McCarthy: Needs will be filled through draft
He's dismayed by the fumbles, dropped passes and overall dysfunction that plagued the offense in a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants. He's undaunted by how the team is constructed, fully confident the defense can improve the Ted Thompson way—through the draft and player development.
After going 15-1 in the regular season, Green Bay's Super Bowl defense came to a screeching, bitter, unexpected halt. Now, the off-season begins. On Wednesday, McCarthy looked back and looked ahead.
The defense's problems are rooted in "fundamentals." The Packers couldn't manufacture a pass rush (27th in sacks) and set a NFL record for passing yards allowed (4,796). In 2011, this Super Bowl defense took one giant step backward. A league-high 31 interceptions kept the unit's heart beating during the regular season. Against New York, it caved.
McCarthy reiterated that what ailed the unit is not overly complicated. Rather, he says, it's pure fundamentals. Tackling and big plays doomed the defense. That was the theme of his conversation with defensive coordinator Dom Capers on Wednesday.
Rules in the new collective bargaining agreement cut back on the amount of padded practices teams can have, but McCarthy said that'd be a "cop out."
"The tackling just was not there all year," McCarthy said.
Still, fans shouldn't hold their breath for March. Do not expect Thompson to dive headfirst into free agency. Most likely—yet again—he'll be a bystander.
Thompson paid up for Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and Marquand Manuel to upgrade the defense in 2006. McCarthy hinted that the Packers would not issue any blank checks to improve this season's porous defense.
He said the team will "improve from within" and rely on the draft.
"Our football team will improve," McCarthy said. "I believe in what our coaching staff gives us during the off-season program. History reflects that and we will be adding another significant draft class to this football team.
"So as far as free agency, veteran free agency and all of that, those are really hypothetical situations. I'm sure it's fun for everybody to play GM. But we'll go through the process like we always do."
The team missed Nick Collins. The three-time Pro Bowl player was lost for the season in Week 2 with a neck injury. Still, McCarthy believes pinning the secondary's problems on one injury would be a generalization. The coach pointed to last season. The Packers lost a slew of players and didn't miss a beat.
"You definitely miss Nick's big-play ability, but I don't think that's a reason to say, ‘Oh OK, that's why we didn't play defense at the level we played last year.' That would not be accurate from my viewpoint," McCarthy said.
"Talking with Nick, he has an exam in March and a lot will be riding on that. He feels good. He's very optimistic and positive about his future and so I am. We'll see what March brings."
McCarthy hopes Finley, Wells stick around
Green Bay didn't reach contract extensions with tight end Jermichael Finley and center Scott Wells during the season. Now, both players highlight Green Bay's full free-agent class.
On Wednesday, McCarthy praised both players. Finley, especially, sure sounds like he'll be in a Packer uniform.
Early this season, McCarthy told the eccentric tight end his No. 1 goal for him was to make it through the entire season healthy. He did that.
After tearing his meniscus in October 2010, Finley played in all 16 games, catching 55 passes for 767 yards with eight touchdowns. Still, in their exit interview, Finley told McCarthy he wasn't thrilled with his production. He also finished with 13 drops.
"Maybe statistically or production-wise, it didn't go as well as he would have like," McCarthy said. "Too many drops, that's stating the obvious. But he still made big plays for us, had big games and he definitely draws a lot of attention. It's important to have him out there.
"Jermichael probably brings a lot of criticism on himself because of his personality, but the man I work with, he has a great work ethic, there's no one more into the practice on a daily basis than Jermichael.
"He wants to be a great player and thinks he's going to be a great player. With his talent level, that's half the battle. I look for him to continuing to develop and establishing himself definitely as one of the tight ends, Pro Bowl tight ends, in this league."
While the Packers will likely give Finley the franchise tag, Wells is another story. His market value will be high—maybe too high—for the Packers to match.
After earning his first Pro Bowl berth, Wells should be a hot commodity. McCarthy hopes a deal gets done. Wells helped glue together a record-setting offense.
"I make no bones about it; I told Scott I hope we're working together again next year," McCarthy said. "He's going into free agency, and we'll see what happens. But Scott Wells has been a very valuable member of our football team."
The coach can't look back yet
The wounds from Green Bay's loss to the Giants are still fresh. Rust wasn't a factor, McCarthy said. That'd be a "convenient excuse."
He said he's proud of the team. Eventually, he'll appreciate this 15-1 season.
But not yet.
"The reality is, you put yourself in position to make a run in the playoffs, and we did that very well," McCarthy said. "But once the second season started, we did not play to the identity that we were able to formulate all season, and that's my frustration."