Packers getting defensive
Mike McCarthy celebrated his 50th birthday on Sunday – well, celebrated might be an overstatement – and by Monday, he was acting like an old man with short-term memory problems.
Remember when the Green Bay Packers coach said this after the team’s 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles?
“I’m disappointed as the head coach of this team because we have a reoccurring issue that I have to get fixed. And we’ll get on that tomorrow, and I’m not going to get into that right now.”
Well, McCarthy didn’t remember.
“I said that?” McCarthy replied when asked about the statement.
He did. And what he was referring to – he thinks – is the defense’s inability to get off the field during the fourth quarter. But despite his forgotten vow to fix it, there are no major changes in the offing – not with the coaching staff, nor with the lineup.
“We’re analyzing everything,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how many personnel changes you can consider right now because we’re trying to make sure we have 46 (healthy players) for the game. That’s what my board looks like right now.”
Nonetheless, it was clear Monday that McCarthy is more concerned with the way his defense is playing than he is about the revolving door he has at quarterback or the team’s seemingly endless list of injuries.
With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers set to miss his second straight game with a fractured left collarbone, McCarthy’s focus Monday in the wake of the team’s second straight loss wasn’t on new starter Scott Tolzien, who played well against Philadelphia on Sunday after veteran backup Seneca Wallace suffered a groin injury on the opening series.
Rather, McCarthy’s concern is with his defense, which allowed Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to run for 155 yards and saw quarterback Nick Foles throw 55-, 45- and 32-yard touchdown passes in the Eagles’ 27-13 victory at Lambeau Field.
But his biggest issue with the defense was that the unit couldn’t stop the opponent in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.
A week ago against Chicago, the defense allowed the Bears to drive 80 yards in 18 plays and eat up 8 minutes, 58 seconds of fourth-quarter clock. By the time kicker Robbie Gould made a field goal to push Chicago’s lead to 27-20, the Packers had used all three of their timeouts and only 50 seconds remained on the clock.
On Sunday, after Tolzien’s fourth-down pass to Jordy Nelson in the end zone was ruled incomplete and the call withstood McCarthy’s replay challenge, the Eagles took over with 9:32 to play and kept the ball the rest of the game.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the past two games, the Bears and Eagles ran a combined 40 plays in the fourth quarter, gained 177 yards and held the ball for 21 minutes, 27 seconds. The Packers ran 20 plays, gained 37 yards and held the ball for only 8 minutes 33 seconds.
“What I’m disappointed in, and it’s gone on all year, is our fourth-quarter performance. We’re not playing our best football when it counts,” McCarthy said Monday. “We don’t have a drill for (fixing) it, particularly on Mondays, but it’s something we’ve been emphasizing. And to see it happen again (Sunday) is obviously disappointing and frustrating.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit has just three interceptions this season after picking off more passes over the past four seasons (103) than any team in the NFL, had at least two opportunities for interceptions Sunday. On one, the ball caromed off cornerback Tramon Williams’ shoulder and helmet and into the arms of Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the 55-yard touchdown; the other went through the hands of a leaping Williams for a 23-yard completion to Jason Avant.
The Packers’ lone takeaway came on a sack of Foles by Williams and defensive tackle Mike Daniels in the fourth quarter. The turnover failed to lead to points when Nelson’s near-catch was incomplete.
“Those are the kind of plays you want to make. Those are game-changing plays,” Capers said of the fumble. “Obviously the most disappointing thing was they hit three balls over the top on us for touchdowns. Those are things you’ve got to get rectified because no matter what else you do in the game, if you give up touchdowns over the top, it’s going to be hard to overcome.”
The defense certainly didn’t help the offense, which actually gained 396 yards and had two Tolzien passes to Nelson in the end zone go awry – the incompletion on fourth down, and the first of Tolzien’s two interceptions. Add in Mason Crosby’s two field goals, and the Packers offense got into scoring position plenty.
“You want to be accountable to your teammates, and as a defense, the last couple weeks for sure we haven’t been accountable to our offense,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We haven’t really helped them out like we should. They’ve been helping us out forever, it seems like, and we just haven’t – the last couple weeks especially, but this whole season. The second half, we haven’t played great as a defense.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy confirmed that Rodgers will miss back-to-back games for the first time in his career and won’t play against the Giants.
“He thinks he’ll be ready to go real soon,” McCarthy said. “But he’s a couple weeks away I would think.”
In his place, the Packers will go with Tolzien, who’d never thrown a regular-season NFL pass before Sunday. With Rodgers and Wallace out, McCarthy confirmed that former No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn worked out for the team Monday, but he wouldn’t say if Flynn would be signed to back up Tolzien. An NFL source then said Monday evening that Flynn had indeed signed.
“Matt Flynn is here,” McCarthy said at his 3 p.m. press briefing. “(He) went through his workout this morning. (He) looks good. That’s really all I have for you right now. Everything else is a work in progress.”
Asked how much the offense has changed since Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns for the Packers in the 2011 regular-season finale against Detroit, offensive coordinator Tom Clements replied Monday afternoon, “It’s still the same the terminology and the same basic plays.”
McCarthy also had no update on the injuries sustained by starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), starting right tackle Don Barclay (knee), starting defensive end Johnny Jolly (groin), starting outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot) or No. 3 cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), all of whom left Sunday’s game with injuries. The Packers are already without Rodgers, wide receiver Randall Cobb (broken leg) and tight end Jermichael Finley (bruised spinal cord), among others.
“This happens all the time,” said McCarthy, who was late for his press conference because he was in the training room talking with players. “When I go in there, they all tell me they’re going to be fine. So, I don’t know. Just talked to about six guys and they’re all going to play.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.