Packers coach willing to pull key players
Kelly Hodgson, Packers contributor
Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Packers went away empty handed in Sunday's 34-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but this time head coach Mike McCarthy was determined to not let the players succumb to panic or heated emotions.
Last January it got the best of the team as any chance of coming back from behind slid further and further away.
It’s easy to let those spiraling emotions cloud judgment. Everyone knows that horrible feeling when things spin out of control.
Panic, anger, it doesn’t matter. They get the heart racing in that fight-or-flight response. At first they key you up, but if left unchecked can unravel even the best laid plans.
Perhaps McCarthy saw the writing on the wall yesterday at Candlestick. Reel a player in before he becomes his own worst enemy or suffer the consequences.
Fans may be quick to second guess McCarthy’s play calling at different times, but he was absolutely correct to pull Eddie Lacy and Clay Matthews at different times during yesterday’s game.
A coach will bench players for various reasons.
There’s the punitive benching. It happens when a coach is angry.
Sometimes it’s for bonehead play. Other times it’s to assert control. It’s no different than the timeout you would give a toddler.
No one can argue that Matthews’ punishing hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was anything but a late tackle. All he had to do chase Kaepernick out of bounds and the Niners would be looking at a fourth down field goal attempt at best.
Instead emotions, boneheadedness, or even Newton’s First Law of Physics (bodies in motion stay in motion) got the better of Matthews.
It wasn’t a dirty blow to the head or an intentional stomp. The quarterback was hardly defenseless. But it was not a clean hit. There’s no question about that.
It was an incendiary play that led to a sideline scrum that would make any self-respecting hockey team proud. Nothing like adding a little gasoline to an already burning fire.
McCarthy could’ve pulled Matthews to punish him and send him to the corner, but it does not appear to be case.
Rather, he pulled Matthews for most of the next series in order to let calmer heads prevail.
After all, heated chippiness tends to multiply exponentially if left unchecked. That would’ve surely derailed the defense.
Instead of being sent to detention, Matthews and his position coach Kevin Greene ironed things out.
Matthews is hardly a dirty player, and it sure seemed like Greene was helping clear Matthews' headspace so he wasn’t a loose cannon on the next drive.
The same can be said for Lacy.
On the surface it looked like McCarthy had given up on him and sent him to the bench to stew over his mistakes.
Sure, Lacy did not look good in the first half. He didn’t help his cause by coughing up a fumble in a clear rookie error as he went to the ground.
Notice how focused Lacy was when he returned in the fourth quarter?
No longer running into brick walls, Lacy broke tackles, extended plays and leapt over the top for a touchdown.
McCarthy pulled a floundering rookie and released him back with a little more confidence and insight.
While many coaches will bench a player to send a message, there are others that will grasp that opportunity as a teachable moment.
It’s easy to scapegoat a player after he messes up. Shaming is an easy and quick solution.
Yet it takes the stronger coach to utilizes these chances to improve and not merely assert himself as alpha dog.
One of the most powerful things my high school soccer coach would do after he realized a player needed to adjust was to call for a substitution and pull you out for a few minutes.
Usually you’d already blown something, and by the time the whistle blew, you knew your name would be called.
But he never ignored you or sent you to the bench to sulk. He made you stand right next to him. Coach never raised his voice, never showed any outward anger or frustration.
Once you got some water, he expected you to take your place at his side, and he would start the conversation with one word.
That’s how it always started. He’d point the mistakes you failed to see on the field or the subtle body language the forward would have when he’d dance around a defender. He wanted you to see what he saw.
More importantly he wanted you to make corrections in the present and not wait until after the game when the details started to blur.
Failing to identify those compounding mistakes, adjusting, and keeping emotions in check—the Packers did a poor job of controlling these factors the last time they faced San Francisco in January. In that game the Packers all but collapsed under their own mistakes.
If there’s one positive thing that came out of yesterday’s loss, it was the fact that Mike McCarthy wasn’t willing to commit that coaching error again. Fortunately this time around he was more comfortable pulling key players and echoing the advice of my coach.