Matt LaFleur doesn't blame Aaron Rodgers for passing problems vs. Giants, plus three other takeaways
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers arrived home late Sunday night, after a long flight during which they had ample time to relive their 27-22 loss to the New York Giants in London.
Coach Matt LaFleur met with the local media Monday afternoon to recap the loss, what went wrong and what has to improve. Here are four of the biggest takeaways:
Not blaming Aaron Rodgers for lack of deep passing game
As long as teams are going to sell out on stopping the run and leave one safety in the middle of the field, LaFleur said the Packers are going to take their shots down the field in the passing game.
Against the Giants, they tried to do it more than a half-dozen times and they didn’t complete a single one, including three straight attempts with the game tied in the fourth quarter and the defense having just been on the field for more than 8 minutes. Numerous times, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was off with his throws, although LaFleur didn’t place all the blame at his feet.
“Let’s face it, the further you throw the ball down the field, the less percentage it is that it’s going to be complete,” he said. “And you’d always like to throw the perfect ball on every play. That’s not going to happen all the time. I think there’s some things that we can do from a protection standpoint that maybe give Aaron a tick more time to him being in balance in the pocket. And then the wideouts’ separation, I think everybody has to improve.”
The longest completion of the day, a 35-yarder to Randall Cobb, included 16 yards of run after the catch. The next longest catch was 22 yards.
Fine with not running the ball on the final two plays
With just over a minute left, the Packers faced third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 6-yard line, needing a touchdown to tie the game at 27-27. Both times Rodgers threw and both times the passes were knocked down at the line of scrimmage, securing the victory for the Giants.
Both calls had run options to them and on the fourth-and-1, it looked like AJ Dillon could have walked into the end zone if Rodgers had handed him the ball. LaFleur said it wasn’t as easy as that because the Giants had lined up eight players at the line of scrimmage, leaving two edge players unblocked on the right side.
“I don’t fault that decision at all,” LaFleur said of Rodgers audibling to a pass. “You can’t bank on that (Dillon running free) because you have a short edge. Who’s to say that safety is not going to run it down from behind if he hands that ball off? We had Cobby (Randall Cobb) and Doubsy (Romeo Doubs) on the left side and Allen (Lazard) on the right side. It’s unfortunate that it worked out the way it did. Obviously, you never want to end the ballgame with back-to-back tipped passes.”
LaFleur said given the heavy pressure the Giants were bringing, he didn’t have an issue with the decision.
Not blaming Joe Barry fully, but not excusing defense either
LaFleur was careful not to put the bulk of the blame on defensive coordinator Joe Barry for the defense's collapse in the second half against Daniel Jones and the Giants. In addition to taking on a lot of the blame himself, LaFleur mentioned execution on the field, mental errors and penalties as factors in the loss.
“I think we all have to do more,” LaFleur said when asked if Barry needs to do more with the talent on the field. “Quite frankly, we need every guy doing their job on every single play. Because there was a lot of just one-offs here and there and that's what led to just that second half where you give up long drives.”
In the second half, Jones completed 13 of 14 passes for 136 yards, in addition to nine carries for 34 yards. Running back Saquon Barkley finished with 13 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown, a relatively modest day for him. But the Giants still leaned on their weapon in crucial moments.
While LaFleur didn’t overtly blame Barry, he also stepped in more than he would in the past, telling his defensive coordinator to really weigh the benefit of exotic looks on third downs, when the Giants are content to simply hand off the ball to Barkley. “I'm not saying that we shouldn't do that. Not saying that at all,” LaFleur said Monday. "I just think you have to pick and choose when you do that."
LaFleur said a lack of urgency getting lined up and during the play is what led to giving up chunk yardage on crossing plays. “There's times when we're just a little bit off and guys are moving around and not in the best position pre-snap," he said. "And we have a hard time, you know, taking those crossing routes and then we get beat.”
LaFleur also bemoaned the lack of urgency in passing off the route in zone coverage: “We're just a little late with that. And if you're a little late in that with that, you're gonna get beat and you're gonna give up big explosive plays and we all know that explosive plays lead to points.”
Three costly penalties also wiped out would-be sacks or stops, all on drives that ended in a Giants score. LaFleur called some of those “subjective” on Monday but game-changers nonetheless.
“That definitely hurt us,” he said. “I still think that you know a couple of those sacks go a different way, I think maybe we're having a different conversation right now. But it is what it is. We got to be better. Bottom line.”
Schedule for the week, personnel changes
Following a long road trip with a quick turnaround, the Packers are changing their schedule some this week. Given the New York Jets and coach Robert Saleh are on the horizon, though, this is more a shuffling of the week’s to-do list, as opposed to putting the guys through an entirely different practice plan. It’ll start by making Wednesday more of a mental day.
“The whole key I think from now until game day is obviously you got to get your work in,” LaFleur said. “But I think that recovery is a big part of it. And we know we're gonna have our hands full … we’ll get a better feel for how our guys come in on Wednesday, but I would assume Wednesday is going to be a little bit more of a mental day and then we'll try to get back more to a normal schedule on Thursday and Friday.”
As the week unfolds, the Packers could be forced to consider personnel changes. After Amari Rodgers was replaced by rookie Christian Watson on kickoff returns against the Giants, he also continued to have fumble issues on punt returns, losing his second ball this season.
“I told him during the game, I said you have got to do a better job of taking care of the football,” LaFleur said. “(Amari) does a great job of fielding the punts, no doubt about it, but I think it's just the ball carriage. Once you put that on tape, guess what’s coming your way? Those guys are going to be clawing at the football and the Jets do a great job with that as well.”