have a line between coach and player. They know I care about them. I hope they do.
“The Packers didn’t bring me here (to be friends), they brought me here to coach them first.”