When the news broke a few hours before kickoff that Mike McCarthy had made the decision to resume play calling duties, my immediate thought was, will we notice? Will it make a difference? Could it provide the shot in the arm this offense desperately needs?
Well, for one day at least, the results couldn’t have been any better. McCarthy committed to running the ball and never veered off that game plan, with 44 rushes for 230 yards. The Pack ran more than they passed and ran more than 80 plays, for the first time in what seems like forever.
Reading the tea leaves leading up to the game, it seemed like this would be an opportunity for Eddie Lacy to begin anew, with McCarthy calling him rejuvenated in practice this week. He was named the starter and he made the most of it, looking like the Lacy of old, running with power, running with a purpose and running as if his job depended on it (which may not have been far from the truth).
With the running game humming along, the passing game flourished. Rodgers found a rhythm in the first half, hitting eight different receivers and finding some success on third down. The Pack converted half of them, a huge improvement over the last six weeks. When the Dallas defense stiffened in the third quarter, McCarthy and the offense didn’t panic, kept pounding the ball until Lacy and Starks found some holes in the game’s final five minutes to find the end zone twice and turn this one into a laugher late.
Defensively, the Pack was solid, save for a couple ridiculously huge running plays by Darren McFadden. More than half of their rushing yards came on two runs that totaled nearly 100 yards. They completely contained Matt Cassell’s meager passing attack, holding them to 119 yards through the air. The end zone pick by Sam Shields in the first quarter prevented the Cowboys from striking first. And when Shields exited in the second quarter with a concussion, there was a danger that Dez might suddenly find room. But Damarius Randall was more than up to the challenge and Dez finished with just one catch for nine yards.
The defense knew it held the edge against this pedestrian offense and was able to consistently get off the field, allowing just one third down conversion in 11 tries–the ‘Boys were 0-2 on fourth down. Dom Capers kept applying the pressure and Cassell could never get comfortable.
All in all, a dominant effort by the Pack, who held a huge edge in time of possession, didn’t turn the ball over and put the game away by running it down their opponent’s throats on the final two drives. It wasn’t a perfect day: on an early drive the Pack couldn’t score from the goal line and turned it over on downs and they held just a seven point lead with five minutes to go, despite dominating the game from the start.
But compared to what we’ve seen over the past six weeks, it was precisely the type of effort we were desperate to see. On this rainy afternoon at Lambeau, McCarthy and the offense looked a lot like its old self. Whether that will continue remains to be seen. They’ll be tested these next two weeks against solid defenses in Oakland and Arizona.
But after leaving the Cowboys in their dust, it sure seems like McCarthy made the right call. Both of them.