Pack missing the points with Tolzien at helm

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Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GREEN BAY—Unless Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his offensive staff figure out a way to turn 339 yards passing into more than 13 points, they might as well just cross their fingers and hope they’re still in playoff contention when Aaron Rodgers returns from a broken collarbone.

MetLife Stadium became a wasteland of unfinished drives for the Packers in their 27-13 loss to the New York Giants despite outgaining their opponent, 394 yards to 334.

Nine of Scott Tolzien’s 24 completions were for 16 or more yards—the minimum distance to qualify as an “explosive” play in the Packers’ lexicon—including six that ranged from 18 to 52 yards. Even with three interceptions, Tolzien easily could have had the Packers on the other side of the ledger if he had been able to finish a couple of drives.

“I have never seen a quarterback hit all his big throws like that in a game,” said McCarthy, who is in his 27th year coaching in the professional and college ranks. “I can’t think of another time in my career that I’ve had someone hit every one. Every big shot we called yesterday, we hit them.”

Six of the Packers’ 12 series featured at least one “explosive” play, yet only two of them resulted in scores—a touchdown and a field goal. The rest ended, in order: punt, interception, downs and downs.

As offensive coordinator Tom Clements pointed out, there was a hollow feeling to the terrific pass numbers.

“We made some big plays down the field, had a lot of passing yardage,” he said Wednesday. “I mean, so what? We had a lot of passing yardage. We didn’t score points. That’s the biggest thing.”

As the Packers prepare this week for the Minnesota Vikings, their focus has to be on what they can do to make Tolzien more successful—McCarthy named Tolzien his starter again this week without unequivocally ruling out Rodgers—and apply whatever lessons they learned in the Giants game.

One McCarthy will have to consider is not being as stubborn about running the ball against a defense devoting so many players to the line of scrimmage as the Giants did Sunday. It’s almost preposterous that such a thing could even occur given McCarthy’s previous devotion to the passing game.

As McCarthy notes, “as soon as we got off the bus” the Giants were playing eight men in the box with only a single safety to cover the middle of the field. One can imagine that if Rodgers were under center in that situation, McCarthy might have thrown it 50 times.

Once McCarthy saw he was running into a brick wall against the Giants, he began running more play-action passes, but he also kept ramming rookie Eddie Lacy into the teeth of the defense. Lacy ran 14 times for 17 yards, and John Kuhn and James Starks combined for three carries for 11 yards.

“We have a plan based on the personnel that we have,” Clements said. “Not just the quarterback but everyone involved. And obviously you make adjustments during the course of the game as needed. It just took us awhile to get going. We weren’t productive running the ball as much as we would have liked.”

There’s no question that Tolzien’s first two interceptions were momentum killers, but had the Packers been able to go to their no-huddle offense and continue to put pressure on the Giants’ defense—especially in light of their own defense playing better in the fourth quarter—they might have made it close.

McCarthy never opened up the offense that way, even though he did have Tolzien try to throw over the top of the Giants’ defense a half dozen times. He just never went into the fast-tempo, no-huddle attack Rodgers has used to stress opposing defenses.

Asked if the coaches have done enough to highlight Tolzien’s passing talents, Clements said they have.

“We’ve looked at what we think he can do and have tried to give him plays that will make him and us successful,” he said. “Not ask him to do things that it takes him a while to learn how to do.”

So could he run the no-huddle offense?

“I think he could,” Clements said. “Who knows when that could be. As I said, part of what makes no-huddle go is having a quarterback who’s in tune with both the offense and the defense and what they’re doing and can see things and make quick decisions. And with experience, he should be able to do that.”

McCarthy said that as soon as the coaches got back from New Jersey, they began talking about what they might see from the Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field. They had planned on the Giants devoting an extra guy to the run, but they also figured they could still have success with Lacy.

Now they know they were wrong.

Minnesota has a different type of defense, so McCarthy and his staff must try to develop a game plan that allows them to highlight Tolzien’s big-play ability but also keep him from throwing the ball to the other team. More attempts could wind up in more big plays and more points if the Vikings load up the box.

“We get together offensively at 6 o’clock this morning and we spend more time talking about the next game based on the things people are doing to us and how we can help our players more,” McCarthy said.

The one thing they know is that they have someone who can complete passes.

“He’s a good football player,” McCarthy said. “He’s got a lot to work with. We need to focus on winning games right now, but there’s a lot there for a young quarterback.

“So he has a lot of good football ahead of him. But the reality is—and he knows this better than anybody—he has to take care of the football.”

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