Packers coach Matt LaFleur won't play Aaron Rodgers, most of his starters in final preseason game
GREEN BAY – The decision is in: Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur will not be playing any starters Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs that he hasn’t played in the previous two preseason games.
It’s not all that surprising given LaFleur’s recent history of not playing starters and his concerns about injuries occurring in games that don’t count. But there was some thought that the team’s horrific start in Week 1 last year against New Orleans could have been avoided if some of the starters had played in the final exhibition game.
LaFleur’s choice means that backup Jordan Love will start his third consecutive game and receive the bulk of the snaps against the Chiefs, who have played their starters in their first two games. He will continue to play behind an offensive line that will feature two and maybe three starters when the regular season begins.
But aside from rookie inside linebacker Quay Walker, no starters on defense will play.
“It’s just the risk vs. reward knowing it’s a long season, 17 games,” LaFleur said Tuesday morning. “I think early on we get stressed with travel as well. I’m just trying to factor in everything.”
When he was offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams, he and coach Sean McVay established that they wouldn’t play starters in the preseason and, aside from his first year with the Packers, he has followed that model. LaFleur said he considered the poor opening-week performance last year but said it did not outweigh his concern for keeping the players healthy and fresh.
“I think there are a lot of lessons that you take from those experiences that, hopefully, having gone through that will help us avoid maybe a similar situation,” he said. “But I look at our team, I think we’re in a much different place.
“Where we were a year ago, especially on the defensive side of the ball (when coordinator Joe Barry was in his first year), with that continuity that we have there now (it’s different). And offensively, I think we hopefully will have learned from our past mistakes.”
LaFleur did say that rookie wide receiver Christian Watson may play. The team practiced today and he said he would see how Watson was feeling before making a final decision.
Watson spent the first half of training camp on the physically unable to perform list, recovering from a knee scope. He dressed for warm-ups last Friday, ahead of the preseason game with the New Orleans Saints, but did not play. On Tuesday afternoon, following practice, Watson said he would like to play if possible.
"Get the first-game jitters out of the way and be able to put my talents out there and kind of see all the progress I've made so far," he said. "Obviously last week was a big week for those other guys in terms of having multiple days to go against different colors, so if I get the opportunity to go against a different color, I think it'll be huge for me."