Joe Philbin spent most of the 2000’s as a Packers assistant coach, rising to become their offensive coordinator in 2007. About those aforementioned exciting game plans and unstoppable offenses, he put those together, including that immortal 2011 offense. There is more to the story. Along with then quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, Philbin trained Aaron Rodgers. He also trained Matt Flynn. So clearly, he has a track record of training quarterbacks. Following that 2011 season, he left to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. That really didn’t work out. Some coaches are great in lower level, or very specific coaching roles. Others just don’t have what it takes to be a head coach. This was the case for Philbin, and he was fired after three seasons in Miami. After Philbin left, the Packers offense became stale and predictable, leaning on Aaron Rodgers to bail them out. So after serving as an assistant coach with the Colts the last two seasons, McCarthy brought Philbin home late last week. I don’t think I could possibly like this decision anymore than I do. Joe Philbin brings out the best in Mike McCarthy, and maybe likewise. When he was in Green Bay, Philbin had the type of relationship with both Thompson and McCarthy that allowed him to be frank, when it came to certain players. As stated at the top of the piece, both Edgar Bennett and Alex Van Pelt were fired. That is mainly because Brett Hundley was their project, and we can all agree that the results were pretty much a disaster. I believe the Brett Hundley story would have gone differently had Philbin been here the whole time. Either Hundley would have been more prepared, and the Packers would have picked up the extra win or two needed to get to the playoffs, or the following would have happened instead.
Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, the Packers were looking to grab and develop their next “great” backup quarterback. This is a franchise with a long list of solid bench warmers – Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck, Doug Pederson, and Matt Flynn. When Brett Hundley fell to into their lap in round five, it looked like a steal, and he was next in line. After all, he looks the part of a great NFL quarterback. 6’3”, 230 pounds, big strong hands perfect for gripping a football, a big arm, and natural athleticism that most people dream about. He definitely has “a five million dollar body, and a million dollar arm,” as I have said in the past. However, he showed us this season that he’s lacking in areas that will probably never change for the better. There are basic concepts that any NFL quarterback needs to understand on day one that he clearly does not. We can forget all about those lucrative trade rumors surrounding Hundley at the start of the season. Those are long gone. He will probably latch on with another team for a stint in training camp after his time in Green Bay, but he will fade out of the league in a couple of years.
If Philbin were running the offense the entire time, I don’t think Hundley would have ever been a Green Bay Packer. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy were so excited with the prospect of grabbing what they thought was raw talent, one that had the makings of a great back up to Rodgers, and possible starter for another team. They trusted Bennett and Van Pelt, when the pair gave Thompson the green light to pick him up.
The general manager and the head coach don’t get to focus on minute details like their assistants do. I firmly believe that Joe Philbin and Tom Clements would have caught those deficiencies in their pre-draft film sessions and interviews, and then told Thompson and McCarthy to pass on Hundley. So yes, the bringing back of Joe Philbin fixes half the problem. And no, they should not bring back Tom Clements. He doesn’t have the energy or desire to coach anymore, but I trust Philbin to tell McCarthy who he wants as his quarterbacks coach.
Now for the other half of the problem. That defense. Yeah. That defense has been mocked, laughed at, made fun of, and ridiculed by non-Packers fans over the last four seasons. Finally, and mercifully, Mike McCarthy made the change, firing Dom Capers. McCarthy called on Mike Pettine, who comes off the Rex Ryan tree of knowledge. Ryan invented the modern NFL defensive style, and this change needed to happen. Dom Capers runs what is called the 3-4 zone stunt blitz defense. The basic concept is to sit back, play zone coverage, and stunt blitz on the line of scrimmage, to both stop the run game, and pressure the quarterback. When the West Coast Offense was first created by Bill Walsh in the 80’s, defenses had no answer. The original concept of the West Coast offense is run the ball, throw it vertical to the wide receivers, and throw the halfback screen. Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers invented the 3-4 zone stunt blitz in Pittsburgh as the answer. When played right, the 3-4 zone stunt blitz is the ultimate kryptonite to the original West Coast offense. It cuts off the vertical routes, forces a change in the running game, and when the quarterback is forced to hang onto the ball for an extra half a second, it helps provide needed pressure, and throws off timing.
There’s just one problem. Nobody plays the original version of the West Coast offense anymore. Mike McCarthy should know this. When the Packers hired him in January of 2006, he sat in the room with Joe Philbin and he took the original concept of the West Coast offense, and invented the exciting modern offensive football that we all enjoy watching today. In this day and age, quarterbacks are too intelligent, too precise, and too quick with their releases for the zone blitz. Yes, quarterback throwing motions and releases are much quicker these days. They coach young quarterbacks to use as little arm movement as possible, don’t wind up, snap the wrist as much as possible, get the ball out with blazing speed. When the Packers had the great 2010 defense that led them to the Super Bowl, there were still teams running the older version of the West Coast to hide it. However, as teams switched to the modern style invented by McCarthy, Capers’ system was shown to be past its prime. To be honest, Capers should have been fired following that debacle in San Francisco in the divisional playoff round in 2013. But they hung onto him for another five years. Fan could be angry about it, but what’s done is done. Let us instead focus on what’s next.
So what does Mike Pettine bring to the Green Bay Packers? He’s learned that an aggressive defense is the way to go these days. Pettine has never coordinated an NFL defense than finished lower than ninth in the league. This is a great hire. During the early stages of the hunt for new coaches, the Packers scared us. In the end, I think that they made the right choices for their GM, and both of their coordinators. Because of these decisions, we will see a much different Mike McCarthy in 2018, hopefully the “real Mike McCarthy.”