McCarthy goes all in with pass-happy, high-tempo offense
CHICAGO — This was the Green Bay Pack27ers' offense you expected to see from the start.
A fast-tempo, explosive team, maybe even a potential juggernaut, even if this breakout came against the Chicago Bears' declining defense.
There was no more trying to run to set up the pass, no matter if Eddie Lacy is one of the better backs in the NFL. This was putting the game in Aaron Rodgers' hands and making the defense adjust from there.
Things can change over the four months of the long NFL season, and they even could change this week. You never want to read too much into any one game. But it sure looked like coach Mike McCarthy found his team's offensive identity in the Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears on a bright, 70-degree, windless Sunday at Soldier Field.
"It takes four, five, six weeks to figure out your identity," guard Josh Sitton said. "This was a step in the right direction."
Really, the Packers' first drive said it all about where McCarthy thought he had gone wrong for the first three weeks of this season, which included the Packers putting up only 23 points combined in losses to Seattle and Detroit. Rodgers on Sunday threw the ball on the first five plays. Lacy didn't get a carry until he finished off the possession with a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle.
By the end of the first half, the Packers had 17 passes, only six runs and 21 points. The point wasn't lost on Bears coach Marc Trestman, who along with his coaching staff had studied the Packers' first three games.
"It was very obvious that they came out and were going to throw the ball and get their passing game going today," Trestman said.
McCarthy's no-huddle obviously is here to stay, the slow start be damned. He'd been using it more and more the past few years before finally going all-in last offseason. There's no way he was going to cut back after three games.
McCarthy for a fourth straight week also remained relatively static with his personnel, not just from play to play, which he has to do if he wants to push tempo with the no-huddle. But also from possession to possession. Yes, he went with his Tiger group (two receivers, two tight ends and Lacy) in that first series, but thereafter he operated mostly in Zebra (three receivers, running back and tight end), with only a handful of snaps in Tiger or with fullback John Kuhn mixed in.
Davante Adams replaced No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin, who was out because of a groin injury. But that was about it for personnel changes. Jeff Janis, the No. 4 receiver with Boykin out, played one snap. Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless split time at tight end, as they had the first three games, though Quarless played more, as he had the first three games.
The most obvious adjustment, aside from the pass first, second and third mindset, was moving players around more. Nelson lined up all over, as he did last year. And the tight ends split wide more in this game than they probably had in the first three games combined.
Nelson had another big day (10 catches for 108 yards, two touchdowns), but so did Randall Cobb (nine targets, seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns). Cobb's first touchdown, a 22-yarder late in the second quarter, came when he exploited one-on-one coverage and got behind cornerback Isaiah Frey to catch Rodgers' lofted throw.
And Richard Rodgers, whose poor blocking to start the season overshadowed the receiving talent he showed in training camp, caught his first two passes, both on the first drive. The second, a 46-yarder, showed some chemistry with the quarterback as he broke uncovered downfield after Aaron Rodgers extended the play by fleeing the pocket.
"We wanted to continue to move Jordy around, find some spots to put him to get him the football," Aaron Rodgers said. "But as you do that, you realize that guys have one-on-one opportunities in other spots as the Bears tried to drop a safety down and take away some of our over-the-middle stuff to Jordy, tried to look him up when he was in the slot. The (22-yard) touchdown to Randall, that gives Randall an opportunity there with one-on-one coverage to make a play. We needed to make those plays and he did today."
It also must be said that after playing the league's best defense (Seattle) and two of the better front sevens (New York Jets and Detroit), the Packers faced a team Sunday that was vulnerable on that side of the ball. Lance Briggs, once one of the best linebackers in the league, is in decline. Defensive end Jared Allen, their best outside rusher, didn't play because of an illness, and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was out because of a concussion.
It's hard to see the Bears as a top-15 defense by the end of the season. So opponent matters.
But this was the no-huddle McCarthy envisioned in the offseason, if with less Lacy than he had planned. The Packers didn't punt, and the only thing that stopped them from scoring on all seven possessions was a blocked field goal.
Their first three drives, all touchdowns, would have made Peyton Manning and Chip Kelly envious for their speed and efficiency by covering 81 yards and 61 yards in less than 3 minutes, and 78 yards in less than 4.
"That's how we want to play," Aaron Rodgers said. "We didn't have 75 plays today. We were in the 40s I know in the third quarter, early fourth quarter. But at one point we had 44 plays and 38 points. That's pretty efficient."