When the Green Bay Packers lost their second straight game to the Indianapolis Colts at Lambeau Field this past Sunday, which put their season record at 4-4, some speculation about the future of head coach Mike McCarthy started circulating.
Why? Losing and playing badly at Lambeau doesn’t help matters. For the second time in less than a month, the Packers lost two games at their storied stadium in which they were favorites and then went out and promptly laid an egg in terms of their performance on the field.
It’s one thing to lose to the Dallas Cowboys like the Packers did at home on October 16, as the Boys appear to be one of the top teams in the NFC this season, but to lose to the Colts as a seven-point favorite is another matter.
Just the previous week, the Colts had been drubbed at home 30-14 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Losing at home as a big favorite is becoming a habit for the Packers. Last year the Packers lost at home to the Detroit Lions (10 ½-point favorite) and the Chicago Bears (nine-point favorite) in November last season.
Those two losses were key reasons why the Packers failed to win the NFC North last year for the fifth consecutive year, as they finished a game behind the Minnesota Vikings. To add icing on the cake, the Packers lost to the Vikings at home last season in Week 17, when the Packers still could have won the division title with a victory.
The Packers are 2-2 so far this season at Lambeau. In 2015, the Packers were almost unbeatable at home in the first part of the season as they were 5-0 at Lambeau, but lost their last three to the Lions, Bears and Vikings, all divisional rivals, to finish 5-3.
That means that the Packers have a 2-5 record at Lambeau in their last seven games. That type of performance will surely get some unwanted attention, not only to the coaching staff, but to the team as a whole.
In McCarthy’s tenure as head coach coming into last season, the Packers were 54-17-1 at Lambeau in nine seasons. Not only that, if you throw out the 4-3-1 mark in the the 2013 season when Aaron Rodgers missed half of the season with a broken collarbone, the Packers were 29-4 in the previous six seasons at the stadium on Lombardi Avenue.
But with the latest loss to the Colts, people in the media like Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, were speculating that McCarthy was firmly on the hot seat. I don’t see it that way, at least for now.
I wanted to see if my read on the situation was in line with the opinion of NFL scout Chris Landry.
I had another opportunity to speak with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show on Wednesday.
Landry did not believe McCarthy is in any danger of losing his job, but he did see a major problem in the passing game of the Packers.
“I don’t think Mike is in any trouble,” Landry said. “Certainly we’ll see how the rest of this season evolves. But when I watch this Packers team, I see nobody open. Nobody is getting open. There is no separation.
“To me, it’s not a coaching issue and it’s not that they [the receivers] are running the wrong routes. That tells me that there are personnel deficiencies there. They just aren’t getting it done.
“I can’t really see the problem as being lack of effort. They don’t claim that it is [the problem]. Of course, they rarely do. We’ll just have to see. I think they are being challenged internally. They know where some of the problems are. I think how they respond will determine Mike’s fate there.
“I expect them to be back and I think Mike is a good coach. He has certainly been there awhile. Ted [Thompson] is not a reactionary guy, nor is Mark [Murphy]. Listen, it’s really hard to say at this point. A lot of people throw that out when you are struggling. This guy is on the hot seat and that guy is on the hot seat.
“Everybody is on the hot seat. Now is he [McCarthy] in danger of getting fired? If you crater towards the end of the season, then certainly there is an issue there. But I still wouldn’t count out Green Bay in the North with the Vikings’ problems. I don’t see the Lions being able to sustain.
“We’ll just have to see how the rest of this season plays out. But they have to fix some things in the offseason and I think some of the personnel issues are really standing out.”
Landry’s response about whether McCarthy is on the hot seat also points toward some of the personnel decisions made by Thompson, who of course is the team’s general manager. Landry has known Thompson since back in the days when Thompson was a reserve linebacker for the Houston Oilers.
But before personnel changes can be made in the offseason, there is still the rest of the 2016 season to be played. And based on the track record of the Thompson/McCarthy combination in the past, all is not certainly lost.
Going into this season, that duo had put together a 104-55-1 record in 10 seasons, which is good for a .653 winning percentage. That also included eight playoff appearances (which is seven straight currently), five NFC North titles, and one Super Bowl title.
The biggest problem which is hurting the team this season is a common dilemma that has happened in the past in the Thompson/McCarthy regime.
That would be injuries.
It’s tough to win when your defense is playing without the team’s top three cornerbacks on the field, which has been the case for a number of games. It’s also very difficult to win when your top pass-rusher (Clay Matthews) is not able to play, which has been the case recently.
The offense has had it’s share of injury issues as well. The Packers have had to play the past three games without either Eddie Lacy or James Starks at running back. The Packers have been leaning on wide receiver Ty Montgomery to take the bulk of the running game carries.
The offense has also been without tight end Jared Cook since Week 3, when he sprained an ankle against the Lions. Cook was the one and only free agent who Thompson signed this offseason. It was hoped that Cook’s seam-stretching ability would enhance matchup issues across the board for opposing defenses this season.
Both Starks and Cook practiced on Wednesday and the team is hopeful both will be able to play on Sunday versus the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
This has happened before for the Packers under McCarthy. The Packers had 15 players who went to the IR (injured reserve) in 2010. That included their starting tight end (Jermichael Finley), their starting running back (Ryan Grant), their starting right tackle (Mark Tauscher), one of their starting inside linebackers (Nick Barnett) and one of their starting safeties (Morgan Burnett). Still, the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.
The team has also weathered slow starts and finished strong under McCarthy. The team was also 4-4 and had just lost to the then win-less Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, when the team had a players-only meeting and went 7-1 the rest of the season to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs as a wild card team.
In 2010, the team was 8-6 and had to win their last two games to make the playoffs. The team did just that and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Bottom line, there is still half of the season to be played. The Packers are only one game out of first place in the NFC North and will play all of their divisional opponents one more time before the season is over.
When the season is truly over, not to mention the postseason, then it will be the time to determine whether the job status of McCarthy is really in danger.