The Green Bay Packers turned some heads after the mid-season axing of longtime head coach Mike McCarthy. Even though the Packers enjoyed a ton of success over his 13-year tenure in Green Bay, McCarthy’s play calling and decision-making were questioned constantly. After a very disappointing start to the season, the Packers were in must-win territory against the NFL worst 2-9 Cardinals and in front of their home crowd, they played their worst game of the season and suffered a 20-17 home loss.
Only hours later, McCarthy’s tenure in Green Bay came to an end and with it, the end of an era. Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin took over interim head coach duties and finished the season going 2-2. While many key Packers players vouched for Philbin to remain as the head coach, the front office thought otherwise, and after a lengthy search, they hired former Titans Offensive Coordinator Matt Lafleur as the 15th Head Coach in franchise history.
By now you should be familiar with Lafleur’s coaching past, spending time with the Redskins (QB Coach), Falcons (QB Coach), Rams (OC), and Titans (OC). Plenty has been spoken about what Lafleur has done in the past, now, I want to use that info and see how it can be implemented in this explosive Packers offense.
If you look back at Lafleur’s coaching history you will see a common thread. Run the ball effectively, play action passing and quick drop back throws. When Lafleur was in Atlanta during Matt Ryan’s MVP season the Falcons passed on only 58% of their snaps, which was 11th lowest in the league. The Falcons offense was based around running the ball with a zone blocking scheme and then using the play-action to take shots down the field.
A term Lafleur has used a lot since his hiring is having the “illusion of complexity”. What he means by that is using the same base personnel but adding all sorts of pre-snap motions and little variations that confuse defenses but in reality, aren’t all that different.
You really started to see him use that a lot more once he became the Rams OC in 2017. The Rams used the 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) a league-high 81% of the time. What made that offense so effective was how they used that same personnel play after play and defenses simply couldn’t stop them.
A staple of this offense, just like in Atlanta, is the outside zone blocking scheme. When you have the league’s top RB in Todd Gurley, it’s easy to base your offense around the run game. With such a playmaker in the backfield, defenses were forced to pick their poison, either let Gurley run all over you or watch Goff beat you downfield with a number explosive pass catchers.
After such an incredible 2017 season with the Rams, Lafleur had plenty of teams dying to meet with him, including a few head coaching interviews. Eventually, Lafleur settled on becoming the Titans offensive coordinator in large part for the opportunity to call plays for the first time in his career.
The Titans had an up and down season but still finished 9-7, only 1 win away from a spot in the playoffs. With starting QB Marcus Mariota missing 3 games, veteran TE Delanie Walker missing 15 games and a number of offensive lineman going in and out of the lineup all year, it’s impressive that the Titans were even competitive let alone finishing only 1 game out of the playoffs.
In his first year as play caller, Lafleur’s offense unsurprisingly excelled in the run game but did have its struggles through the air. As an offense, the Titans finished 7th in the league in rushing while averaging a very respectable 126 yards per game. A highly talked about storyline this December was the offensive explosion that Derrick Henry enjoyed over the final month of the season. In weeks 13-17 Henry rushed for an average of 125 yards per game with 8 TD’s in that span. He was completely unstoppable largely due to the terrific game planning and blocking schemes drawn up by Matt Lafleur.
The Titans passing game was another story. They finished 29th in yards, 31st in attempts and 28th in TD’s. That’s definitely not what you’re looking for from your franchise QB. While they did look bad throwing the football most of the season, injuries certainly did not help their cause. You can’t expect too much from an offense lead by either an injured Mariota or backup Blaine Gabbert throwing the football to guys like Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor. Lafleur should have a much easier time getting the Packers pass game going with Aaron Rodgers leading the way.
Now that we’ve seen everything Lafleur has been successful with in the past, I want to look ahead and see how he going to apply those principles to the Packers offense.
Let’s start with the run game, as we’ve seen, that’s clearly what Lafleur wants his offenses to be predicated upon. With Aaron Jones leading the Packers backfield, I think the possibilities are endless for him and how he will be used both running and catching the football. The first thing Lafleur needs to do for this run game is to make sure that Jones is getting 20 plus touches a game. McCarthy’s refusal to commit to Jones throughout games was as frustrating as it was nonsensical, he looks like a star in the making.
Jones has shown an elite ability to find the open lane and burst through it blowing by arm tackles and getting to the second level in a hurry. The outside run is where Jones is at his best, running behind All-Pro Tackles David Bhaktiari and Bryan Bulaga. Another underrated facet of Jones’ game is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make people miss in open space. In 2018 Jones averaged over 6.5 yards per catch and always managed to break a few tackled along the way. I expect to see a ton of screens and swing passes to Jones just like we’ve seen Lafleur do with guys like Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman and Dion Lewis.
Once a defense allows a Lafleur led offense to get it’s run game going, they are dead in the water. If he’s got your linebackers and safety’s thinking about the run he will destroy you with a myriad of play action, screen passes and quick easy throws that you will have no way to defend.
With an offense that will feature a very strong run game, Aaron Rodgers should be in prime position to get back to playing at his usual MVP caliber level. In the past, Rodgers has faced criticism for his tendency to hold the ball too long forcing him to take many unneeded hits. Lafleur should fix that issue pretty quickly with many of his pass plays calling for a quick 1-3 step drop. If Lafleur can get Rodgers to play the short game while sprinkling in some deep shots instead of vice versa, this offense is going to be unstoppable.
Taking all of this into account I think the Packers offense needs to focus on these three things.
- Pre-snap motion, forcing the defense to hesitate on the snap.
- Commitment to Aaron Jones and the running game.
- Getting Rodgers on bootlegs and quick drops, making the smart and most importantly, easy throw.
If the Packers can use this new age offensive philosophy the way teams like the Rams, Saints and Patriots have over the last few years, there will be no defense in the league capable of slowing them down.
I would love to hear some of your thoughts on how Lafleur should run this offense, and whether he can turn things around in Green Bay. Leave some thoughts in the comments and I’ll tell you what I think. Thanks!