Regular season game eleven at Atlanta: Coaching failures lead to costly defeat « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Regular season game eleven at Atlanta: Coaching failures lead to costly defeat

Most of the time, coaches take more blame than is appropriate.

After all, coaches don’t block, tackle, fumble or grab facemasks. The players do that, so they’re ultimately more responsible than guys with headsets, bad comb-overs and beer guts.

Most of the time.

Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia was not one of those times.

Atrociously bad coaching in all three phases was the key factor in the Green Bay Packers’ 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers now sit at 7-4, a full game (plus the tiebreaker) behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. Green Bay is also currently out of the playoffs with five games to go.

The man in charge of it all is, of course, most to blame for the defeat. Two critical Mike McCarthy errors in a span of 10 plays led to a 14-point swing, ultimately the difference in the game. They also carry on the nearly five-year long “two steps forward, two steps back” dance that is becoming McCarthy’s signature move.

On second-and-goal from the Atlanta two-yard line midway through the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers appeared to audible out of the original play call, instead going to a quarterback sneak. The play gained a yard, but no score. There is no harm in what Rodgers did, as he clearly saw something he felt he could take advantage of. But, once that play did not work, McCarthy had zero – repeat: zero – business calling it again on third down.

Yet there he was, calling for a sneak. Rodgers did not protect the ball as well as he should have and it was punched out. That’s on him, but again, it should never have gotten to that point.

McCarthy was given a chance to redeem himself on the ensuing Falcons (9-2) drive. On a fourth-and-three from the Green Bay 36, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez was given credit for a six-yard catch that he clearly did not make. While it’s unknown exactly what camera angles are available to teams’ replay officials in the Georgia Dome, the fact remains that, even live, the play looked close. Several Packers’ defenders seemed upset with the call also. That should have been enough for McCarthy – on a recent challenge hot streak – to throw the red flag.

He didn’t. Five plays later: 10-3, Falcons. In games like these, that’s usually enough.

But, as the old saying goes, wait – there’s more!

McCarthy’s failures trickled down to the men in charge of the remaining two units. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers did not have his men ready to play in any sense Sunday. You can’t blame him for the Lingerie Football League-style tackling shown throughout, true, but you can blame him for consistently poor scheming.

Early in the game, outside of a few instances, Capers went soft far too often. Against a solid, if unspectacular Atlanta line, his approach was to drop a lot of players in coverage and, hopefully, trick Matt Ryan into a mistake or two. Only problem with that is, Ryan doesn’t make mistakes. Heck, he doesn’t even miss that many passes, going 24-for-28 on the day.

That soft approach also allowed bruising Falcons running back Michael Turner more than enough opportunities to smash and bash his way through the defense, which he did to the tune of 110 yards and a score on 23 carries.

Then, late in the game with Atlanta driving, Capers went 180 degrees the other way, throwing blitz after blitz at Ryan, all coming from seemingly the same place (up the middle). The blitzes failed as Ryan, probably giggling on the inside, calmly sat back and hit a series of short throws – mostly out routes – that set Atlanta up for the game-winning field goal. Capers has been unquestionably brilliant this season. Sunday, he was unquestionably anything but.

Of course, the man who heads up the “unquestionably anything but” department – special teams coach Shawn Slocum – also had a hand in things. Doesn’t he always?

Chalk up another loss in which a crucial special teams error doomed the Packers. This time, it was poor coverage and a foolish, foolish facemasking penalty on Matt Wilhelm on Atlanta’s final return. There were other returns allowed, of course, the Falcons racking up a 31 yard average on the day. And, outside of one nice Sam Shields kick return, there were none to be found for the Packers.

There were also numerous returns Shields had no business making, as he instead should have opted to take the touchback. Rookie mistake? Maybe. But who tells the rookie what to do in such spots?

None of this is a surprise, really, as special teams blunders have cost Green Bay dearly in each of its four losses. Don’t bother banging the “Fire Slocum” drum too much, though, fans; he isn’t going anywhere. McCarthy seems deadset on keeping him around, only furthering the notion that the Packers care exactly zero percent about special teams. And don’t bother blaming the absence of players like Donald Lee, Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith on Sunday, either – even with them present, this group stinks.

If you’re trying to find reasons why the Bears sit as the team to beat in the North, look no further than special teams. Chicago puts an emphasis on it. The Packers do not.

In the big games – which this most certainly was – coaching makes the final difference. In this big game, the Packers coaches failed in every crucial area.

More than anything else, that will be what keeps the 2010 Packers from getting out of their own way.

-Chris Lempesis

12 comments to Regular season game eleven at Atlanta: Coaching failures lead to costly defeat

  • John

    Pretty spot on. Additionally, I would add that we seemingly had NO running game toady. Brandon Jackson is not a horrible back, and seems to be hungry. So all of that information would lead me to conclude that he’s just not getting any blocking. Come on O-Line, BLOCK!!! We can definitely still turn this around. The Bears aren’t nearly as bad as I was hoping they’d be, but they also aren’t nearly as consistently good as they were today vs. the Eagles. We have some tough games coming up, and so do they. We HAVE to win the majority of them, or it’s donezilla for our post-season. LET’S GO.

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  • Mark

    In the games that we have won there have been questionable coaching calls. The last play of the game is what costed the Packers the victory. It’s just a dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb penalty. And if special team players can’t cover a kick that is kicked to the endzone then the players and coach are to blame. You can’t get rid of all the Special teams players so get rid of the coach.
    In most of the games we played this year the headlines could have read ‘Coaching Calls May Have Cost The Packers The Game But Do To the Outstanding Play of the Players the Packers Win’.LOL

  • Nate

    Don’t bury the Pack just yet. Remember when last years late-season stumbling by the Vikings opened up what everyone thought was locked-up division title and best-of-conference record? Anything can happen these next five weeks.

    McCarthy said the challenge intel came in late. I’d be looking at the system they have in place to make challenges and review that.

    For what it’s worth (not much), I thought the Pack did find a way to overcome the mistakes and win the game, only to loose it on special teams (AGAIN!). At some point you have to seriously look at the coaching. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but special teams needs a pretty good wash.

  • Bearmeat

    Chris,
    Dom’s coaching wasn’t the problem yesterday. The gameplan was good on D. The problem was poor tackling, plain and simple. I know Turner’s hard to bring down, but you HAVE keep the ballcarrier from yards after contact. Period. That’s the players fault.
    -
    On offense, I totally agree. Where were the runs behind Bulaga/Sitton? The goal line calls in the 2nd Q were atrocious. The non-challenge was poor use of timouts.
    -
    Oh, and at the end of the season, Slocumb needs to be let go. GB needs a ST guru…

  • Puck

    That’s 3 losses on McCarthy’s head. In both of the OT losses McCarthy passed up field goal attempts and they failed to convert 4th downs.

    The Packers will never get to the next level with McCarthy calling the plays.

  • packerwest

    Poor coaching agree is most responsible for losses against Redskins,Dolphins and Falcons. Also almost cost us first Vikings game(runs up the middle 3 times and gives ball back to Favre who almost wins game).The losses we have had all happenned to teams that ran the ball and used short passes.Capers need a plan to deal with those game plans as the next 5 teams we play are going to do the same thing. Capers need to let our corners go man to man and take risk of a deep ball to stop the short passing game the Ryan killed us with yesterday. Playcalling at goal line has got to improve.I am getting to point where I think the Pack should take a delay of game penalty when they are at the one so McCarthy can call something besides a run up the middle or QB sneak!Use jackson as a checkdown or screen pass option if running game is not going.One screen yesterday to Kuhn?? Hopefully MM can turn it up a notch for the last 5 games and hopefully the playoffs….

  • Brian G.

    Chris,

    All great points against the coaching, an area the Packers do need to improve on.

    I don’t think you have given enough though to the poor tackling on Defense. If the Defense can tackle Snelling on the short dump off on 3rd and 9 from their own 21, then the Packers get great field position and take points off the board from ATL. Snelling ripped through three linebackers on his way to a first down.

    Great coverage Chris, keep it up.

  • Mark

    I still wonder; with all that talent shouldn’t Mac be doing a much better job. I know he has done a terrific job with the injuries but it just seems a better coach could do so much more, just saying.

  • Christian

    Wonderful analysis, as always. The only problem I have is with the comment about the Lingerie Football League. I don’t know what you’ve been watching, but every LFL game I’ve watched has shown that those girls are vicious. Calling the tackling of the Packers this past Sunday LFL-esque would probably be a gross overstatement, actually. But other than that, the only thing I can say is that watching McCarthy makes me want to rip out my hair. 4 losses, all by 3 points, that in one way or another can be traced back to him.

  • admin

    Christian,

    What channel are these LFL games on? Might need to do some…um…research. Yeah, research – that’s the ticket!

    -Chris Lempesis

  • Christian

    Chris,

    They can usually be found on MTV 2 on Fridays at either 9 or 10 P.M., Central. I’m a bit hazy on that time, but they condense each game to 30 minutes worth of highlights, and they usually have 2 games and then replay them. So you’ll have 2 hours to “research” to your heart’s content.

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