Among the many headlines heading into Saturday’s divisional-round battle between the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers is the familiarity between the two head coaches. Sure, in any matchup you can make the head coaches part of the narrative, but it will truly be a large factor in this matchup. The ongoing chess match between Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay will go a long way in determining who wins on Saturday.
LaFleur and McVay’s relationship goes back all the way to their days in Washington starting in 2010. Both coached on the offensive side of the ball under Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator at the time. Both McVay and LaFleur have been asked numerous times already this week about their friendship.
Now you can talk about their friendship and how close they are all you want but, that’s not the translation to make to how it affects what happens on the field. The correlation raising eyebrows lies within the scheme.
Green Bay’s offense has been damn near unstoppable at times this year and is ranked as the No. 1 offense in the NFL. The scheme LaFleur has installed has clicked on multiple levels in just Year 2 as head coach, but it is also something that is very similar to what McVay does with the Rams. Thus, the chess match begins.
The Packers’ deception on offense has worked heavily in their favor this year. Getting the defense to commit to the run only to call play-action, roll Aaron Rodgers out, and have him choose from a variety of open receivers. All the pre-snap jet motion to keep the defense on their toes only to have the jet motion guy be used as a decoy on many occasions. It’s a factor that filters into their success but will be difficult to fool McVay with.
Two massive things the Rams have going for them Sunday: McVay’s knowledge and understanding of Green Bay’s scheme and having the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL.
You can watch all the film you want on Green Bay this year and still have a disastrous time trying to contain or neutralize what they do on offense because of the unfamiliarity with their scheme. It’s one thing to study it, it’s another to know it. And Sean McVay knows it. It’s as if he’s a step ahead of every other Packers opponent that has tried to contain Rodgers, LaFleur, and the rest of this offense.
Now the flip side of that is having the players needed to get the job done. It’s why the Rams have the best of both worlds: You can have a coach like McVay who knows a lot of the ins and outs of the scheme and the concepts the Packers run on offense, but if you simply don’t have the players who can go out and execute it doesn’t matter. You can know the offense all you want because it is in some ways your offensive scheme as well, but if you don’t have the players it rarely matters. Los Angeles has the players. The No. 1-rated total defense, the No. 1-rated pass defense, and the No. 4-rated run defense that is ninth in takeaways. And they have playmakers, legitimate all-pro playmakers at nearly every level.
This means that LaFleur has to find the recipe for the best possible success against this Rams defense knowing what McVay knows.
It’s like that episode of Friends except in this case it’s LaFleur saying, “McVay knows that we know that he knows what we know he knows.”
So what’s the best route?
Stay the course if you’re Green Bay.
Your offense is No. 1 for a reason. Don’t try and “fool” the Rams by switching things up. Trust that your guys can go man-to-man and execute like they have all year. I’d much rather go down swinging that way then try and drastically change things up for this game just because of McVay’s knowledge of the offense (which comes from Kyle Shanahan). And from an answer LaFleur gave yesterday, it sounds like the Packers will do exactly that.
You have the MVP of this year playing quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. You have an all-pro and arguably the best receiver in football in Davante Adams. A pro-bowler in Aaron Jones. An emerging tight end in Robert Tonyan. And the No. 1 pass protection offensive line in football. Don’t take the first step back by changing what got you here.
Do you expect Davante Adams to change up what he does because he’s going up against Jalen Ramsey? Hell no. He trusts that his best is better than Ramsey’s best when it needs to be. The same can be said for this offense as a whole. That’s why I LOVE that quote from LaFleur about coaching against those in the past that you have close, tight-knit relationships with affected him more than it will now. He’s learned from those games like last year in the NFC Championship.
McVay and that defense may have the knowledge and expertise as to what will be coming their way on Saturday. But who executes in the clutch will help determine the winner at Lambeau Field.