Mike McCarthy goes ‘double agent’ to keep Aaron Rodgers, Packers on their toes : Packers Insider

Mike McCarthy goes ‘double agent’ to keep Aaron Rodgers, Packers on their toes

August 28, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From our old buddy, former PackersNews beat reporter Tommy Pelissero, from USA Today

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t click immediately, but with each passing day during the Green Bay Packers’ practices this past spring, Aaron Rodgers grew more suspicious.

Ever since Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave up offensive play-calling duties, Green Bay’s defense was communicating in ways Rodgers hadn’t heard before, showing increased awareness to the reigning NFL MVP’s checks and signals at the line of scrimmage.

“I started thinking, ‘Somebody must’ve told them something, because there’s no way that they would say anything like that unless somebody told them,’” Rodgers said in an interview last week with USA TODAY Sports at his locker inside Lambeau Field. “Deductive reasoning told me that Mike probably went over there and gave away some of our secrets.”

About two weeks later, McCarthy revealed his secret to the offense: He’d gone into a defensive meeting and presented a list of clues, so to speak, that would help the unit understand and compete with Rodgers and company on a more level playing field in practice.

It wasn’t just a ploy to challenge the best QB on the planet, though that’s certainly a byproduct – one that makes Rodgers flash a bemused smirk and say he feels like McCarthy is “a little bit of a double agent.”

(Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY Sports)

This was part of a broad re-envisioning of the program McCarthy has built over nearly a decade in Green Bay that would start with raising every player’s football IQ, at a time many would have looked at the results – six straight playoff trips, one title, a collapse in Seattle away from another Super Bowl trip in January – and said things were just fine the way they were.

“And you’re ignorant, foolish, dumb as a rock to think that,” McCarthy said. “If you don’t continue to try to get better, improve yourself, you’re going to get your ass kicked.

“The driving force is – like we talked about all through the spring in the defensive meetings – hey, we compete against the best in the league in pre-snap and things that go on in the course of a drive and adjustments. (Rodgers is) the best I’ve ever been around – the volume and his ability to see so many things. We need to learn from that.”

Reshaping the Pack

McCarthy’s outlook was influenced heavily by a stint on staff with Marty Schottenheimer’s Kansas Chiefs, who made no major changes after going 13-3, earning the No. 1 AFC playoff seed and losing in the divisional playoffs in 1997. The next year, they went 7-9 and everybody got fired.

In Green Bay, there seems to be one significant change every year, such as the revamped practice schedule McCarthy credits with helping the team stay healthy in 2014. And those changes tend to be proactive, rather than reactive.

McCarthy, 51, says he’d resolved to give up play-calling – a time-consuming process he found harder and harder to fit into his routine last season – as part of a staff shakeup long before a 16-0 lead slipped away and the offense went three-and-out on two key fourth-quarter drives in the NFC championship loss to the Seahawks.

“I’ve taken this offseason as a chance to take a Year 1 mode of questioning every job responsibility we have, questioning every computer report, every presentation method, playbook entries,” said McCarthy, who already has Phase 2 of the transition planned for after this season as he continues to narrow the focus of his job.

Among the questions McCarthy wanted to tackle this year: How could coaches improve the defense’s communication to match the offense’s superior level?

The answer began with letting the defense tap into the Packers’ greatest resource. McCarthy began spending the bulk of his time with Green Bay’s defensive players, whom he not only questioned on Rodgers’ operation at the line of scrimmage – “Why’s he doing this? Why do you think he’s doing that?” – but gave some answers, too.

“What’s really good is when you have a guy that’s as efficient in offensive football as Mike, for him to be able to share with the defense sometimes an offensive perspective and how they look at it,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “When Mike says that, they’re going to absorb it, listen to it and hopefully, there’s tips in there that can help us perform better.”

That some of those tips may have mitigated the advantage Rodgers had in practice on a defense he knows so well may not be a bad thing either.

“We all have tendencies, so it’s good to try to break some of those and we do it with dummy signals and dummy words,” Rodgers said. “We all have our little idiosyncrasies that we can’t help sometimes, and Mike obviously went over them and shared a lot of them with the defense.

“It’s fun. You try not to get bored hitting check-downs or hitting the same progressions you’ve been through in the last 10 years. But you’re only human sometimes.”

Green Bay’s challenge

It’s impossible to replace a player the caliber of Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson, who was lost to a major knee injury in last weekend’s exhibition at Pittsburgh. But that’s part of why the Packers have put so much time into accelerating the awareness of young players such as receivers Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and rookie Ty Montgomery.

Before Nelson’s injury, McCarthy said he intends to keep spending as much time as possible with the defense, as well as special teams. He still watches the offensive tape every day, but his input there will be upstairs with coaches – the opposite of past years. He calls himself the self-scout, charged with “looking at everything we do from as many different angles as possible.”

By next spring, perhaps McCarthy will have secrets to share with Rodgers about the defense, too.

“It was really interesting,” McCarthy said, “because when we broke the meeting, walking out, Clay (Matthews) was like, ‘Gosh dang, all this time, Aaron’s so frustrating to compete against. I know he’s a great player, but he knows every call, he knows everything we’re doing.’

“Then he goes – classic Clay – ‘Well, what do you have on me?’ I said, ‘That’ll come later.’”

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