We are in an exciting time in Packers history as we witnessed the hiring of a new head coach of the Green Bay Packers on January 8th. It’s exciting for me personally because this is the first hire I have followed this closely. I would like to start off by saying that I was very happy with this hire. Young coaches who are offensive gurus seem to be the new trend, and its working well for some teams around the league, most notably the Los Angeles Rams, who are set to play in the NFC Championship game this Sunday.
LaFleur has made stops in his coaching career as a quarterbacks coach at the University of Notre Dame, the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Falcons. As an offensive coordinator, he worked for the LA Rams and last year for the Titans.
LaFleur has had the opportunity to coach some good quarterbacks. Matt Ryan obviously comes to mind, but he also coached Robert Griffin early in his career, and Jared Goff, who made the Pro Bowl in his second season. It will be interesting to see how he will work with a quarterback as talented as Aaron Rodgers.
I’m not going to discuss the passing game in this article though, that will come later. Throughout the offseason I will break down LaFleur’s offense, both passing and running, to help you the fan prepare for what you will see in the 2019 season. I have decided to break down his offense game by game to give you a more in-depth look at the offense, with all clips coming from his 2018 season in Tennessee. LaFleur also served as the offensive coordinator in LA, but with Sean McVay calling plays I’m not sure how much information we could gather from the play calls.
A little background before we look at the film first. According to Pro Football Reference, the Titans had the 7th best rushing offense in the league in 2018. They racked up over 2,000 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns. Some of this may be attributed to quarterback injuries, but the important thing to remember is that they executed on the ground when called on. In a day and age when passing teams rule the league, it’s refreshing to see a strong rushing attack. That is one thing the Packers need in 2019. I know, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. I believe that even if a team has a quarterback as talented as Rodgers that they should not abandon the running attack or not put as much emphasis on it. A good rushing game can do wonders for the passing attack. I also think that Aaron Jones could be a great running back in the league and I’m excited to see how LaFleur will use him.
Now, lets take a look and see how LaFleur used his rushing attack in week 1 of 2018.
Over the past couple of years we have seen the Packers use the pistol at times. What comes to mind is the 2014 season with both John Kuhn and Eddie Lacy lined up in the backfield. Last year though, I don’t feel like we saw it as much as we have in the past.
Here, the Titans run as simple read option look. I’m fairly confident that we won’t see any of this with Rodgers, as Mariota and Rodgers are two very different quarterbacks. I’ve often said that I don’t think the face of your franchise should be running any option plays as they are vulnerable to getting injured. With a quarterback like Rodgers, you want to protect him at all costs.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like the formation. I think the pistol gives an offense the threat of a downhill running attack while moving the quarterback far enough back to have the vision to see sideline to sideline and attack a defense through the air. The pistol has strong advantages in the run game. In a shotgun look the back is usually offset to one side or another. This is a big tip off for the defense, as the offense can only run it one way, with the exception of the read option or the counter. The defense will often run slants or stunts to the side the offset back is running.
When I say that I don’t like the read option, this is why. Mariota reads it correctly and hands it off but takes a shot at the end of the play. This isn’t necessarily a dirty play by the defense. The defensive end was only carrying out his assignment. The EMOL (end man on line) is always responsible for playing quarterback in the option look.
Here is an example of a clean read and handoff from a 2 back pistol look. A key block must be made by the playside guard. He must drive down the shaded player in order to create a clear path to the B gap. The fullback offset to the quarterback also has an important block to make. He has to come across the formation to block the playside EMOL. This means that quickness and timing are vital. The playside tackle climbs to the second level to turn out the Will (weakside) linebacker. If I was LaFleur, I would take out the read all together and make it an automatic give, never giving Rodgers the option to run. Again, a lot of these calls are all dictated by personnel.
2 Back Sets
The I formation is one of the oldest and most reliable formations in all of football. There is a reason it has been around for 50 plus years. I want to see the Packers get back to running more out of the I formation and run downhill.
Here is an example of a basic zone concept from the I. One thing that I noticed with LaFleur’s offense is that it incorporates mostly zone run schemes. I didn’t notice a trap or counter play throughout this game. Again, it comes back to scheme.
In a zone run such as this one, it is important that the offensive line takes a strong lateral step at the snap of the ball. Their objective is to reach the playside shoulder of the man in their zone. A player who is uncovered (no one over them) climbs to the second level and looks for a player to block. Watch the center for a good example of this. He reaches the second level and throws a clean block on the middle linebacker.
In the backfield, the fullback runs his track and looks for the first man he can block. Here, it is the Sam (strongside) linebacker. This is a key block, as the Sam poses a threat to a zone play like this.
Again, here is another zone concept from the I. The nose tackle on this play runs a slant stunt to the backside. While it looks like he gave up the playside shoulder, he collapsed the backside guard and the Will linebacker came through clean to make the tackle. Getting to the second level is important in plays like this.
A few times throughout the game LaFleur used an offset I look. Here is an example of a basic toss play from it. I feel like the design is good but the execution is bad. They motion a receiver in and his job is to crack block the playside EMOL. He fails to get the block and the EMOL blows up the play. Backside players chase the play down but I feel like if the crack block is executed then the running back outruns the backside players. The tackle and fullback are both the lead blockers in a toss. Bakhtiari would be the player to pull in the Packers offense. We saw an occasional toss play from time to time last season. Bakhtiari is a decent pull man who can get the job done. I like the call but everyone must execute up front at the snap in order for it to be a success.
2 TE Sets
There were a few times throughout the game where I saw some quick dive plays. This is all BOB (big on big) blocking. I like the call in short yard situations. Give the ball the back running full steam downhill and get the yards you need. Many of these plays came from a 2 tight end formation. You will really see how good of blocker guys are in BOB blocking. It’s essentially one-on-one, with double team usually coming on shaded players. LaFleur really favors 12 personnel. Hopefully he will have the guys in Green Bay to run it.
LaFleur run a few stretch plays out of 12 personnel. Key blocks here must be made on the edge, both by the outside tight end and the split wide receiver. If you can seal the edge here it can be a decent gainer.
The Titans ran for 116 yards in this game on 29 attempts. Not impressive by any means, but I will give the Titans some slack, seeing as how this game is from week 1. Some times it takes teams time to find their groove early in the season. They have to get a feel for both their run and pass game. Later in the year some teams hit their stride and others struggle to find their offensive identity.
In my next article, I’ll take a look at the passing attack from this game. I hope with these articles that it will help you understand a little more about LaFleur and what we might see this season in Green Bay. The Packers had the 22nd best rushing offense in 2018, so this is an important part of the game that the team must improve on.
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