Even though Philbin has spent more time in Green Bay than any other place in his coaching career, the Massachusetts native’s dialect still comes out.
“I’ve been translating Pittsburgh for a long time,” Rodgers said Wednesday, referring to former coach Mike McCarthy’s accent. “So I think I’ll be able to figure out his East Coast dialect a little better from the start. No, it’ll be good. He was calling the plays today at practice. You just get used to the voice.”
The bigger adjustment might be for Philbin, who on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons will call plays for the first time in more than 20 years.
Despite being the Packers’ longtime offensive coordinator and formerly the Miami Dolphins head coach for three-plus seasons, he has never called plays in an NFL game. The last time he called plays, to the best of his recollection, he was the offensive coordinator at Northeastern University in 1996.
“It’s been a while,” Philbin said trying to pinpoint exactly how long. “Been a while.”
Yes, McCarthy, a playcalling head coach, often let his offensive coordinators call plays in the preseason finale so he could focus on player evaluation. But that’s nothing like the real thing.
Also, Philbin spent game days in the coaches’ box, where his perch allowed him to give input to McCarthy. Now, of course, he’ll be down on the field.
Still, Philbin ran his share of the offensive meetings while McCarthy attended to other head-coaching duties. No one was more involved in the game-plan process than Philbin.
“I would sit with Mike and Aaron a lot and talk about the calls and first 15 [plays that are scripted] and those things,” Philbin said. “But yeah, obviously it’s going to be a little bit different. Sometimes, because I wasn’t calling the plays, I could kind of peek ahead a little bit so we could move forward a little bit. I think that will be the biggest difference. I’m not going to be looking at our next opponent until the game is over. I think that’s one of the big changes. And then obviously just sequencing the calls the right way and hopefully they work when we call ’em.”
Other than the 13 games that Tom Clements called plays for in 2015, when McCarthy temporarily ceded those duties, McCarthy is the only playcaller Rodgers has ever known. That means little things, such as hand signals to indicate if he needs a call repeated, will have to be worked out with Philbin.
“Just get on the same page in our body language with the two of us,” Rodgers said. “And then spending some time talking about the plan, which I’m sure we’ll do the next couple days.”
Rodgers expects to have the same freedom at the line of scrimmage as he did under McCarthy.
“That’s always been part of the offense,” Rodgers said. “There’s check-with-me [calls], there’s audibles within plays. And then the stuff outside those when there’s a look that we talked about this play into this play, but those are always stuff that we talk about during the week, and you’re really never going to make stuff up out there. It’s conversations that you’ve had, so the guys are expecting those checks when they come up.”
From the Falcons’ perspective, there’s no book on Philbin as a playcaller. Even though Philbin said he doesn’t plan any sweeping scheme changes, which would be impossible anyway in one week, he could highlight a different section of the playbook than McCarthy did.
“I guess because maybe the analogy I told the team today, if we all had the same playbook, we wouldn’t all call plays in the same way or the same style even though it’s all part of it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. “So, Green Bay has a big playbook and they’re able to feature a number of guys in certain ways, so maybe the tendencies of when something might be called or run-pass based on the distance, I would imagine that would change because there’s a new person calling it.”
Could that mean Philbin, a former offensive line coach, could lean more heavily on the run after the Packers posted the second-highest dropback rate (69.9 percent) in the NFL through Week 13?
“Well, we’ll see,” Philbin said with a chuckle. “We’ll see how they line up. It all depends.”