Losing a potential Hall of Fame wide receiver was always going to make things difficult for the Green Bay Packers, but no one expected their offense to be quite this bad.
Sure, injury circumstances often kept the Packers from operating at peak efficiency. Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken finger and sore ribs. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs were rarely both fully healthy and on the field at the same time. David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins fought all season to recover from their tore ACLs. Robert Tonyan never quite looked like his old self.
But injuries happen to every team, and the simple truth is that Green Bay’s offense never lived up to what it could be. Rodgers had the worst year of his career, the run game never took off despite having a great one-two punch, and the red-zone scoring was abysmal.
There isn’t one clear issue for the offense to fix — every facet of the operation needs to be better in 2023. Matt LaFleur says he anticipates maintaining the entire offensive coaching staff next season, but is that wise? Sure, the Packers need more talent on that side of the ball, but LaFleur needs to branch out with his coaching staff lest this year’s stagnant offense becomes the norm.
Bringing on Nathaniel Hackett, who he’d never worked with previously, was one of LaFleur’s few good hiring decisions. The man that turned Blake Bortles into an unstoppable force proved to be a valuable member of his offensive staff thanks to his intelligence, creativity, and willingness to dress as Johann van der Smut, better known as the villainous Goldmember.
After losing Hackett and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy this off-season, LaFleur chose to prioritize continuity and promoted offensive line coach/run game coordinator Adam Stenavich to offensive coordinator. To fill the open quarterbacks coach role, LaFleur convinced Rodgers’ old QB coach Tom Clements to come out of retirement.
The logic made sense at the time. The Packers were coming off three successful seasons, and running it back made sense. The 2020 offense was the league’s best, and Aaron Rodgers had won MVP two years in a row.
But the departures of Hackett and Getsy were more detrimental than expected. The offense never really took off and struggled against some middling teams. In two games against the Detroit Lions, who had the league’s worst defense, the Packers put up just a combined 25 points.
Whether it’s getting cute on situation plays, refusing to commit to Aaron Jones, looking for the big play instead of the easy yards, or struggling to commit to the best offensive line combination, Green Bay’s offense was notorious for making things harder than they needed to be.
We don’t know who will be the quarterback for the Packers in 2022. Some of the above issues were due to Rodgers’ struggles and his reverting back to the late McCarthy-era hero ball. But no matter who is throwing passes for Green Bay, the offense on the whole needs to evolve.
In his end-of-season media availability, LaFleur mentioned that his team is “exposed.” Many coaches, including LaFleur’s best friend Robert Saleh, have declared that they’ve figured out how to handle the Packers. While these boasts can sound like football speak, there might be some truth to the idea that the Packers are exposed.
If true, and if LaFleur is truly committed to fixing the team, some outside influence is necessary.
Adam Stenavich is well respected and has done excellent work with the offensive line. But he has stumbled with his position group in big games. He and LaFleur have botched the offensive lineup in the past two playoff losses, and the line played poorly in their must-win game against the Lions last Sunday. Stenavich surely has earned the right to continue growing in his OC role, but he needs some help.
LaFleur stated that while they haven’t discussed a reunion yet, he’d love to have Hackett return. Their “gold zone” specialist could surely help with one of the 2022 team’s biggest struggles. Hackett presided over the league’s best red-zone offense in 2020, and even if it did take a step back in 2021, Hackett would be a catalyst for improvement. If the Packers want to keep Stenavich as OC, Hackett could receive a “senior assistant” or “assistant head coach” title. Justin Outten, the former Packer tight end coach who became Hackett’s OC in Denver, would be another valuable addition who could return if Denver doesn’t maintain him.
But even these moves would be their own form of familiarity. LaFleur needs some outside voices with different experiences to help him challenge and evolve the offense. Rumors have circulated that if Sean McVay stays with the Los Angeles Rams, recently fired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury could join his staff. Could LaFleur intercept and try to bring someone like Kingsbury around? Or if Tom Clements chooses to retire, could LaFleur try to find an up-and-coming offensive mind to take over as QB coach, as he likely should have done this year?
I still believe Matt LaFleur is an excellent head coach and a brilliant offensive mind. But he can’t do it all himself. LaFleur needs to surround himself with new ideas and revitalize the once-prominent Green Bay offense. Continuity is admirable, and LaFleur has built a thriving and supportive workplace culture. But life moves fast in the NFL. The offense needs to be better in 2023, and adding new voices to the room is the ideal first step.