In the past few years, the aggressiveness of coach Mike McCarthy has come under intense criticism, and it probably seems like it comes up most during the most important games.
Think back to the 2014 NFC Championship Game, when the Packers relented on early short-yardage chances to try punching in TDs, instead choosing to go for FGs in the eventual loss.
Or last season against Arizona in the NFC Divisional Round playoffs, where instead of capitalizing on the “momentum” of the moment after converting basically two Hail Mary tosses to Jeff Janis to tie things up and going for two to potentially win the game (and prevent the opportunity for the Cardinals to hit Larry Fitzgerald on the huge play that pretty much sealed the game in overtime) we saw Green Bay take the PAT.
It isn’t nearly as simple as the conversation would make it out to be, and McCarthy does have instances where he has gone for it. The only problem is that too often those instances have been somewhat questionable and ended poorly for the Packers, and this one was a perfect example.
In this case, Green Bay was down 10-7, but they had just driven the length of the field to be in great position for a score. Taking a field goal ties things up in a close game, but McCarthy decided his team was better-suited going for more.
Situationally, the analytics came out almost even on the decision: the field goal was determined to be less than half of a percentage point better for win probability, but in close situations like that on paper you can’t really fault a team for trying to get more points. The matchup must be factored in, and the intangible “feel” of the game plays a part.
For whatever reason (in my mind: a combination of his offense not doing well overall to that point (which would make scoring much more across the game unlikely), the defense both having a highly-exploitable weak point in Randall but overall doing pretty well, and having Minnesota pinned back should the play fail) McCarthy decided to go for it, and it didn’t work out.
A handoff to James Starks up the middle got a somewhat-debatable spot, giving Minnesota the ball.
There are a lot of issues here. The call to go for it is debatable at best (I probably would not have done so; points were at a premium in a slugfest, and there wasn’t enough being shown offensively to inspire much belief that it would be converted).
More than anything was the playcall itself, however. The offense was not running well all night, and a pass let’s the talents of the entire offense get on the field.
IF they were going to run though (defensible on it’s own, despite the point I just brought up), picking Starks over Eddie Lacy to run up the middle in a short-yardage situation just screams of out-thinking yourself. Give the power back the chance to bulldoze; if he took on the amount of contact Starks did, it’s quite likely he finds a way to get just a little bit more — and that’s all that was needed for the first down.
A questionable decision to go for it, compounded with a faulty personnel choice for the playcall, kept Green Bay from putting up the points that eventually were their margin of defeat.
I hope this kind of outcome doesn’t cause McCarthy to put away his aggressiveness for awhile, but I also would hope the next time this sort of situation appears his decision-making is more conducive to winning the game.