Packers curious to see play-calling personality of interim coach Joe Philbin
GREEN BAY – Joe Philbin is well versed in commanding an NFL locker room and sideline, as well as the meeting rooms and a podium at a news conference. The Green Bay Packers interim head coach led the Miami Dolphins for three-plus seasons and has been an offensive coordinator in the league for more than five and a half seasons.
But Sunday at Lambeau Field, he will call plays in a regular-season game for the first time in over two decades.
“It’s been a while,” Philbin said. “Been a while.”
The last time Philbin could recall being the play caller in a non-exhibition setting was when he was the offensive coordinator for the Northeastern University Huskies in Boston in 1996. From there he went on to Harvard (1997-98) and Iowa (1999-2002) before Mike Sherman brought him to Green Bay as an assistant offensive line coach in 2003.
In Green Bay, Mike McCarthy would often let another offensive coach call plays late in the preseason, which Philbin did this year in Kansas City.
“I would sit with Mike and Aaron a lot and talk about the calls and first 15 and those things, but yeah obviously it’s going to be a little bit different,” Philbin said. “Sometimes, because I wasn’t calling the plays, I could kind of peek ahead a little bit so we could move forward a little bit. I think that will be the biggest difference. I’m not going to be looking at our next opponent until the game is over. I think that’s one of the big changes. And then obviously just sequencing the calls the right way and hopefully, they work when we call ‘em.”
Philbin and the players were quick to point out that the offense hasn’t changed and the plays themselves haven’t changed.
“I mean, he’s been putting the plans together and installing them and doing the scripts and all that,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “So I don’t think that’s really going to change. He’s always down around our meeting room. We’re always having conversations, the walkthroughs or Fridays after the second walkthrough, he’ll talk through some things and calls we might need scripted for Saturday, or stuff we need to see another rep of, stuff we don't like, so it's always been a good indication of that during a week of preparation.”
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What will be different is how Philbin views certain concepts in the offense and when he feels like they should be employed.
But that is purely individual to Philbin.
“It doesn’t matter to us – we don’t know what Mike was going to call,” wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “We just get the play from Aaron and we just go. We don’t know. We’re not thinking this play or (that). That’s out of our pay grade. Whatever play we get, we go out and execute it.”
That said, there is a bit of curiosity with what kind of personality Philbin’s calls reveal.
“Style is what, like a pattern, right? So the pattern is going to be, I guess, the way in which you operate,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “It’s all a feel, an attitude, and demeanor in which you go about your business. I’m not sure what it’s going to be. I’m interested to see how it’s going to be. When you got ’12,’ that’s a great start.”
Wide receiver Davante Adams agreed, saying that the final four games are going to be very different than the scripted practice reps, especially when it comes to what Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn called the “gotta have it” calls when a play caller has to go with instinct.
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“Situational football, once the ball is snapped, I mean, it’s second down and 3 now, it’s not the same thing as what we scripted on in practice,” Adams said. “It’s going to be interesting to see, but like I said there’s no magical way. So, it’s not he’s calling plays and now we’re just going to turn into the ‘Greatest Show on Turf.’ But we have the ability to do that now, so we’ll see how it goes. But we have to get a good feel for each other.”
As for Rodgers, he said he’ll continue to have his full arsenal of checks to get in and out of at the line of scrimmage and that the communication between he and Philbin was fine on Wednesday. Rodgers did consult with backups DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle about how Philbin relayed calls in that final preseason game against Kansas City. Rodgers allowed, however, that some non-verbal cues in-game from him to the sideline might take a bit of time to smooth out.
So if the Packers are curious about what they’ll see from Philbin on Sunday, imagine how the change is going over in Atlanta.
Quinn, who coordinated Seattle’s top defenses in 2013-14 before taking over the Falcons job in 2015, said the change to Philbin has his staff in a bit of a scramble mode.
“Green Bay has a big playbook and they’re able to feature a number of guys in certain ways, so maybe the tendencies of when something might be called or run-pass based on the distance, I would imagine that would change because there’s a new person calling it,” Quinn said. “But from a scheme standpoint, they have plenty of offense and Joe can feature them in lots of ways. He’s a sharp guy, knows how to feature the players and their best stuff, so it’s definitely different, I can tell you that because you really tried to study with Mike and where it was at compared to Joe.
“But as far as extra wrinkles, all we can plan on is, they have a big package and to prepare for their offense takes every bit of all the way through the week, late night all the way up until the game because it’s challenging for sure.”