Matt LaFleur is 39-9 in the regular season since the Green Bay Packers hired him as head coach in 2019. He’s won 13 games in each of his first three seasons at the helm, setting the record and clinching three consecutive first-round byes. Pretty damn good. So, what’s the problem?
Well, while it’s undoubtedly abnormal for first-time head coaches to come in and win more than 80% of their games, it’s also relatively rare for them to inherit the situation that LaFleur did. Just ask Dan Campbell and Robert Saleh.
This Green Bay Packers roster is stacked, and it has been throughout his tenure. Green Bay parted ways with LaFleur’s predecessor, Mike McCarthy, not because he couldn’t win games, but because he couldn’t win Super Bowls. Championships are an expectation when you have Aaron Rodgers.
Also, Rodgers isn’t alone, not by a long shot. On offense, the Packers have the NFL’s top receiver in Davante Adams, one of the best offensive lines when healthy, and a dominant one-two punch in the backfield in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. They also have an emerging defense, led by All-Pros Kenny Clark, Za’Darius Smith, and Jaire Alexander. Granted, a few key pieces, like Smith and Alexander, have missed extended periods this season, but their absences have ushered in breakouts like Rashan Gary and veteran pickup Rasul Douglas.
So far, the LaFleur era has brought plenty of excitement and flash early in the season but run into the same familiar obstacles come January. In 2019, the Pack made it to the NFC Championship game, facing the San Francisco 49ers. However, they failed to learn from their midseason blowout in Santa Clara, and Kyle Shanahan’s physical running game embarrassingly dismantled them for a second time.
Last season they powered right back to the semifinal game, only for a slew of miscues and missed opportunities to hand Tom Brady another ticket to the big dance. Despite costly turnovers that led to a 28-10 deficit early in the third quarter, a pair of Alexander picks gave LaFleur’s offense plenty of chances to pick themselves up. In the end, LaFleur made the memorable decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal and never got the ball back.
Yes, LaFleur has still won the vast majority of his games, and he’s done a damn good job of moving the ball offensively. But still, how many of the NFL’s play-callers could make that kind of use of such deep talent across the board — including arguably the most talented quarterback ever to pick up a football?
Maybe you see where this is going. As we all know, Rodgers missed a game this season due to COVID. That game, against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, was the only game LaFleur has coached for the Pack without the league’s top signal-caller. Yes, it’s a minimal sample size, but worth investigating? Also yes.
He still had Jones, Dillon, and Adams; he just had to settle for backup QB Jordan Love, the Packers’ head-scratching first-round pick in the 2020 draft.
LaFleur was previously the OC for Mike Vrabel in Tennessee and was hired as part of a trend wherein teams sought young offensive gurus hoping to unearth the next Sean McVay. Disappointingly, all he and Love could come up with was seven points late in the fourth quarter, even though Joe Barry’s defense went toe-to-toe with Mahomes from start to finish.
It was just one game. If I were to conclude that LaFleur is just average because he couldn’t score in the one game he coached without Rodgers, I’d be no different from the people who said the Packers were screwed after their atrocious Week 1 loss to Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints.
My case is not that LaFleur isn’t a good coach or even that he’s an average one. I argue that we simply do not know what kind of a coach he is yet. We could find out next year, as Rodgers could depart, leaving Love to inherit the throne. We could also find out at the end of this season as the Packers chase that elusive ring once more.
Things aren’t going to get easier for Green Bay, either. In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Rodgers and Adams, the salary cap situation isn’t looking too great. After signing Jones and Bakhtiari to monster extensions, money will be tight. Plus, there are a lot of young stars who need to get paid — versatile OL star Elgton Jenkins, Alexander, Gary, emerging safety Darnell Savage, and Smith among them. If the league’s top QB-WR duo decides to stick around, many of them will likely be headed elsewhere within a couple of years.
The question of what LaFleur can accomplish with a mediocre or even below-average roster may be relevant sooner than later.
All eyes were on Love that afternoon in Missouri. At long last, it was time for the world to get a glimpse of what the post-Rodgers future may look like. Everyone wondered what does Green Bay have in Jordan Love? It was a valid question and one that I asked as well. Another question worth asking: What do the Packers have in Matt LaFleur?