GREEN BAY – When the Green Bay Packers return to work next Monday at 6:30 a.m., they’ll set about fixing what ails their defense. But in the six days between now and then, coach Mike McCarthy wants his guys to enjoy their bye week and recharge their batteries.
“The only two priorities that I gave them in the meeting (were), ‘Spend time with your family and get rest,’” McCarthy said as his players scattered across the country following Monday’s meetings in the wake of their 33-27 victory at Minnesota, a triumph that pushed their record to 7-0. “It's important to get away. We plan on playing a lot of football here.”
With nine regular-season games remaining, starting with a road game against the San Diego Chargers Nov. 6 after the bye week, the Packers know that their perfect record doesn’t mean that they’re playing perfect football. McCarthy said the team has graded out as playing “above average” so far this season.
“And I think that's very exciting, because we feel strongly as a football team our best football's in front of us,” McCarthy said. “So my sense of accomplishment is, we're 7-0, but we have a lot of room for improvement. And it's clearly evident when we go through the grades and corrections week in and week out.”
To that end, while the players are off, the coaches will gather Tuesday to do self-scouting work to examine those areas.
“You go through the offense, the defense, the special teams, there's obvious areas that we need to improve on, little things that we need to improve on throughout our football team,” McCarthy said. “We're not going to make big changes. We're in tune with what needs to be done. Defensively, we're giving up too many big plays, and that's the bottom line. That's been our issue. We're doing a great job taking the ball away – I think we're No. 1 in the league in takeaways – so there's a lot of positives in our defense. But the big plays is an area of emphasis."
According to STATS LLC, the Packers have given up 36 plays of 20 or more yards, ranking them as second-worst in the NFL behind the New England Patriots (40).
“The biggest challenge and biggest area of focus over the bye week here is we’ve got to give up fewer big plays,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit gave up six such plays Sunday. “You’ve all heard me say before that if we don’t give up big plays, we’ll be hard to score against. When we give up big plays, it normally results into points on the board.
“It was the same thing (against the Vikings). They had three long runs against us and three long passes and consequently we ended up giving up points. I do like the way we’re taking the ball away. If you can win the takeaway/giveaway, I think that gives you a winning formula. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’re not where we want to be. I think we can improve in a lot of areas. Our bye week comes at a good time for us on defense. We’ll step back, look things over and know we have a tough stretch when we come back here and work in another week.”
Added linebacker Desmond Bishop: “It felt kind of weird around here today. I mean, we're 7-0, but it didn't quite feel like that. I think it'll never be right. We could be 16-0. The defense, if we don't play up to our capabilities, we're never satisfied."
But those repairs can wait. McCarthy simply wants his guys to enjoy their time off and get ready for what they hope is a run to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. All the coach asked was that his guys behaved themselves while they’re away.
“We don't need any big dramatic quotes or anything," McCarthy said. "We're on a bye week. Let's be not seen, not heard, and get healthy, recharge ourselves, and when we get back, let's get ready for San Diego."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.