The long-rumored divorce finally happened.
After losing in Week 13 to the Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst teams in football, the Green Bay Packers parted ways with longtime head coach Mike McCarthy. For Packers fans - and perhaps even their quarterback - the move was well-received. Despite winning a Super Bowl at the start of this decade, Green Bay's recent seasons were filled with mediocrity and too much offensive stagnation for a team with an all-time great passer in Aaron Rodgers.
Joe Philbin's now taking over as the interim head coach after rejoining the Packers in January as their offensive coordinator. However, McCarthy continued calling plays in 2018 and it's unclear how much he relied on the OC during games. So, with Philbin stepping into those shoes, what can Packers fans expect moving forward?
First, it's worth highlighting the reasons for Green Bay's offensive regression in recent years. When McCarthy took over back in 2006, he installed a version of the West Coast offense that seemed - by the standards of that time - modernized. For example, the Packers employed the shotgun formation at one of the highest rates in the league during McCarthy's first season before many other teams caught on.
However, jump ahead to 2018, and the veteran coach had failed to incorporate other successful modern concepts being run across the league.
One of those is a "rub" (also known as a "pick play”) concept, which is used to create separation for receivers. As pointed out by Bill Barnwell of ESPN, just two of Rodgers' 21 touchdown passes this season featured a rub, and both came near the goal line.
There's also Green Bay's (lack of) jet motion under McCarthy. This concept sees a player motion toward the quarterback at the snap and is growing in popularity across the NFL. The high-scoring Los Angeles Rams under Sean McVay use the jet sweep - the play most associated with jet motion - more than any other team, while the Packers didn't even run it once until mid-October this season, according to Barnwell.
Another bug in Green Bay's system has been McCarthy's love of the slant/flat passing concept. A staple of the West Coast passing game, this simple route design pairs a slant route from the outside receiver with a flat route from the inside pass-catcher.
This concept may have been considered creative earlier in McCarthy’s career, but his overreliance on it became a Twitter meme this season:
Well, that would be an Amazon Single at best.
"Slant/Flat: A Really, Really Brief History of Mike McCarthy's Passing Concepts" https://t.co/3E5p1qVEJk
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) November 13, 2018
Here's a sample of how many slant-flat passes Mike McCarthy has called in 2018.
This doesn't include similar concepts like:
X slant-RB flats
slant-flats on the backside of other concepts pic.twitter.com/9NctU6Q7lU
— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) October 9, 2018
More rubs and motion - and less slant/flat designs - should certainly help, but what else might change under Philbin?
Like McCarthy, the new head coach is a disciple of the West Coast passing tree, but Philbin enjoyed a lot of success with the Packers during his first stint as OC from 2007-11. In fact, the Packers finished top 10 in both total yards and points during every one of those seasons, and they led the NFL in points during 2011 before Philbin left to run the Miami Dolphins.
It's impossible to know whether he had the same type of influence this season before McCarthy was fired - as the head coach was trying to save his job - but it's clear from interviews with Rodgers and others that Philbin certainly put his stamp on the Packers' offense during that 2011 season and the Super Bowl-winning team the year before.
Additionally, Rodgers' passing splits from 2011 and '18 highlight a potential difference between McCarthy's and Philbin's West Coast philosophies.
As seen with the slant/flat concept, West Coast offenses rely on quick, short throws and then yards after the catch. In 2011, Green Bay threw over 40 percent of its passes between 1 and 10 yards in the air past the line of scrimmage, which is similar to its rate this season.
However, a major difference is seen with passes that travel between 11 and 20 yards past the line, as the 2011 Packers posted a 25 percent rate of attempts at that distance while the 2018 offense is at just 17 percent.
Here's an example from 2011:
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