The potential advantages of the Green Bay Packers removing head coach Mike McCarthy as the primary play-caller outweigh the risks involved in the proposed structure change.
Chris Havel of WDUZ in Green Bay reported Sunday that McCarthy was handing over play-calling duties to Tom Clements, who is expected to be promoted to associate head coach. Receivers coach Edgar Bennett would then take Clements' old job as offensive coordinator.
Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported any changes inside the staff won't be finalized for "several more days." The evaluation and negotiation processes are still ongoing.
Green Bay's meltdown in Seattle during the NFC Championship Game has already generated considerable adjustments inside the Packers' coaching staff. Longtime special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum was fired, and now McCarthy—the team's play-caller since he was hired as head coach in 2006—appears ready to give up his power for the greater good of the club.
There are risks to the decision—keep in mind, the Packers led the NFL in points scored in 2014—but McCarthy has long maintained he would hand over play-calling duties if the need ever arose. That time might be now, less than a month after his team threw away a trip to the Super Bowl during five costly minutes in Seattle.
Here is why the pros of the change outweigh the cons:
Head Coach Must See Big Picture
The head coach as a primary play-caller on either offense or defense has become something of a dying breed. And it's easy to see why: A head coach making play-by-play decisions on one side of the football can lose sight of the big picture, missing the small but important details of a game that often swing an outcome.
This is the crux of the change. McCarthy certainly has a long track record of success as a play-caller. In fact, only two teams—the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints—have scored more points since 2006, McCarthy's first year in Green Bay. But examples exist of the Packers struggling in some important in-game situations.
Look no further than the NFC title game. The Packers played conservatively on offense, failed on two game-swinging special teams plays and collapsed down the stretch defensively. A game firmly in hand got away from McCarthy, who also had little idea that Richard Sherman was playing with an injured arm or that Clay Matthews was on the sidelines during critical defensive plays late in the game. Once the Seahawks finally woke up over the final five minutes, the Packers had no answers.
McCarthy was also poor with the red flag in 2014, winning just one of five challenges.
Freeing McCarthy of calling plays should give him a better awareness of the entire in-game process. He will still be able to add valuable input on offense, but his focus can now shift to the management of the 60-minute operation every week.
Offense Will Survive
There would be some worry about the old adage "don't fix what isn't broken," but the Packers are likely keeping the play-calling in-house with Clements.
There is no one on the staff more qualified to take over the role. McCarthy and Clements have been together on the Green Bay staff since 2006, with Clements serving as both the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. His work in terms of designing and executing the weekly game plan in Green Bay—in addition to his brief time calling plays with the Buffalo Bills in 2004 and 2005—should make the transition an easy one.
|Packers Offense Ranks Since 2006|
|McCarthy hired in 2006.|
The Packers offense isn't about to undergo some fundamental transformation. The concepts will remain the same. The game plans will remain consistent. Even the play-calling in-game is unlikely to deviate far from what McCarthy produced from the sideline.
And let's not forget: Aaron Rodgers is still the quarterback. The Packers have provided more and more opportunities for Rodgers to run the offense at the line of scrimmage, either through the no-huddle or packaged run-pass plays. His role in calling the plays may accelerate even more with the structure change.
The Packers aren't bringing in a new system. The All-Pro quarterback is still in town. A modification in the man calling plays simply isn't a seismic change.
Lesser Load on McCarthy
As surprising as it may be, coaches are human beings, not machines. The stress of being an NFL head coach rivals any job in sports. And it's certainly possible the hardship of Green Bay's loss in Seattle—when combined with a recent personal tragedy—has helped McCarthy reconsider his massive responsibilities.
Only a select number of head coaches still call plays in today's game. Managing a roster of 53 players (in addition to eight practice-squad players), creating a weekly game plan and attempting to outwit an opposing coordinator every Sunday is a lot to ask of just one coach over a full NFL season. McCarthy might still enjoy the grind, but he might also now understand the value in delegating responsibilities to capable members of his staff.
It is also impossible to overlook the recent loss of McCarthy's brother, who passed away suddenly at just 47 years old. Death has a way of reassigning priorities. The grind—and all the stress involved—might have lost some of its appeal.
Regardless of motivation, the structure change is certain to lessen some of the load on McCarthy's shoulders day-to-day, week-to-week and season-to-season.
Promotions for Deserving Candidates
McCarthy dropping play-calling duties will allow the Packers to make two worthy promotions. Clements, the former offensive coordinator, would become the associate head coach, while Edgar Bennett, a rising star in Green Bay's coaching ranks, would take over Clements' role.
Both promotions make sense.
Clements has slowly advanced through the Packers' staff. He worked with both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as quarterbacks coach, dealt with a significant injury to Rodgers in his first year as offensive coordinator and helped lead the Packers to the NFL's highest-scoring offense in 2014.
Despite his rise and success, Clements has not received outside interest as a head-coaching candidate. This promotion may help in generating the necessary attention.
Bennett—who currently serves as the receivers coach—continues blazing his way to a future head-coaching job. A running back on Green Bay's Super Bowl teams of the late 1990s, Bennett has been groomed for a coordinator job since joining the Packers' staff in 2005. The 45-year-old has earned more responsibilities.
Bennett's role as the offensive coordinator—with Clements calling plays and McCarthy overseeing the operation—is still undefined. However, the move would introduce him to the position without all the stresses normally attached to the role. The promotion would also keep him in Green Bay through at least next season.
How many times has a team led the NFL in scoring one year, only to make a voluntary change in play-caller in the following offseason? The change feels a little...unprecedented.
The Packers averaged 30.4 points per game in 2014, survived a debilitating calf injury to Rodgers and were just a play or two away from playing for the Lombardi Trophy. Change after such a successful season is nothing short of bold.
It's fair to wonder if any alterations would be made at all had the Packers beaten the Seahawks and advanced to Super Bowl XLIX. Would Shawn Slocum still have a job? Would McCarthy even consider relinquishing play-calling duties?
A collapse like the Packers suffered through demanded introspection. Everything about the process that led to Green Bay giving up leads of 16-0 and 19-7 needed to be questioned. But no team wants to overreact to one poor five-minute stretch of a season, no matter how important that stretch was.
The Packers still won 12 games, earned a first-round bye and hosted and won a home playoff game. The offense led the league in scoring while producing an MVP season from its quarterback and Pro Bowl trips for receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. McCarthy had a hand in all of it.
In fact, he's had a major hand in 94 regular-season wins since 2006, the third-highest total in the NFL behind only the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.
In general, play-calling is questioned at every stop around the league. McCarthy wasn't perfect. Clements won't be, either.
Change for the sake of change can backfire. The Packers have been a dominant offense with McCarthy calling the plays. Clements (or whoever is selected to replace McCarthy) is mostly an unknown.
Despite their proximity to a Super Bowl, the Packers have made substantial changes early in the 2015 offseason. McCarthy handing down play-calling duties is certainly significant, but given Clements' history in the offense and Rodgers' brilliance inside the system, risk remains low.
Remember, moving Clay Matthews—the team's best edge-rusher—to inside linebacker was a risk. But previous results demanded a change, and McCarthy made a radical one that helped balance his defense.
File this under the same category.
McCarthy likely wants his team better managed in-game. His top offensive assistant and quarterback are both more than qualified to handle the transition. The need and opportunity line up for change.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.