For Packers' Matt LaFleur, willingness to adapt is more than just talk
GREEN BAY - If there has been one thread of consistency in the Green Bay Packers' offense from the time the team first took the field in May through the first five games of the regular season in October, it is that first-year head coach Matt LaFleur has insisted that he will adapt his offense and play-calling to fit the players he has available to him.
In January, before his team even took shape, LaFleur said, “In this game if you're not evolving you're going to get passed by.” He noted his recent history where in Atlanta they deployed three-receiver sets ("11" personnel), two-receiver and two-tight-end sets (12), two-receiver and two-running-back (21) and some one-receiver, three-tight-end looks (13).
Then in Los Angeles they ran primarily 11 personnel. In Tennessee last year, his first calling plays, he ran more 13.
“I don’t know per se how identical it is, because things evolve,” LaFleur said then. “All we’re trying to do is really make it as simple for the players as possible, because, you know, one thing that when I’m looking at our identity — and that’s what do you put on tape, what do you look like when somebody clicks on the tape? — I want guys who know what to do and play fast and aggressive. If you can see that, I mean, that’s really what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Nearly nine months to the date since he was introduced as the Packers head coach, LaFleur and his offensive staff are continuing to evolve and work through the personnel on the roster. There are the small derivatives, like recognizing what tight end Jimmy Graham can do well and then putting that into action against Philadelphia. Or activating Tra Carson off the practice squad just before traveling to Dallas as opposed to exposing rookie Dexter Williams to a new situation.
There are larger ones, like electing to dig into the playbook and go with more inside zone runs against an athletic Cowboys defense.
It’s one thing to talk about being willing to tailor your system to the talent; it’s another to take professional pride out of the equation and actually do it.
“I think that’s what coaching is all about,” LaFleur said Monday after his team moved to 4-1. “You find out what your guys do well, or maybe where a team is vulnerable that you’re playing against and you attack that. I just think that’s part of coaching, that’s part of game-planning. But ultimately you’ve got to know your players. You’ve got to know what they do well and try to put them in position to have success.”
To that end, he and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are still figuring that out.
Through five weeks, the cumulative offensive numbers aren’t great. The Packers are No. 25 in total offense, just ahead of the winless Cincinnati Bengals. They are No. 13 in scoring at 23.8 points per game, but No. 23 in yards per play (5.3). They are No. 28 in third-down percentage. But they are tied for first in turnover differential with the New England Patriots at plus-7.
Aaron Rodgers might be No. 22 in the league in quarterback rating at 93.4, just ahead of Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton — but he drew Chicago and Denver defenses offside to throw the game-winning touchdown to Jimmy Graham against the Bears and a deep touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to put them up early against the Broncos.
The Packers may have the No. 23 rushing offense in the league, but Aaron Jones leads the NFL with eight rushing scores and twice has topped 100 yards — both times leading the team to victories.
Clearly the final form of the offense is not yet known, but it is moving forward.
“Well, what’s cool is we’ve found different ways to win games,” LaFleur said Monday. “Although, you’d like to be 5-0 right now, but I think that we’ve done some really good things for the most part when we got in the red zone, although two weeks in a row now we haven’t been able to punch it in from the 1-yard line. So there’s obviously room for improvement there, but I think we’re able to move the ball a little bit more consistently.
“Again, there’s still a lot of room for improvement there. Where we need to show the most improvement is getting out of long-yardage situations and getting back on track. Whether we have a negative run or a negative play on first down, or we get a penalty, or we get into those second-and-longs and are then faced with the third-and-longs, it’s tough to convert in this league. So there’s a lot of room for improvement on third downs for us.”