Mark Craig: Packers' McCarthy had a vision, and he ran with it

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2007 - 7:19 PM

His game plan included a way to run the ball against the Vikings. And he's now 16-9 in his first 25 games, while Brad Childress is 9-16.

GREEN BAY, WIS. - Something happened at Lambeau Field on Sunday that might never have taken place had Vikings owner Zygi Wilf not essentially kidnapped Brad Childress, preventing him from making that flight to Green Bay to interview for the Packers' head coaching job in January 2006.

Mike McCarthy, the guy the Packers settled for after Wilf hurried to hire Childress, completed the first 25 games of his career with a franchise-best 16-9 record. The next-best 25-game mark is 15-10, shared by Mike Sherman and some guy named Lombardi.

Childress, meanwhile, fell to 9-16 with Sunday's 34-0 loss to the Packers. That ties him with Rams coach Scott Linehan and Lions coach Rod Marinelli for last place among the seven new NFL head coaching hires in 2006. The only one who has a winning record besides McCarthy is the Saints' Sean Payton (14-11).

"Coach McCarthy, man, he's a great coach," said Packers receiver Koren Robinson, a former Viking. "As far as him and Coach Childress, McCarthy is more personable. He's a players' coach. Not that Coach Childress isn't, but McCarthy is able to get down on our level.... And he's done a pretty good job against Minnesota, I would say."

Actually, he's a perfect 4-0. And a key element of his offensive game plan Sunday played an important role in gaining control early on in what became the Packers' most lopsided victory in 94 games against the Vikings.

Unlike Chargers coach Norv Turner, who stubbornly ran the ball into the strength of the Vikings' No. 2 run defense -- tackles Pat and Kevin Williams -- McCarthy's game plan called for quick tosses that effectively stretched and hurt the Vikings from sideline to sideline.

It was brilliant in its simplicity.

"We studied the Chargers-Vikings film quite a bit, and we also tried to run inside on them the first time we played this year," center Scott Wells said. "I think the toss action this time was designed for us to use our speed up front. Otherwise, when you run right at them, it just doesn't work."

Turner had the reigning MVP in LaDainian Tomlinson. McCarthy had the 32nd-ranked rushing attack and Ryan Grant, a 24-year-old kid making his second NFL start. A kid, by the way, who didn't even join the Packers until a Sept. 1 trade with the Giants.

Turner was determined to run between the tackles. On 11 of 18 first downs, he ran it up the gut. Those 11 plays netted 15 yards. Tomlinson was dropped behind the line of scrimmage on six of those plays, while rushing for only 40 yards overall.

McCarthy said the heck with running between the tackles. From the start of the game until the score was 27-0 near the end of the third quarter, Grant ran outside the tackles on 13 of 20 attempts.

It's a statistic that will get lost in the fact that Brett Favre had his 54th career 300-yard passing game (351) and 61st game with at least three passing touchdowns. But Grant's 92 first-half yards on just 12 carries -- including a 30-yard score -- was the most shocking stat of the game. Grant finished with 119 yards on 25 carries (4.8), joining the Rams' Steven Jackson as the only backs to rush for 100 yards against the Vikings the past two seasons.

"The last thing we expected was for somebody to run on our defense the way they did," Vikings cornerback Marcus McCauley said. "They saw something on film that they could expose. Obviously, it's a lot easier to run away from those big boys in the middle. Hey, it worked. They had success against us that we really haven't seen before."

Favre also was observant enough to recognize the Vikings' substitution patterns. With Pat Williams on the sideline on a second-and-7 in the first quarter, Favre audibled into a run up the middle by Grant, who ran free for 11 yards.

"We wanted to establish the run, but we really didn't want to run into that big boy [Pat] Williams," Grant said. "He's dominant and he's a load. It doesn't make any sense to run it in there."

Yep. The fact that McCarthy understood that is one of many reasons why he's won 12 of his past 13 games.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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