GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy came up with the idea four or five years ago, and the Green Bay Packers coach is hoping the approach pays big dividends as his up-and-down team enters its most challenging stretch of the season starting with Sunday’s game at the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.
McCarthy calls them “across-the-hall” meetings, a term derived from the fact that on the third floor of the team’s Lambeau Field headquarters, the offensive coaches’ offices are on one side of the hall and the defensive coaches’ workrooms are on the other. The concept, which is McCarthy’s brainchild, is perhaps the most important part of the staff’s annual self-scouting work during the bye week.
While players enjoy five days of R&R away from work, the position coaches analyze the players on the opposite side of the ball — with defensive coaches breaking down film of the Packers’ offensive players and vice versa. While the players are off, the coaches spend the week putting together presentations that include their observations and pointers, which were then delivered during 85-minute, no-holds-barred meetings on the players’ first day back at work Monday.
“It’s a very honest, transparent, ‘This is how we’re coming after you’ approach,” McCarthy said Monday afternoon, after the meetings had concluded. McCarthy said the feedback he has gotten on the meetings has been overwhelmingly positive — “(Although) I’ve got to guard against that, because they tell me what I want to hear, I get that,” he acknowledged — but that the players seem to find the insight valuable. “The players are very receptive of the information that they get. It’s been a very healthy process.”
The process has various positions paired up in the meetings, with wide receivers and defensive backs in the same room, offensive tackles and tight ends matched up with outside linebackers, running backs paired with inside linebackers and so on.
“It’s breaking down, if they were to play us this week, ‘This is how I’d approach you. This is what I’m seeing on film,’” left tackle David Bakhtiari explained. “It’s a different viewpoint instead of just your offensive line coach.”
Asked if he finds the meetings productive, Bakhtiari said he’s always sought input from defensive perspectives, be it from his brother Eric, a former NFL linebacker, or teammate Clay Matthews, whom he’s known since before the Packers drafted Bakhtiari in 2013.
“When I was a rookie, I was finding myself talking to Clay almost every other day, because we had a prior relationship. So I would go up to him, ‘Hey, what were you thinking when you beat me on this? What were you doing on that?’” Bakhtiari said. “And when I was younger, that’s what I would do with my brother. After every game, Eric would break down what he saw from me, ‘Here’s what this guy’s probably thinking when he’s going at you.’”
Added veteran cornerback Tramon Williams: “Those guys are talking about the things that give them trouble, we’re talking about the things that give us trouble. We go over film and look at some clippings of what we’ve done well or what we might not have done so well, and I think it just helps everybody in general to know that, ‘OK, going forward, this is the way the defense is looking to attack us.’ Or, ‘This is the way the offense is looking to attack us.’”
Now the Packers must take all that information and apply it to their matchup with the Rams, who come in as the NFL’s remaining undefeated team at 7-0 and leading the NFL in total offense (445.3 yards per game) and ranked second in scoring (33.6 points). The game also is the first of four road games the Packers will play over the next five weeks.
After their trip to southern California, the Packers travel to face the New England Patriots (5-2), face the Miami Dolphins (4-3) at home and then play at Seattle (3-3) and at Minnesota (4-2-1).
“For us, it’s one week at a time,” Williams said. “We know that we have an obviously undefeated Rams team this week, who a lot of people think is unbeatable. Obviously, we know they’re beatable at some degree. But they are tough, a tough team. everything they advertise to be, they are. And we haven’t been who we say we were. We’re still working on that. But we feel confident about our chances going into LA, though.”.
“We have to face all those teams. But we can only do it one at a time. We can’t look ahead to next week and talk about Tom Brady right now. It’s the Rams. We understand what’s coming up, but that starts out with the Rams, so that’s what we’re focused on.”
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A healthy Rodgers?
Before leaving for the bye, quarterback Aaron Rodgers expressed hope that the team’s medical staff would allow him to play against the Rams without the cumbersome knee brace he’s been wearing since injuring his left knee in the season opener against Chicago.
But even if Rodgers still has to wear the brace for protection, he should be more mobile than he’s been since the injury, which in turn should open up the offensive playbook.
McCarthy called more bootleg passes in the Packers’ Oct. 15 win over San Francisco and his hope is that Rodgers will be able to line up under center more often than he has since the injury. That would lead to more carries for the running backs and more effective play-action passing, something that the Packers have limited with Rodgers lining up in the shotgun of pistol formation extensively because of his knee.
“When you throw the football, especially the normal down-and-distance, you want to be higher in action-pass than you are in drop-back,” McCarthy said. “The drop-back component of throwing the football has been the strength, but the action-pass is where you want to do a better job, especially (with) the run game. The run game needs attempts. That’s really the biggest thing that came out of the self-scout.”
The Packers should also get No. 2 and 3 wide receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison back from hamstring injuries. Cobb has missed the past three games and Allison has missed the past two.
Meanwhile, the Packers apparently aren’t ready to designate wide receiver Jake Kumerow or kick returner Trevor Davis for return from injured reserve.
“Not at this point,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have anything to report there.”
McCarthy said that the team will travel to Los Angeles on Friday, a day earlier than usual. He said it’s not so much because of the long flight to the West Coast as it’s about the four road games — including another West Coast flight to Seattle — in a little over a month span.
In turn, McCarthy will have the team’s most arduous practices of the week today and Wednesday — a day earlier than normal.
“We’ll travel early Friday afternoon out to L.A., get there Friday night and then we’ll work out there Saturday,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got obviously three(-plus) weeks of heavy travel (to Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle), so (we’re) trying to take advantage of coming off the bye week.”