GREEN BAY — When Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive players return for the team’s offseason program in mid-April, they’ll be coming back to a redesigned playbook, rewritten by head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and the rest of the staff.
But at least the huddle operation will be the same. McCarthy made sure of that — just so his 34-year-old, two-time NFL MVP quarterback isn’t an unhappy camper.
“(Philbin) wanted to change the huddle and I thought No. 12 would have a little problem changing the huddle after Year 12 (in the offense)” McCarthy said Wednesday, when he introduced his retooled coaching staff. “So we kind of stuck with the one that works.”
That’s not to say that many of the other things in the old playbook weren’t working, or that Philbin and McCarthy will be chucking many of the plays that Rodgers likes or blowing up a scheme that has been so productive for so long.
But while much of the focus has rightly been on the opposite side of the ball, where the Packers haven’t had a top-10 defense since the 2010 team won Super Bowl XLV and have replaced longtime coordinator Dom Capers with Mike Pettine, McCarthy has decided the offensive playbook needs some freshening up, too. And although Philbin’s hiring wasn’t announced until Wednesday, he and McCarthy have been working on the playbook renovations for much of January.
“Joe Philbin (has) great positive energy. It’s been a lot of fun,” McCarthy said. “We’ve taken a little bit of a back to basics approach on offense. We’re going back and building a playbook like you would if it was your first year as a staff. Joe’s such a great teacher. So, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Philbin was the Packers’ offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2011, before the Miami Dolphins hired him as their head coach. Fired four games into his fourth season in South Florida, Philbin spent the past two seasons as the Indianapolis Colts’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach under Chuck Pagano, who was fired Dec. 31.
During his previous five seasons as offensive coordinator — one with Brett Favre at quarterback and four with Rodgers — the Packers never finished outside the top 10 in total yardage (second in 2007, eighth in 2008, sixth in 2009, ninth in 2010 and third in 2011) or in scoring (fourth in 2007, fifth in 2008, third in 2009, 10th in 2010 and first in 2011).
It’s not as if the Packers offense tanked without Philbin — they still had Rodgers, of course — but in the five seasons after Philbin’s departure, they did finish out of the top 10 in yards twice (13th in 2012, 23rd in 2015) and outside of the top 10 in scoring once (15th in 2015).
This past season, without Rodgers for 10 games because of a fractured collarbone that required surgery, the Packers finished 26th in the 32-team league in total yardage and 21st in scoring, although at the time of Rodgers’ injury, they were 16th in the league in total yards and sixth in in scoring.
“Obviously, they’ve scored a boatload of points around here since I left,” Philbin said. “I said to our staff as we’ve just started the meeting process, ‘We’ve got a great challenge in front of us to take an offense that’s had a lot of production over time.’
“It doesn’t matter what you did a year ago. Had I stayed in 2012, we would’ve been looking for ways to improve the offense, right? What can we do better? Can we get better fundamentally? Can we get schematically? Can we get better situationally? Those are all things that we’re looking at right now. We’re just really getting into that process right now, seeing what areas we can identify where it’s not real crystal clear yet.”