Titletown's expectations, especially on offense, are extremely high, which is partly what led to the Packers' dismissal of Mike McCarthy following Sunday's home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Since 2006, McCarthy led the Packers to six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. But the NFL is a what have you done for me lately league, and the Packers have gone 11-16-1 since the start of last season, including a dismal 4-7-1 this year. So now a franchise that prides itself on consistency will look to hire just their third head coach since the turn of the millennium.
The McCarthy-Rodgers tandem consistently kept the Packers' offense among the NFL's best for years. And while their strong personalities -- and heated exchanges -- have been well-documented, winning is a cure-all. But with the team's recent struggles, and a dip in Rodgers' overall production, the disconnect between the two alphas moved more into the spotlight. It was clear a change was needed. (Rodgers' focus on moving forward after McCarthy's firing said as much.)
Much of the criticism over the Packers' offensive woes has been attributed to McCarthy's lack of creativity and his desire to stick to a basic West Coast offense. However, the more people with Green Bay ties that I talk to, the more I hear that it's actually Rodgers who likes the simplicity. A simple offensive scheme gives Rodgers freedom to showcase his ability by playing above and beyond the Xs and Os and run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. He's made a Hall of Fame career of extending plays -- in fact, he seems to prefer improvising -- and he gets a sense of comfort from knowing where his weapons will be when the play has gone off schedule.
Let's be clear -- most of the game's best QBs have a major say in the crafting of their offense. That's not a secret, and frankly, that's the way it should work. But one of Rodgers' former teammates recently told me that Rodgers has much more of a say in Green Bay (to the chagrin of McCarthy) than QBs in other places do with their teams. The source said there was a definite disconnect building between Rodgers and McCarthy in recent years. In fact, I'm told it wasn't unusual to see Rodgers modify McCarthy's game plan to the point where it, at times, was a mere skeleton of itself by game day.
Now, the front office is under a lot of pressure to bring in the right fit as McCarthy's replacement. Packers CEO Mark Murphy said on Monday that Rodgers is "free to talk to us and provide input, but he won't be part of the process." I get that; the Packers want to send a message that no one is above the team, and they also want to establish that they're thinking long-term with this hire. But considering Rodgers is under contract through 2023, I think they're making a big mistake by not including him in the hiring process, knowing he can make a coach's job extremely easy -- and/or extremely difficult -- based on his comfort level and opinion of whoever is calling plays.
First and foremost, Green Bay must hire someone who commands respect from Rodgers right off the bat. If respect isn't there between the QB and coach at the beginning, the Pack could end up wasting precious years of Rodgers' career trying to get it right. Secondly, if they decide to go with an offensive-minded head coach, which I suspect they will, it has to be someone who has previously -- and recently -- called plays in the NFL. (Sorry Lincoln Riley.) That said, here are three coaches who make sense:
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: There must be mutual respect between Rodgers and his play caller, and I think that dynamic would instantly be in play if Rodgers were to be paired with McDaniels based on his success with Tom Brady in New England. McDaniels is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the league and has shown he can help an all-time talent thrive, even without a band of stars at the skill positions. Of course, this would mean McDaniels would actually have to follow through and leave the Patriots, which is something he couldn't bring himself to do 10 months ago.
John DeFilippo, Vikings offensive coordinator: Flip is another great offensive mind who would be an excellent fit for Rodgers. He's had success with my brother, Derek, in Oakland (2014), Carson Wentz in Philadelphia (2017) and Kirk Cousins in Minnesota (2018). With Flip running an extremely pass-heavy offense this season in Minnesota, there's no doubt he would play to Rodgers' strengths and take advantage of his extraordinary abilities.
Vic Fangio, Bears defensive coordinator: If the front office wants to go after a defensive-minded head coach, Fangio should be their first choice. He has proven that he can lead and elevate defensive units, including with the San Francisco 49ers during their run to the Super Bowl in 2012 and with this year's daunting Bears squad. With Fangio currently behind enemy lines, he could provide major insight within the division.
So, if a defensive guru is hired as head coach, I think interim head coach Joe Philbin should stay on as offensive coordinator. It's apparent that the lines of communication are open between Rodgers and Philbin, and we've heard Rodgers talk about his respect for the coach. We'll have to see if there is any drastic change within the offense the next four weeks, but the two have a track record of working well together.
Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 14 pecking order is below.
Mahomes and the Chiefs got back on track coming out of their bye, as the second-year pro had four passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 120.0 against the Raiders. He could've had about 20 more points but misfired on several throws. What stood out, though, was how well Mahomes handled losing his running back on Friday -- when Kareem Hunt was released by the team -- to guide his squad to a convincing win.
The Cowboys gave Brees fits all night, which led to the Saints quarterback performing far below his season average in every major statistical category. In the Saints' second loss of the season, Brees completed 64.3 percent of his passes (down from his 76.4 season average) for 127 pass yards (285.0), a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (29:2) and a 71.6 passer rating (127.3).
With Jared Goff struggling to find his rhythm, Gurley took over against the Lions and finished with 23 carries for 132 yards and two rushing TDs, and three receptions for 33 yards. He has as many scrimmage touchdowns (19) in 12 games this season as he had in all of 2017, when he was named Offensive Player of the Year.
Goff has not been as efficient on the road and those struggles continued in Detroit. Making some errant throws throughout the contest, Goff completed 17 of 33 pass attempts for 207 yards, one pass TD, one INT and a 68.6 passer rating. Luckily for the young quarterback, the Rams' defense and Todd Gurley stepped up in a huge way down the stretch.
Thomas had five receptions for 40 receiving yards on eight targets against the 'Boys. It was Thomas' lowest reception percentage in a game this season (62.5).
The WR1 has been a huge part of the team's nine-game win streak. Adding seven receptions for 91 yards against the Browns, Hopkins has 80 catches for 1,115 yards and eight receiving TDs this season.
Kelce had career-highs in receptions (12) and receiving yards (168) and added two receiving touchdowns in Sunday's win. He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season, joining Greg Olsen (2014-16) as the only tight ends in NFL history to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons.
Zeke's earned a spot in the top 15 after going on a tear in the last month. Since the Cowboys' Week 8 bye, Zeke has averaged 27.2 touches, 106.2 rushing yards and 155.8 scrimmage yards per game. That -- along with the defense's sudden surge -- is the reason Dallas has won four straight. It's also why Zeke is second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,150.
Brown had himself a day against the Chargers with 10 receptions for 154 yards and a receiving touchdown. Pittsburgh's WR1 has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth straight season, the longest active streak in the league.
The struggles continued for Rodgers against the Cardinals as he completed 31 of 50 passes for 233 yards, one TD and a 79.8 passer rating, his lowest since Week 4 vs. Buffalo. Prior to Sunday's loss, Rodgers had won his previous 16 home starts in December, which was the second-longest streak since 1970.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Thielen had fewer than 100 receiving yards for the third time in the last four games after posting eight straight 100-yard games to start the season.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts: It was a rough one for Luck and the Colts against the Jags, as Luck was held without a passing touchdown for the first time this season. Luck's streak of 34 consecutive games with a touchdown pass was the longest active streak in the NFL and eighth-longest overall in the league since 1950.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: After amassing 161 scrimmage yards in Sunday's bout in Tampa, McCaffrey has four games with at least 150 scrimmage yards this season. Despite the running back's stellar play in the last six weeks, the Panthers have floundered and find themselves fading in the playoff race.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants: Barkley has done it all for Big Blue this season and has recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in 11 of his 12 games. He's making a sure-fire case for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.