16-0 Watch: McCarthy's unheralded run

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
1:55
PM ET
Mike McCarthyAndrew Weber/US PresswirePackers coach Mike McCarthy is one of just five NFL coaches to win 18 consecutive games.
Most of us treat our head coaches like offensive linemen. We don't have much to say until they make a mistake or get beat or otherwise indicate they should be replaced. If you don't hear much discussion about a coach's job performance, there probably isn't much of anything to complain about.

On that scale, the relative silence about Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy this season has spoken volumes about the quality of his work. So for one moment, at least, I suggest we take a break from discussing Jim Schwartz's discipline issues, Leslie Frazier's game management and Lovie Smith's quarterbacks and recognize that McCarthy has presided over one of the most dominant stretches of football in NFL history.

As you might have heard, the Packers are 12-0 and have won 18 consecutive games. McCarthy is one of six coaches to have accomplished that milestone, joining an All-Star list that includes George Halas, Don Shula, Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan and George Seifert. McCarthy's team hasn't lost since Dec. 19, 2010 and hasn't been defeated at home since Oct. 17, 2010.

It was only a year ago that many were questioning McCarthy's game management, his teams' poor performance in close games and whether his program could turn the corner from good to great. These days, you don't hear much of anything.

McCarthy's game management has been slick, from deferring possession after winning the coin toss to ordering a kneel-down from kick returner Randall Cobb last Sunday against the New York Giants. He has pushed enough motivational buttons to create what tight end Jermichael Finley termed a "ridiculous" locker room full of "guys who just want to keep winning." And he has, to this point, insulated players from the increasing pressure of an unbeaten season with a deft mix of acknowledgement and caution.

"I clearly understand the 16-0 gig and the importance of it," McCarthy said after Sunday's game. "[But] that's why you have to stay focused on what's at hand, because every week it's going to be a challenge. We're 12-0 and we need to get to 13-0. We have other goals that are in front of us before we can even attain [16-0]. I hope we're in position to talk about it, but right now we really aren't."

This isn't meant to be the definitive "McCarthy is the best-ever" post. I just think we need to start the conversation of placing McCarthy's career in context, given what has happened in the past 12 months. Let's consider some bullet points here:

  • McCarthy has had four playoff appearances and only one losing season in six years with the Packers.
  • As the chart shows, he has the fourth-highest winning percentage among active coaches and the 17th-highest in NFL history.
  • His offense has ranked among the NFL's top 10 in terms of total yards in every season since he arrived in 2006.
  • McCarthy has managed what will go down as the most effective transition from a Hall of Fame quarterback in NFL history. We've discussed this issue before, but the shift from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers stands out in stark contrast to the attempts by most franchises. The one comparable example: The San Francisco 49ers' transition from Joe Montana to Steve Young.

I think McCarthy deservers considerable credit for his management style, his offensive innovation and public deflection of credit. But after spending some time around the Packers over the past year, I've also come to appreciate his willingness to veer from convention when it best suits what he understands to be the strengths of his team.

The two examples I cited earlier merit further examination.

Six times this season, McCarthy has deferred possession after winning the coin toss. On five of those occasions, the Packers have scored on the opening drive of the second half. Twice, the Packers have "doubled up" by scoring on the final possession of the second quarter and the opening possession of the third.

Against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7, they transformed a 17-10 deficit to a 20-17 lead in that manner. Two games later, they extended a 21-17 lead to 31-17 before the San Diego Chargers got another opportunity on offense.

To me, the strategy exemplifies two merits. Not only is it an intentional and relatively sophisticated way to manipulate the natural flow of a game, but it's also a demonstration of supreme confidence that the Packers' offense can overcome an early deficit if the opponent scores on its opening possession.

"I love it," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said earlier this season on his ESPN 540 radio show. "… I enjoy letting the defense get out there first, and I think our team does as well. I think for an offense it's a little bit easier to let the defense start on the field, to kind of relax as the early part of the game starts, and then go in, maybe taking away some of those nerves for some of the guys, so I think it really helps our offense. And ... you can double up on teams at the end of the first half, and the beginning of the second half. … That’s when you can really separate yourself from the opponent."

Meanwhile, you could question why McCarthy instructed Cobb to take a touchback after the Giants tied the score at 35 with 58 seconds remaining. Cobb has two touchdown returns this season, is averaging 27.6 yards per kickoff return, and many coaches would hope for a big return to jump-start a final-minute scoring drive.

But in this case, McCarthy weighed Cobb's skills against the potential of Rodgers and the Packers' offense and wisely chose the latter. Why put the game in the hands of a rookie returner, one who has three fumbles on returns this season, when you have the NFL's best quarterback?

Those are just a few of my thoughts. I'm sure you have some you would like to share in the comments section below. Now, let's go back to ripping coaches as we all prefer to do anyway….

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