Silverstein: New coach won't guarantee Aaron Rodgers or the Packers instant success
GREEN BAY – If this is what Aaron Rodgers really wanted, a new offense, a fresh look, a change of direction, a chance to win a Super Bowl another way, well, he’s got it.
About three hours after the Green Bay Packers’ 20-17 defeat to the lowly Arizona Cardinals – who were 14-point underdogs and losers of five of their last six – to fall to 4-7-1, team president Mark Murphy announced that he had fired coach Mike McCarthy.
The move ends McCarthy’s 13-year reign as head coach of the Packers and equally long relationship with Rodgers.
And so the rebuild will begin.
Rodgers never said he wanted McCarthy fired or that he was playing to get him fired, but he never stuck up for him, never spoke about how the two are working together to get things fixed and often played with the body language of someone who was fed up with everything.
His play this season reached a new low Sunday. Playing against the No. 19-rated defense, he threw balls high, he threw them low, he threw them too far and he threw them too short. He continued to play with the attacking mindset of a Trent Dilfer, rarely willing to trust his receivers enough to throw it to them when a defender was near.
“We’re just not on the same page consistently,” Rodgers said after the game. “We’re not executing the right way and it’s the same stuff: poor throws, not on the same page with receivers, wrong depth, protection.”
It’s a damning account of what’s happened to a team with high aspirations, but also a commentary on how Rodgers may no longer be able to do what the very best quarterbacks do, which is make the players around him better.
Maybe Rodgers thinks he’s doing that with all the scrambling out of the pocket and playing an unconventional street-yard game. But he’s not. Rookie receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown need to be put in positions to succeed, not in positions that satisfy the quarterback’s desire for perfection.
They shouldn’t be immune from criticism, but why does Rodgers have to do it so publicly on the field? If it’s in the name of good leadership, it’s not really working because the two rookies combined for two catches for 19 yards, both by Valdes Scantling. The longest completion to anyone not named Davante Adams was 11 yards.
The way the game went Sunday, you would have taken the offense that played against Seattle or Minnesota over this one. The Packers put up 17 points against a warm-climate team with all kinds of problems with its run defense and not enough corners to cover Northwestern’s receivers.
Now come the repercussions.
Whether Murphy pulled the plug on McCarthy now or four Mondays from now, changes were going to come all around. This season has shown the roster is not nearly good enough to go on a playoff run and general manager Brian Gutekunst has much work to do in his second season.
Rodgers could be playing with a rookie tight end, rookie right tackle, rookie right guard and three second-year receivers next season. His new coach might require a different type of receiver than the tall wideouts McCarthy favored and so the receiver position may have to be rebuilt.
The right side of the offensive line needs an overhaul and so does the tight end position. Gutekunst might solve some of those problems in free agency, but everybody has seen what a crapshoot that has been with Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Martellus Bennett.
It could be three years before the Packers find their way to an NFC Championship game. Sure, it only took Philadelphia two years with Doug Pederson to win a Super Bowl and two years for the Los Angeles Rams to be a powerhouse under Sean McVay.
But there are many other examples of it taking three, four, five years before the right mix of players are brought together for a Super Bowl run. And sometimes – see Chip Kelly, Hue Jackson – it doesn’t work out at all.
And who’s to say Gutekunst isn’t going to do to Rodgers what Ted Thompson did to Brett Favre? Maybe next year or the year after that, he drafts a quarterback with loads of potential, someone exactly like Rodgers when he was selected in 2005.
Then there’s the new coach and his offensive system. Suppose the new guy doesn’t want to give Rodgers all the freedom to change plays and tell his receivers to run routes differently than McCarthy did.
Those are all legitimate possibilities.
Rodgers is going to want to hit the ground running with a new coach and a new offense, but success might not come as quickly as he thinks it will.
You can criticize McCarthy all day for not adapting his offense to the talent he had, but the bottom line is he didn’t have enough of it to succeed on offense. When you’re playing with rookie receivers and young running backs and your two veteran tight ends are too slow to beat anyone down the field and your offensive line depth doesn’t cut it, you’re not going to go to many Super Bowls.
The point is, Rodgers might think it’s going to be seashells and balloons once someone new is hired to coach the Packers and it might not be. McCarthy might wind up in another Super Bowl before Rodgers does.
Asked what role he might play in the decision on McCarthy or a potential replacement, Rodgers said, “I’m not even thinking about that right now. I’m just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times and trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride.
"I know my role is to play quarterback, to the best of my abilities.”
At the same time, he might want to prepare himself to wait. Instant success with a new coach is rare and given some of the holes on the 53-man roster, it’s unlikely Gutekunst can build it strong enough to win a Super Bowl in two offseasons.
For those who think Rodgers’ career is wasting away, you should be prepared to wait also.
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