A new era of Packers football has dawned in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is no longer a Packer and Matt LaFleur is left to show that he was the main reason for Green Bay’s return to their winning ways after Mike McCarthy left — not just riding No. 12’s coattails.
LaFleur will face the biggest test of his head coaching career this season. In the last four years, he has led the Green Bay Packers to a 47-19 (.712) record. However, he has not been able to lead them to the promised land and enters his first season without Aaron Rodgers under center. Jordan Love is also in his first year starting, and Green Bay’s young roster is very young and untested. This will be the most challenging season of LaFleur’s head coaching career.
Is LaFleur up to the task? Let’s look at his biggest challenges so far.
LaFleur guided the Packers to the postseason in his first year as a head coach. He got them to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Green Bay reached the NFC Conference Championship again in 2020, but Tom Brady and the eventual-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers eliminated them. Last year, they lost in the divisional round to LaFleur’s buddy Kyle Shanahan and the Niners again. This past year ended with the Packers losing to the Detroit Lions and missing the playoffs with a sub-.500 record.
As for the disgruntled ex-quarterback, there was always speculation that Rodgers did not agree with LaFleur or that Rodgers played by his own rules. Rodgers played in a different system that he was successful in, and he and LaFleur had to work together to craft an offensive plan that found the common ground in their preferred methods. This will be the first year that LaFleur has complete control of the offense and the players in his system. He does not have to worry about his starting quarterback’s ego changing the play at the line or wanting to play hero ball all the time.
But there are two sides to that. Green Bay found plenty of success when Rodgers pulled exactly those types of stunts. Were they key to the Packers winning? Maybe. This year, LaFleur gets to find out what his offensive scheme is really made of.
Fans may remember the times during the McCarthy era when Rodgers carried an out-of-date offense to relevance. McCarthy’s system was stale and ultimately led to his downfall. Rodgers butted heads with the old coach in a way that he has not publicly butted heads with LaFleur, but no doubt Rodgers did not agree with everything LaFleur said or did.
A similar situation played out in New England when Tom Brady packed his bags and moved to Tampa. He won a title in both spots while Bill Belichick has yet to add another ring to the collection.
Jordan Love is no rookie, but he’s still a first-year starter, and the his transition to QB1 will come with challenges. But keep in mind that Love is the guy that LaFleur wanted to be his quarterback.
Only eight players from the 2018-19 squad remain on the roster: Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, Darnell Savage Jr., Jaire Alexander, and Rashan Gary. They are the Packers’ cornerstones, and their longevity in Green Bay is directly tied to their relationship with LaFleur. The Packers brought on Alexander, Gary, Savage, and Smith in LaFLeur’s first year and have been stalwarts throughout his tenure. But Green Bay’s roster is almost completely different from past incarnations. LaFleur has had his chance to make his mark, including the biggest turnover of all, the one at the quarterback position.
LaFleur has had time to pick the coaching staff he wants. He chose to keep Joe Barry as defensive coordinator despite glaring weaknesses. He promoted Adam Stenavich to offensive coordinator from within. And he gave the reins of the special teams to Rich Bisaccia. LaFleur appointed all those coaches, unlike when he kept Mike Pettine around during his first year as a carryover from the McCarthy era.
Green Bay’s front office — and I assume LaFleur — made the decision to keep the roster young. The average age of the players projected to be on the Packers’ roster is 26 years and four months. That’s the 10th-youngest in the league. They only have two players over age 30, Preston Smith and Bakhtiari. Green Bay’s starting receivers are rookies or sophomores.
The Packers will have rookie kicker Anders Carlson take over for veteran kicker Mason Crosby. They chose to let the rookies they have on the defensive line get their shots after losing Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed. They did the same with the trio of rookie receivers they brought in after losing Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, and Sammy Watkins. The Packers lost Marcedes Lewis and did not get a veteran to replace him. They are rolling with the duo of rookie tight ends they just drafted. Hopefully LaFleur was on board with this youth movement, because he has to coach it.
This is the first year since they won the Super Bowl in 2010 that expectations have not been “Super Bowl or bust” in Green Bay. There are no real expectations for the team this year. If Love does well and the team only win eight or nine games, that is still a victory. If they win double-digit games and make the playoffs, LaFleur should find his name in the Coach Of the Year conversation. But if Love stumbles and Green Bay has an ugly season, fans will assume Rodgers was the sole reason for LaFleur’s success
The post-Rodgers era was always going to be a difficult one. LaFleur must prove that he was the engine of the success of the Packers the last few seasons, not just a guy paid to watch Rodgers excel. These are uncharted waters for the fifth-year head coach. Will he be able to handle the pressure of Green Bay media (lol) and lead the Pack to a successful season?