Packers' Aaron Rodgers finds common ground with Mike McCarthy: 'Conflict is good'
GREEN BAY – To hear Aaron Rodgers explain it, his relationship with Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is just fine.
Those comments he made about the game plan after Sunday’s lackluster win? Taken out of context, Rodgers said. Which parts? He didn’t say.
What the Packers quarterback did say Wednesday was different than what he said Sunday. Back then, all of three days earlier, Rodgers said the Packers had a “terrible” offensive showing. “Non-playoff caliber,” he called it. He lamented not getting his top playmakers more involved.
How, Rodgers was asked after the game, can the Packers get their top players more touches?
“It’s by the plan,” he said then.
On Wednesday, Rodgers identified something else.
“We’ve got to find ways to be more efficient on offense,” Rodgers said. “Although, like I said Sunday afternoon, the numbers might have looked good – 420 yards and 50 percent-plus on third down – but the execution wasn’t where it needs to be.”
There is game plan, and there is execution. Rodgers questioned the game plan Sunday, not referencing “execution” once.
McCarthy agreed with Rodgers’ second assessment Monday. He said the Packers' offense left a lot on the field against Buffalo, specifically five dropped passes. Rodgers, who has dealt with a left knee injury almost the entire season, also uncharacteristically missed some throws.
That’s execution, not game plan.
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Rodgers admitted there’s conflict with McCarthy, even frustration. To hear him explain it, there’s no problem with a little friction.
“Mike and I talk all the time,” Rodgers said. “We have a great relationship. There’s always been great communication between us. Even if there's things that we need to talk about that are tough subjects, we’ve never had a problem finding time and talking. That’s the way it’s been for 10-plus years.”
Even if Rodgers says he has a “great relationship” with McCarthy, Sunday was at least the fourth time he has shared a veiled criticism since the 2017 season ended.
Back at the Super Bowl, Rodgers was displeased the Packers didn’t consult him before choosing not to retain quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. Rodgers never fully endorsed McCarthy’s decision to reorganize his playbook this offseason. A week after saying young receivers gave a “piss-poor” effort in a scout-team drill in camp, Rodgers explained his strong stance, saying, “If no one else is going to stand up and criticize a bad practice, then maybe I need to be the one to do it.”
So Sunday’s public venting was not uncommon.
The increasing frequency might suggest Rodgers’ frustration is growing. The question moving forward is whether the coach and quarterback can not only coexist, but thrive.
“There’s frustration in this business,” Rodgers said, “and that’s what Mike always says, ‘Conflict is good.’”
On that end, Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said there’s nothing unusual about contention between the two. Just the byproduct of two competitive people in a high-stress working environment. Murphy attended Wednesday’s practice, despite Rodgers not participating because of his sprained left knee.
“I’ve had good talks with Mike as well as with (offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin,” Murphy said earlier in the day after a news conference unveiling Phase 2 of the Titletown District’s development. “Both of them have had good talks with Aaron. All three are competitive.”
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If it were merely the game plan that frustrated Rodgers, he would have to shoulder at least some responsibility. Rodgers has tremendous latitude at the line of scrimmage, something that won’t change anytime soon. He can check out of plays at will, audible into something else.
Rodgers said receiver Davante Adams should have been targeted at least 20 times against the Bills, but he’s the one throwing passes. And it’s not like the Packers failed to use their top receiver frequently Sunday, either. Adams led the team with 14 targets.
Asked if he could simply throw Adams more passes if warranted, Rodgers didn’t disagree.
“Well, you could,” he said. “You definitely could. And maybe I need to a little more. He just needs more opportunities. I’ll keep that in mind. I’ve said for years, you watch the film and he’s open a lot. Some routes involve a mirrored concept, where you’re picking and hoping that a guy wins based on a certain matchup or something you saw on film.
“I might have to lean a little bit more toward him at times, just because he’s such a dynamic player.”
Rodgers chuckled when it was suggested more coordinator titles on McCarthy’s coaching staff might have lessened his influence on the game plan. “It hasn’t diminished at all,” he said. Each Monday and Tuesday, Rodgers and McCarthy discuss the plan for that week’s opponent. Rodgers said he lends his input on plays he thinks might work and provides recommendations on the order in which plays should be called.
That’s the way it has been for years.
Still, Rodgers did not find the game plan to be good enough Sunday. Three days later, he said it was execution.
“I’m always going to hold myself and this offense to a higher standard,” Rodgers said. “I’ve got to play better, and we’ve got to play better, because last week was unacceptable. We put the ball on the ground too many times, threw an interception. We’ve got to play better.”
Richard Ryman contributed to this report.