As the summer lull drags on, Michael Silver with NFL.com has managed to stir up something interesting in the Rodgers/LaFleur dynamic: audible play calling.
Aaron and I have had some good talks, and we’re going to have to talk a lot more — and one thing we have to work through is the audible thing. We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle [Shanahan] in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?
This quote by LaFleur seemed to clash a bit with another one by Aaron Rodgers last Tuesday:
It’s a conversation in progress. I don’t think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years [of recognizing defenses]. We have a number of check with mes and line-of-scrimmage stuff. It’s just the other stuff that really not many people in this league can do.
That’s not like a humblebrag or anything; that’s just a fact. There aren’t many people that can do at the line of scrimmage what I’ve done over the years. I mean, obviously, Tommy [Brady] can do it, no doubt. Peyton [Manning] could do it. Drew [Brees] can do it. [Patrick] Mahomes will be able to do it. Ben [Roethlisberger] has called the two-minute for years. There are a few of us who’ve just done it; it’s kind of second nature. And that’s just the icing on the cake for what I can do in this offense.
During his tenure as starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers thrived in an offensive scheme put forth from former head coach Mike McCarthy. In those 11 seasons, Rodgers has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, not only during that time but among the top in NFL history. The system allowed flexibility, including changing plays at will at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes with permission, but sometimes without.
Now, in the first time as a starter, the 35-year old Rodgers is under a new system as Matt LaFleur’s first season as head coach is set to kick off September 5 against the Bears at Soldier Field. LaFleur and Rodgers have just under three months to get on the same page and while both are excited about working with each other, there is work to be done to turn around back-to-back losing seasons. There is also a lot of pressure on their working relationship as everyone is going to be looking any minor flaw to report.
A huge difference between the coaching styles of LaFleur and McCarthy is that LaFleur is much more rigid in his play-calling. Although having had only one season as play-caller for the Titans in 2018, LaFleur comes from a pedigree of coaches that don’t allow their quarterbacks much freedom to change at the line. However, working with Rodgers, LaFleur knows there needs to be some compromise.
Still, in the early stages of working together, there will clearly be some give and take that needs to occur from both. Rodgers has the smarts, savvy, and experience to attack defenses, but LaFleur looks for the quarterback to thrive in a system that limits audibles and overall creativity at the line of scrimmage. In his system, there is generally significant motion prior to the snap, thereby eliminated much ability to audible at the line.
The system, according to LaFleur, should be a great benefit to Rodgers by reducing pressure in the pocket and allowing him to get rid of the ball quickly. This is a huge difference from much of Rodgers’ time under center in which he had to use his legs to buy time in and out of the pocket. However, Rodgers does much of his best work in these situations, so there must be some leeway and LaFleur realizes this, which is what must be worked on diligently.
Clearly, the new system will take time to get used to, even for a future Hall of Famer like Rodgers. He’s busy learning the nuances of the system, including the new terminology of the plays. LaFleur has shown the ability to compromise as well, at times changing the terminology to ease any potential confusion in the huddle.
The system LaFleur employs is much the same that the Shanahan’s have successfully used for many years. The battle will be for Rodgers to work well enough in the system, yet still have the freedom to do what he does best and what made him into an all-time NFL great. LaFleur has to figure out how to utilize all of Rodgers’ talents and still to within what has proven to be a successful scheme. The quicker they do that, the quicker the Packers turn things around and return to one of the powers in the NFC.
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