Packers' pairing of Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers will pay off quicklySporting News — (Vinnie Iyer)
The Packers made the first head coaching hire of the 2019 NFL offseason with Matt LaFleur. By hiring a young, offensive-minded hot shot, they are following the league's hottest recent trend. Given LaFleur is only 39 and coming off a one-season stint coordinating a Titans offense that finished No. 27 in scoring, there are reasons to be skeptical about the level of success he will bring to Green Bay.
As LaFleur's new starting quarterback might say, those skeptics should R-E-L-A-X.
From the time the Packers put in motion the process by firing Mike McCarthy early in December, it was obvious they were looking for the right man to mind-meld with Aaron Rodgers. There were plenty of other strong candidates vying for the opportunity to work with an all-time great QB in the back half of his career, but Green Bay was smart to pass on all of them and go with LaFleur.
No matter how you slice up LaFleur's background, all signs point to him having a beautiful relationship with Rodgers.
More importantly, LaFleur can parlay the Rodgers connection into enough wins for the Packers to return to the playoffs as early as 2019.
LaFleur has worked every kind of QB in his eight years as an NFL position coach or coordinator. He worked with running passers in Robert Griffin III early in his career and Marcus Mariota last season. He was key in developing a young Kirk Cousins with the Shanahans in Washington, then a young Jared Goff with Sean McVay in Los Angeles. He worked with Matt Ryan in Atlanta when the veteran QB rose to an MVP level.
Throughout his career, LaFleur has been in constant adjustment mode with his concepts while syncing with other fresh, organized thinkers in positions above him. As for the QBs under him, LaFleur has brought out their best in the vertical and play-action passing games.
The latter will be important in Green Bay, because there will be a dedication to the running game to give the offense balance.
When LaFleur was in Washington for RGIII's rookie splash, the Redskins fielded the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense. The Falcons' rushing attack ranked No. 5 in the league in 2016. The Rams ranked No. 7 in 2017. The Titans were No. 7 in 2018.
In Tennessee, LaFleur was given a backfield committee of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, and as the play-caller, LaFleur wisely realized in the second half of the season that Henry's powerful running style meshed better with the team's blocking abilities. Henry as the Titans' feature back helped the offense become more explosive and finish drives more successfully.
Now in Green Bay, LaFleur will build on Aaron Jones' breakout season and get the most out of the 24-year-old as a true feature back — this after McCarthy took a lot of heat for forcing touches to Jamaal Williams even though Jones was the more dynamic back.
The Packers also present LaFleur another strong offensive line with which to work, so there will be no limitations with the playbook. At the same time, his experience with mobile improvisers will allow him to enhance Rodgers' ability to extend plays; the coach won't need to try to "rein in" the QB and keep him "on script."
In all, Green Bay's offense will become more creative and, yes, a little more complicated — both to Rodgers' benefit.
Another reason the Packers hired LaFleur: He does not plan to mess with the defense.
Incumbent defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, 52, had an up-and-down first season in Green Bay, but there was promise. The unit that was derailed by injuries in 2018 can be re-tooled with a few personnel upgrades this offseason, foremost via two first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.
In Tennessee, LaFleur had a good recognition for what coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees were doing on their end, and the OC utilized a complementary game plan. That allowed the Titans to win several close, relatively low-scoring games. With Vrabel's influence rubbing off on him, LaFleur will re-establish the Packers as a team with the mental and physical toughness now required to win the NFC North.
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The Packers needed to strike a delicate balance with their hire. They required a coach with whom Rodgers will click, but person also needed to be an offensive-minded coach who understands Green Bay needs to be less dependent on the QB in order to win big again. Now the Packers can get back to winning games with their running game and defense, too.
Do not let LaFleur's age — he's only four years older than Rodgers — fool you. The Green Bay coach's unique blend of old and new school is not only what Rogers needs to get the support he once had, but it will also give the future Hall of Famer the kind of offensive freedom he has never experienced.