After 13 seasons of the Mike McCarthy era, the Green Bay Packers have decided to enter 2019 with a different Head Coach. Matt LaFleur was hired to replace McCarthy after a second consecutive losing season. What are the Packers coaching expectations for 2019? Well, first, let us take a look at this new Head Coach.
LaFleur, a former Divison II quarterback, brings a wealth of coaching experience even if he has yet to reach his 40th birthday. After only three years removed from playing in college, LaFleur was hired as the Offensive Coordinator for Ashland University. He was only there for one season when he joined the Houston Texans in 2008, the same season that Kyle Shanahan became the team’s offensive coordinator. He followed Shanahan to Washington in 2010, becoming the team’s Quarterbacks Coach. Other than 2014 (when he was with Notre Dame), LaFleur spent from 2010 to 2016 as Shanahan’s QB Coach on either Washington or the Atlanta Falcons. In 2017, he joined Sean McVay‘s staff as the Los Angeles Rams Offensive Coordinator. He filled in that same capacity for the Tennessee Titans in 2018, with the added responsibility of play-calling.
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With Aaron Rodgers and his top target, Davante Adams, under contract, Green Bay re-tooled its defense in an attempt to win now. The overall 2019 expectations for LaFleur are to return the Packers to the playoffs after a two-year post-season absence. Let’s look at some more specific expectations for this coaching staff.
The one thing that LaFleur wants to bring to the Packers offense is the “illusion of complexity.” Shortly after he was hired, LaFleur explained this philosophy. “We want to have like plays, meaning, plays that start out looking the same that are different. We also want to create what we call an ‘illusion of complexity,’ meaning we’re going to run the same concepts, but how many different ways can we run them?” LaFleur said. “Whether it’s out of 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 13 personnel, just to make it a little more difficult for the defense.”
The idea behind running a variety of different plays out of only a few formations is two-fold. First, that will keep defenses guessing the entire game. If defensive players are having to dissect players after the ball has been snapped, they could potentially be a few steps behind in timing, allowing the offense to convert more easily. Furthermore, if the offense does not substitute a player, then the defense does not have the opportunity to do so. Having the same personnel package for several consecutive plays could force certain defenders on the field to play in situations where their coaches do not want them. Stale play designs were what sunk McCarthy in Green Bay. He was a pretty good play-caller, and he understood how to control the pace of a game. The problem was the Packers were very transparent with what they were trying to do on offense. Hopefully, that will change under LaFleur.
Speaking of play-calling, LaFleur brought in a capable play-caller to be his Offensive Coordinator. Nathaniel Hackett was the Offensive Coordinator for the Buffalo Bills (2013-2014) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (2016-2018). In particular, Hackett helped the Jaguars offensive get to the 2017 AFC Championship Game. With LaFleur taking on so many responsibilities as Head Coach, it would be surprising if he also decided to call plays. He described Hackett as a play caller using the words “so organized” and “experienced”. With more play-calling experience than his new boss, it is a role that would certainly fit Hackett.
With the offense being LaFleur’s Discipline, he decided to retain Mike Pettine as the Packers’ Defensive Coordinator. That will certainly help the players who remained from last year. “We’re so much further ahead than we were a year ago,” Pettine said. “We’re looking forward to having guys with experience in the system. We have a much better sense of who we are and what our skill set is and what we want to get done. The nice thing is, you don’t just reset it back to Year 1. You have a little bit of momentum and you’ve built a pretty solid foundation with the guys you’re going to have back.”
The 2018 season was not a great performance by the Packers defense. They finished 22nd in points allowed, 18th in total yards allowed and 30th in turnovers generated. By keeping Pettine, Green Bay’s front office is saying that it was more of a player issue than it was the fault of coaching or scheme. They certainly believed that enough to sign key free agents such as Adrian Amos, Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith as well as invest a 12th overall pick in Rashan Gary and the 21st overall pick in Darnell Savage.
Pettine also adds invaluable Head Coaching experience to a team devoid of it. Even if his stint with the Cleveland Browns is considered a failure, he certainly learned from his mistakes and can share that insight with LaFleur.
Shawn Mennenga is a first-time NFL Special Teams Coordinator after spending 2018 in that role with Vanderbilt University. However, he does have NFL experience in that regard as he was the special teams assistant with the Browns between 2011 and 2017. Mennenga will need to use that experience to quickly turn around the Packers unit. In PFF’s Special Teams grades from last season, Green Bay ranked 30th.
While Cleveland has regularly been a punching bag for the rest of the league, their special teams were actually quite good. They broke the net punting average record in 2016 (40.3 yards) and again in 2017 (40.6 yards). What happened to the Browns special teams last season. After Mennenga left, Cleveland ended up ranked dead last of PFF special teams grades in 2018. This coming in a season where the Browns had a 7-9 record, their best since the finished 10-6 in 2007. It is not as if this team forgot how to play special teams simply because Mennenga left. But it does show that he helped them excel in certain areas while he was on the team. Hopefully, he can do the same in Green Bay.
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