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McCarthy turns Packers into powerhouse team

Green Bay's Mike McCarthy was one of the unheralded new coaching hires in the NFL in 2006 but he's proving to be one of the best.

The Packers' rout of Minnesota last week improved their record to 8-1 and was further evidence of McCarthy's outstanding coaching this season.

The Pack did it in part by exploiting one of the best run defenses in the league. Green Bay's Ryan Grant rushed for 119 yards, snapping a streak of 36 straight games in which the Vikes had not allowed a 100-yard rusher. It came just a week after the Vikes had throttled San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.

How did the Pack do it? They softened the Vikings up with the pass then spread them out and ran.

Good play calling is McCarthy's claim to fame. He is a disciple of Paul Hackett, who tutored under Bill Walsh in the West Coast offense with San Francisco in the early 1980s.

McCarthy, a Pittsburgh native, calls all his own plays and has shown good flexibility this season. The Pack has struggled at running back. Even though McCarthy's offenses in the past have been relatively balanced, he stopped banging his head against the wall with the run game early this year and let Brett Favre control the game with short passes.

The Packers are running just 36 percent of the time. Crispness is another trait of the Packers' attack this year. Like Walsh and Mike Holmgren, McCarthy is fanatical about the offense practicing at a fierce tempo, getting in and out of the huddle quickly.

"He's going to turn every leaf to find the best play and the best strategy," said Bills quality control coach Alex Van Pelt, who played at the University of Pittsburgh when McCarthy was a newbie assistant under Hackett. "He's been around some good coaches and good systems.

"I saw some things last year he was doing differently than anybody else in protection. It was one tight end, three wides. He'd motion the tight end back and forth to disguise where they were protecting. He's creative."

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Running it up

For all the talk about New England running up the score, the Patriots went out of their way to take it easy on the Bills in the Week Three game at Foxborough. They easily could have scored another touchdown in the 38-7 win. Nevertheless, the mind-set of Bill Belichick as a defensive coach is it's up to the defense to make the stops. He talked about the view of his father, Steve, on the subject in a 2004 interview on Boston's WEEI:

"I remember when I was a kid and my father was coaching at Navy. He was a defensive coach -- coached the secondary, coached the linebackers at different points during his career there. I remember one game where I said that to him after the game -- you know, where I really thought the other team kind of ran it up on you. And he said, as a defensive coach would say, 'You know what? It's our job to keep the score down, not theirs. We're on defense. That's what our job is, to keep them from scoring.' Having been a defensive coordinator, those words have rung in my head many times. When they're moving the ball, when they're scoring points, it's your job to stop them. Not their job to . . . [Host: Stop themselves.] Right, pull back."

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LenDale rolls

A leading candidate for Sophomore of the Year in the NFL is Tennessee running back LenDale White, whose rookie season was a disappointment in part because he was out of shape.

White stands 10th in the NFL in rushing with 625 yards. He's on pace for 1,100 yards and 320 carries, the most for a Titans back since Eddie George got 340 in 2002.

White is a 235-pound bowling ball and is looking like the load he was at Southern California.

"I'm getting in the groove," White said. "In this game, the more you're out there, the better you feel, the more comfortable you get. And when you have an offensive line that's that good and all you have to do is run through the holes, it makes my job 10 times easier. . . . A lot of people said I couldn't do this, couldn't do that, but I'm having fun out there."

The Titans' decision to let Travis Henry walk away after a 1,200-yard season is looking mighty good.

An interesting thing to watch in Monday night's game between the Titans and Broncos is the personality of the Tennessee offense. The strengths of the Titans' two main weapons -- White and quarterback Vince Young -- have not looked complementary this year.

Young has looked better in the shotgun, hurry-up offense than the conventional set. But the Titans' philosophy is to play ball control and control the clock with a big back.

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Work ethic

Former Southern Cal star receiver Mike Williams probably blew his last chance in the NFL when Raiders coach and former USC aide Lane Kiffin cut him. Williams had big question marks coming into the 2004 draft over his dubious work ethic. "We gave him a great opportunity," Kiffin said last week. "I stuck with him as long as I could. He wasn't able to take it as serious as he needed to be able to stay in this league, and it's really a sad story."

Penn State coach Joe Paterno reminisced this week about former Nittany Lion LaVar Arrington, who also underperformed in the NFL, although not as badly as Williams. Paterno recalled advising Arrington against entering the draft a year early.

Said JoePa: "I said, 'You're nuts. Your fundamentals are lousy. You're going to get killed in that league. You start jumping over people, and you're not going to have any kids.' "

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Onside kicks

*Cleveland's Josh Cribbs is bound for the Pro Bowl, either as a return man or special teams coverage man. Cribbs, a converted QB from Kent State, is second in NFL with a 32.4-yard kickoff return average after burning Pittsburgh last week with a 100-yard TD return and a 90-yard return to the 3. He also leads the Browns in special-teams tackles with 12.

*With a 28.1 points-per-game average, the Steelers are on pace to break a team record set in 1979 (26 ppg).

*In a case of the rich getting richer, the Pats are staring at a top-five pick in the draft due to the meltdown of the San Francisco offense. In a draft-day trade in April, the Niners got the Pats' 28th overall pick in return for a 2008 first-rounder and an '07 fourth-rounder. The Pats shipped the fourth-rounder to Oakland for Randy Moss. The Niners used the first-round pick on offensive tackle Joe Staley. That move alone might win Scott Pioli Executive of the Year.

*The Redskins' ability to get poor return on big-contract investments continues. Receiver Brandon Lloyd, who signed a seven-year, $30 million deal in 2006, has been a bust. He had just 23 catches last year and has just two this year. Now he's probably out for the year with a broken clavicle.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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