McCarthy draws on experience in working with Wallace
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--The last time Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy had to prepare a backup quarterback to start a game, he stopped very early in the process and reminded himself of something.
The objective wasn't to get Matt Flynn to play like Aaron Rodgers, but rather to put Flynn in the best position to beat the New England Patriots.
“Well, going back to that experience, it really hit me on Monday, the day after the game (in which Rodgers got hurt), knowing exactly what needed to be done,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “And it's an experience I think we can draw from, and that's really not to overthink it.
“It was important to go into that game and cut Matt loose, and play the way we felt we needed to play to win the game. And it's no different this week.”
This time around, McCarthy and his offensive staff are preparing 33-year-old veteran Seneca Wallace to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Wallace became the starter when Rodgers suffered a broken left collarbone against the Chicago Bears on Monday night at Lambeau Field.
Just like Flynn had looked overmatched after Rodgers suffered a concussion in the first half of a 2010 game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Wallace was unable to complete passes down the field and convert a number of much-needed third downs.
And just as Flynn lost to the Lions, 7-3, Wallace lost to the Bears, 27-20.
The next week, Flynn took all of the snaps in practice and started against the Patriots, nearly pulling off a huge upset at Gillette Stadium. Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 31-27 defeat.
In preparing Flynn, the coaches didn't change the offense, but they also didn't ask him to be Rodgers. Flynn took fewer chances than Rodgers normally would and settled for check-down completions often. But he also let it rip when the matchups called for it.
McCarthy hopes to do the same with Wallace and perhaps avoid a couple of the bad decisions an inexperienced Flynn made.
“The challenge of changing quarterbacks, in my humble opinion the most important position in the football game, it's important to stay in tune with his skill set, but also utilize the other players,” McCarthy said. “We're not going to reinvent the wheel here.
“But we're confident in our time together, and Seneca's participation to this point, that we'll continue to run the majority of our offense.”
When Wallace replaced Rodgers on Monday night, there was no time to change the game plan and try to exploit the Bears' weaknesses with a whole different set of plays. The offense is built around Rodgers and his ability to run a no-huddle offense and change plays at the line of scrimmage.
Plus, he was dealing with a couple of young receivers and an altered right side of the line due to guard T.J. Lang suffering a concussion.
Wallace completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards with an interception. His worst statistic was 2 of 6 for 15 yards and a sack on third-down passes. The Packers did not get a first down on any of the six throws.
“I mean there is a menu of things that I was going to stay in,” McCarthy said. “Now was that menu perfect for Seneca Wallace? You know, maybe not. But it was to beat the Bears.
“You have to call clean plays that players can execute. You know, in hindsight, I feel plays were there in that game to be made, but definitely everybody will be much better off (with a week of practice) not only just Seneca being comfortable going through the reps, but everybody else being comfortable with Seneca.”
Wallace was signed Sept. 2 after management decided to give up on Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman with the thought that his experience in Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense in Seattle and Cleveland would serve him well in McCarthy's version of the West Coast.
The 5-11, 205-pound Wallace has never been a full-time starter and early in his career he was used as a wide receiver, including one start for the Seahawks in a 2006 playoff game. His athletic ability and intelligence have kept him around the game and to the Packers he was someone who could learn the offense faster than other available veterans who are taller and have better arms.
Wallace can throw from the pocket, but to take advantage of his speed and ability to throw on the run, McCarthy will probably use more bootleg fakes and rollouts than he would normally use with Rodgers. He also can call more plays where Wallace can dump off the ball to running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
There is enough talent around Wallace to beat the Eagles, he just has to find ways to deliver the ball.
“You just have to try to adapt,” Wallace said. “It's up-tempo, fast pace and you try to emulate some of the things he (Rodgers) does. Obviously, it's not all going to be the same, but just try to make sure the receivers and everybody is on the same page. “
Wallace said he was able to change a couple of plays at the line of scrimmage against the Bears, but having a full week to narrow down the list and picking the ones he can handle will be a key exercise this week. McCarthy and his staff will meet with Wallace at the end of the week and discuss which plays run in practice were most comfortable.
Getting to actually run the plays he'll be calling on Sunday rather than just playing them out in his brain is a huge advantage. Getting to throw to the guys who will be running routes is even more critical.
“He's going to go from taking maybe five plays a week in practice to all of them,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “It's going to help him; it's going to help us, and I think as an offense as a whole we'll be able to perform better.
“The game on Monday, it wasn't as bad as what I think people think. We just didn't convert on some third downs.”
Practice on Wednesday was more of a walk-through than a full-fledged workout because the Packers played Monday night and McCarthy doesn't want to wear out the team. Thursday and Friday will be normal practices, but the players will not wear pads this week.
“We just have to do what we can do and try to get better,” Wallace said. “I think we did a good job out there today in practice, first start. And I think it's good for me, kind of slowed things down, kind of see things instead of being thrown out there in practice and we're going 100 mph. I think it was a good teaching day for me.”