When the Packers head south to Soldier Field in early September, it will be the first in what will probably be a long series of meetings between two young NFL head coaches. Matt LaFleur will have a unique advantage in this contest, and it’s my guess he’ll try to exploit it to the fullest.
Matt Nagy, in his rookie year as a head coach, came away with both the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers Association NFL Coach of the year awards. Though they finished the season ranked only 21st in offensive yardage, Nagy’s Bears compiled the third stingiest defensive unit in the league. Green Bay in contrast, finished in 18th place defensively. If the Packers are to open the LaFleur era with a victory, they’ll need to find a way to score against a mighty tough defense.
So why might LaFleur have an advantage over Nagy? It’s because for the first and only time in his career, the head coach’s specific offensive schemes and strategies will largely be a mystery going into the Chicago game.
We do know that the Packers’ offense will have much in common with that of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. That’s because the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan, the Rams’ Sean McVay, and LaFleur all helped put an offense together when they were Redskins’ assistant coaches under Mike Shanahan from 2010 through 2013.
What we don’t know, however, are what particular wrinkles LaFleur will add to it, and we don’t know how greatly he’ll depart from basic West Coast Offense that Packers’ fans have watched over the last 25 years or so.
It makes sense that Coach LaFleur will try to keep from disclosing his offensive plans and looks prior to the Bears game. I certainly didn’t detect many “new-look” offensive features in the Packers’ first preseason game against the Texans. We’ve been endlessly hearing about options, motion, variations, disguises, and so on being features of the Pack’s new offense. Fans will probably have to await the Bears game, however, before seeing a Packers offense that is noticeably different from those of Coach McCarthy.
The Packers’ final open practice will be on August 19. All practices thereafter will be closed to the public for the rest of the season. You can bet that high security will surround the closed practices in the week leading up to the Bears game on September 5. It will be in that private setting that LaFleur will finally be imparting his own signature style to the team’s playbook and play calling.
After 13 years of planning for the predictable plays and calls of Big Mike, the Bears’ defensive staff will at long last have to put some real effort into preparing for what LaFleur might unveil. I figure that the element of surprise by the Green Bay offense in this year’s opener against Chicago will be worth about seven points – which should be enough to put this crucial game into the Packers’ win column.