Packers Focus on Overcoming Adversity
by Mike Conklin
September 20, 2013
In many ways, Mike McCarthy likes to keep the game of football as simple as possible.
While fans and media often focus on yards and statistics, McCarthy just cares about the simplest form of production...scoring more points than the opponent.
That was never more evident than earlier this week, when McCarthy was asked how he felt about the Packers snapping their frequently discussed 44-game streak without a 100-yard rusher. The coach's answer was almost comical.
"If I didn't do a very good job the last 40-plus games illustrating I didn't care about it, then I apologize," said McCarthy. The smirk on his face was evident.
McCarthy doesn't care about stats; he cares about points. This was illustrated in another exchange, in a Q & A with ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde just before the season began. It all started when McCarthy was asked about how the Packers were tweaking some things in the running game.
ESPN Wisconsin: You’ve said that...you’ve made some changes schematically.
McCarthy: Let me ask you something: How come no one ever asks about how many points we score?
ESPN Wisconsin: What do you mean? You led the league in scoring in 2011 and last year you were still fifth even though your kicker went through a period where he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
McCarthy: I mean, isn’t it about scoring points?
ESPN Wisconsin: The run thing is a big deal because you have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and defenses have zero respect for your run game. Both of you have talked about all the two-shell defenses you saw and what that did to your big-play opportunities. Isn’t there cause-and-effect there, that they play their safeties back and don’t bite on play-action fakes because they think your run game stinks?
McCarthy: I just think you guys find the one statistic...
It seems clear that McCarthy doesn't particularly care about statistics. He wants to win games. So when it comes to boiling down the sport of football to its most basic elements, he cares about how many points the offense scores and the defense allows.
He also cares about how his team responds to adversity.
That was the hallmark of McCarthy's championship team in 2010, and he hasn't lost sight of it. He even brought the subject up recently in yet another Q & A, this time with the Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn.
"The ability to overcome adversity, to me, will always be the biggest attribute of the 77 men that won that Super Bowl," said McCarthy.
The coach often calls it "adversity football," and it has been a focus of his program for years. During preseason games there have been times when he almost seemed happy to have the opportunity to see how his defense responded after the offense turned over the ball. He likes to see how his team will rise to the challenge because it is something he and his staff talk about all the time.
He summed up his philosophy pretty well after a couple of games back in 2011 when his defense gave up a lot of yards, but made some key stops en route to a pair of victories.
"Two weeks in a row our defense has stood up big in adversity situations," McCarthy said. "Red zone, fourth down. As long as we do that, we're going to be fine."
The bend-but-don't-break defense may drive fans crazy sometimes, but McCarthy doesn't care. He cares about points, both for and against, and how his team responds to adversity.
In a week during which the Packers jumped out to a 31-0 lead over the Redskins and went on to win easily, it would seem that the Packers would have faced very little adversity. Surprisingly, there were some moments early in the game that tested the resolve of McCarthy's young team.
On their first drive, the Packers lost Eddie Lacy to a concussion. It was obvious the moment the dazed rookie running back stumbled to his feet that he was done for the day. Going into the game, it seemed clear that Lacy would be a big part of the game plan for the Packers, and the fact that he was knocked out (almost literally) the first time he touched the ball would have to be considered a blow.
The Packers continued that drive a few more plays before grinding to a screeching halt when right tackle Don Barclay was beaten badly for two sacks on back-to-back plays. They had to settle for a field goal, and all of a sudden all of those questions about the inexperience of both offensive tackles began to bubble to the surface.
At that point, the defense had to respond to adversity. It could have been a confidence boost for the Redskins to notch those big sacks, and if Washington's offense responded with a strong drive of its own they could send a message that it may be a long day for the Packers.
For their part, the defense stepped up to the challenge, and forced the Redskins to punt after gaining just one first down.
Adversity situation handled.
When the offense received the ball again, it still remained to be seen if the Packers would be able to do anything to slow down the Redskins pass rush. Then, on the very first play of their second drive, the Packers promptly gave up another sack.
By that time the offense had allowed three sacks over a span of four plays. Visions of last year's game in Seattle during which the offensive line allowed eight sacks in the first half creeped into the minds of many observers. The Packers ended up going three-and-out on the drive, but not before Barclay picked up a false start penalty. It was not a good start for the Packers offense.
Once again, the defense held up their end of the bargain. They were able to stifle the Redskins, and gave the ball back to Aaron Rodgers in very good field position.
Another adversity situation handled.
Three plays later Mike McCarthy was faced with a decision whether he should go for it on fourth down. Stuck at the 35-yard line after back-to-back incomplete passes, McCarthy could have sent out Mason Crosby to attempt a 53-yard field goal.
Instead, McCarthy opted to see if his offense could match the defense's ability to respond to an adversity situation.
The game was still in the first quarter but the Packers offense had already sustained an injury to a key player, allowed three sacks, and committed two penalties. On a handful of other plays, Aaron Rodgers appeared uncomfortable in the pocket when he dropped back. Considering the pressure he had already faced to that point, it was understandable. The line appeared shaky at best.
Even so, McCarthy went for it on fourth down. Aaron Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb for a 35-yard touchdown catch-and-run, and the Packers never looked back.
Adversity situation handled with flying colors.
It is easy to forget just how close that game was during the first quarter. The Packers went on to put together a huge offensive performance, but football is a game of momentum and things could have conceivably swung the other way if the Packers had not overcome those adverse situations.
At the end of the day, the big numbers put up by Aaron Rodgers and James Starks grabbed all of the headlines.
For McCarthy, the fact that his team overcame adversity on both sides of the ball early in the game may have left just as strong of an impression.
Photo Credit: Packers.com