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Matt LaFleur, Green Bay’s young new head coach, is a breath of fresh air in so many ways. But when it comes to making (mandatory) appearances before the press, he’s like all the rest: he becomes a public relations man for the team and the NFL.

The closest thing there is to an exception in the NFL is Bill Belichick, who participates in press conferences no more than he is obliged to – just enough to keep the league off his back. The last time the public regularly got non-distilled comments by a head coach – other than the occasional out-of-control rant – was probably in 1999, Mike Ditka’s final year as a head coach.

On Thursday I finally got around to watching LaFleur’s presser following the Redskins game. In 18 minutes, the coach said a lot – but you have to read between the lines.

If you strip away the veneer of generalities and motivational optimism, I think you observed a really pissed off coach – and I don’t blame him. I felt LaFleur had his best game as a play caller – had the execution been there, this game would have been a blowout.

Green Bay came out sky-high in their first appearance before the home crowd since playing the Panthers on November 10. The Redskins are a woeful group. Due to two wins in a row, under the lead of QB Dwayne Haskins, a rookie starting only his fifth pro game, the Skins had worked their way up to a record of 3 and 9 – and they’re in a division whose cumulative record is 17 wins and 35 losses.

Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur on sideline

Nov 10, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) before game against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Sizzle to Fizzle

The Packers came out red hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The defense absolutely body-slammed the opposition, resulting in three consecutive three-and-outs in the initial going. Aaron Jones and Aaron Rodgers were on fire! Everything was clicking.

Then the team proceeded to fizzle out, adding only two more field goals and escaping with a 20-15 win. That Jekyll and Hyde trait (I want a trademark) emerged again.

The defense did quite well, giving up only 262 yards, and only 141 yards through the air. Nor can we complain about the Pack’s ground attack – Mr. Jones treated us to yet another virtuoso performance. The special teams even stepped up, providing Green Bay with its best showing of the season in that regard.

So when LaFleur met with the press on Monday, the focus was clearly on the Packers passing game: 195 yards gross, 167 net. Only one team in the league, the Redskins, is averaging under 195 net yards passing per game. With everything the Pack had going for it on this day, these are miserable numbers.

Let’s resort to some quick analysis. There are four primary factors that affect a team’s passing game: the quality of the opposing defense, of the receivers, of the pass protectors, and of the quarterback.

Pass Attack Factors

How about the Redskins’ pass defense? Washington ranks 11th in the league – pretty good, though they still yield an average of 225 net passing yards per game. The Packers finished 58 yards below that number.

When the O-line’s first stringers are out there, the Packers afford above-average pass protection. On Sunday, the Packers had their full complement on board, including Brian Bulaga. For the most part, Aaron Rodgers had sufficient time and relatively light pocket pressure. Despite decent pass protection, he was sacked four times and turned the ball over on a fumble.

Next to consider is the quality of the Packers’ receivers, a topic of much debate throughout the season. The consensus has emerged that the Packers’ wide receiver corps is well below average and in great need of help.

Even so, however, at this point in the season we’ve come to discover that Aaron Rodgers has a number of inviting targets to throw to – he’s not confined to just the wide receivers, and mostly to Davante Adams.

First off, there’s the group of four tight ends. Jimmy Graham, who finished with three catches on five throws for 49 yards, found open space several times on Sunday. Robert Tonyan and Mercedes Lewis each caught the only pass thrown their way, and Lewis was a blocking dynamo. Rookie Jase Sternberger got loose in the end zone for what should have been his first NFL catch, though he bungled it. Still, five grabs for 66 yards is a decent contribution by the tight end group.

Then there are the two primary running backs, both of whom are excellent, not average, receivers. On Sunday, it was Jones who had six out of seven completions, for a total of 58 yards. Week by week, he’s showing he can not only make hay out of the short throws, but he’s able to get open downfield as well. His moves are probably second only to Adams on this team.

As to the wideouts other than Adams, it’s no secret that Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison have been enormous disappointments this season. Allen Lazard, however, has helped make up for these two – he looked good once again in getting open and making two catches against the Skins.

I don’t believe there were any drops on the day by Green Bay receivers.

The Packers are becoming a team with a balanced running and passing attack. By spreading passes around to its WRs, RBs, and TEs, this team has shown it can unleash an effective passing game. Both in watching the game in real time, and in viewing game film afterward, I saw that Green Bay had plenty of open receivers – it was execution that was lacking.

This brings us to the final, but undoubtedly most important, factor in any pass attack: the quality of one’s quarterback. Fortunately, I don’t need to make more enemies by pontificating on this – the head coach issued his own appraisals at his press conference on Monday. Though nice-guy LaFleur minced his words, it was clear what he was thinking and who he was talking about.

LaFleur’s Press Conference

The coach began by noting that his team should have scored a lot more than 20 points. LaFleur talked at some length on two of the failed deep passes that I previously described (here) – the first one went over Jones’s head and the second went over 6’7” Graham’s head. In each of these two big-play chances, LaFleur described the passes as “a hair off.” Uh, no, the two throws were not even close.

LaFleur went on to indicate the Packers should also have capitalized on an incomplete throw to Jamaal Williams, and that Allen Lazard was wide open on a play in which Rodgers instead took off running, only to be sacked.

LaFleur summed things up in this way:

“There was just a couple of plays that, looking back on it, there was more out there. Any time you score 20 points, especially with not capitalizing on some of that field position, you always know there was some more out there for you.”

Later on, the coach uttered this gobbledegook:

“It’s gonna start with the coaching – just making sure that we are super detailed so these guys understand what the expectations are, and exactly what they’re going to do, because I think the details separate you, and when I talk about all the plays that we left out there, I think not all of us were on our details.”

I don’t mean to ridicule Matt LaFleur. He’s simply trying to be as honest as he can be without singling out or demeaning individual players. But we all know who had the poor game against the Redskins.

Let’s hope that the player or players who LaFleur was referring to gets back “on their details” pronto, because we have two big games coming up in the next ten days – and the Bears and Vikings will be much more formidable opponents than were the Redskins.

Never one to simply curse the darkness, I have a partial solution in mind to the team’s shortcomings, but let’s first focus on the Bears game, which has become more intriguing – given that the two teams suddenly seem to be heading in opposite directions.

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Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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16 Comments

  1. Henkster December 14, 2019

    AR once again disappoints, not taking advantage of what is in front of him, looking for the long completion when all we need to do is move the chains. He used to carry this team but now is really the one keeping us from dominating teams. Too stubborn to change but there is still time.

    1. PF4L December 14, 2019

      There is no time, he’s done……Timmy?

  2. PF4L December 14, 2019

    I’ve heard some things recently about open receivers. Good enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
    ***
    Someone might want to tell the announcers of the games about these open receivers, because i’m hearing the receivers are covered 97% of the time.
    ***
    But i digress…..Maybe they are open when watching the coaches film sitting at your computer desk sipping your cappuccino Maybe you DVR’d the game and you spotted MVS open while sipping your favorite cocktail.
    ***
    Sometime’s i wonder….Did Favre ever have open receivers he missed, or roll out looking for the big play? Surely Montana never missed any. Tom Brady can’t run to save his life, but i never saw an open receiver left unseen under his watch. I don’t think it’s really fair to judge those i just mentioned. Unless of course we judge something negative under the standard of perfection….(are the wheels in your brain starting to turn yet?).
    **
    But lets get back to the subject of inept QB’s. I don’t want to hear any of these excuses like…. Rodgers is seeing a linebacker coming at him with a free pass. Or…maybe a lineman has come free because Bulaga, and Turner….let him, i don’t want the excuse Rodgers had his eye on him when his eyes should be downfield looking for that open receiver the fans at home will surely notice sometime after the game. And i’m getting sick of the excuse that his 310# lineman are getting shoved back in his face, or the #1 left tackle isn’t the #1 left tackle anymore….I DON’T CARE!! He shouldn’t be concerned about those things, he needs to be going through his reads come hell, a 6 man blitz, high water or an earthquake, he needs to be doing his job!!
    *
    Like the rest of you, this guys clown act is getting tiresome with me.

  3. Howard December 14, 2019

    Aaron Rodgers also has press availability and QB#1 said this week what the team needs is to be more consistent, including him. I would agree and I also have a good feeling Rodgers will play his part in the process. Will Rodgers be perfect, hell no. Every player in the NFL gets beat or misses on some plays. It’s the NFL.
    The Packers have been consistent in a good way on several things this year.
    (1) Taking the ball away
    (2) Not turning the ball over.
    (3) Red Zone offense and defense.
    (4) 1st quarter scoring Offense and Defense.
    (5) 2nd half and 4th quarter offensive time of possession (drain the clock).
    I will take item 4 as a good thing, but in some ways it may be a reason the team is not consistent for all four quarters. It may be a surprise to some that the Packers are ranked #3 in first quarter scoring and #7 in allowing first quarter scores. The Packers for the most part have started games strong with leads, except for the, Detroit, LAC and SF games. Some times getting a good lead causes a defense and offense to become conservative. It also causes the opponent to adjust fast, maybe the Packers are slow to adjust to the adjustments, and some of the young players and offensive coaches that are very prepared during the week (scripted plays) are not so great at adjustments. I think it is both getting conservative on defense, and not making quick adjustments to the opponents adjustments on both offense and defense.
    Item 5 is where The offense and Rodgers can be dominate. Very few to me can drain the clock like QB#1, or score to end a game. The Packers are ranked #3 in 4th quarter, and second half time of possession. The only teams better are the Ravens and 49ers. Several games this year the Packer offense has taken the ball in the 4th quarter and ran out the clock, drove the field and scored to win, or go up by two scores, all while taking huge chunks of time off the clock.
    I may be old school, but to me dominating a team is taking the ball in the fourth quarter when the score is tight and making a defense feel hopeless in stopping you. There are a handful of QBs in the NFL who can do this. I’m glad the Packers have one of the handful.

    1. KzooPackFan December 14, 2019

      I do love this team’s 4th quarter ability to control the ball and therefore control the game. And while I also think Rodgers has in fact struggled a bit with his transition to this offense, unlike PF4L ;) I am still confident in his talents and think he’s about due to start putting it all together. Packer QBs have a strong tradition of excelling v the Bears and I would love to see things really start to gel tomorrow and carry over against the Vikings. Perhaps the arrow will be pointing up into the playoffs. We will see soon enough!

      1. PF4L December 14, 2019

        He also struggles in a new offense, i never disputed that my man. Matter of fact i’ve said from day one, this transition takes time and mistakes will be made across the board where we will probably see a resemblance of old habits occasionally until the unit gets more time,knowledge and plays down to where they run smoothly..
        **
        With that said, if i’m implementing a new offense, I could live with having my receiving core consist of 1 proven receiver, 3 UDFA’s, 2 second year 5th round picks. But i think i’d prefer more experienced proven players than that. It should be noted our first wide receiver pick in the 4th round of 2018 is no longer available. Apparently because the Packers didn’t deem him worthy of a roster spot. But we won’t give it a second thought because a Packer draft pick not cutting it, isn’t exactly shocking news.
        **
        What i’m currently praying for, is one of our UDFA receivers can possibly become a #2 receiver. So were ummm…in good shape there. Please pray with me.
        ***
        Enough of this downer talk, lets discuss getting the NFC #1 seed, 1st round bye, and watching the Packers in Miami on Feb. 2nd. Maybe we could all buy tickets, chip in and rent a party bus…We’ll hire the Lonely Boy to drive if he can get his license back by then.

        1. KzooPackFan December 14, 2019

          We should probably wait on picking up the SB tix on StubHub another 11 days or so. I agree on the bonus of this over-achieving record in a transition year and the winning is sure more fun than losing.

          I do like the way we still have a shot at a first round bye, even if there may well be 3 teams better than GB in the conference. That would be interesting for sure and any given Sunday…

          Of course, my father, who has a couple of decades of fandom head start on me but recognizes he has a limited # of them left, says he doesn’t like it when GB has a playoff bye as that’s one less game he gets to watch!

        2. KzooPackFan December 14, 2019

          Oh and, my tongue-in-cheek disagreement with you in the prior post wasn’t regarding anticipating some degree of transition struggle, it was about how you so strongly think we should move on from AR ;)

          1. PF4L December 14, 2019

            Never a thought, i knew it was in jest. I also understand it’s sometimes hard to perceive what’s serious and what’s not from different personality’s here in black and white text. But know the mention is appreciated.
            ***
            Everyone is responsible for buying their own tickets. but the bus rental, equipped with bathroom and bar will be $450/person plus a surcharge of $50.00/ a piece which will be forwarded to the creator of this trip (me). That includes the bus drivers wage of $9.00/hr. The driver will be paid based on hours of actual driving and he will be responsible for his own food and lodging. Although, he may sleep on the bus for a nominal fee of $60/night (paid to the creator).

  4. Yaz December 14, 2019

    Rodgers has 100% been the reason packers offense has been trash the past 4 years. He plays as if all he cares about is the praise he will receive for making a spectacular throw on the run rather than hanging in the pocket for an extra second and making the proper throw. This is why he holds the ball for so long and tries to escape the pocket at the slightest feel of a pass rush. Every single sack he has taken could have been a completed pass to a wide open receiver had he just stayed in the pocket for an extra second and made the proper read instead of trying to run around and be the hero. He is killing the offense.

    1. PF4L December 14, 2019

      You tell em Yaz!!

    2. SS December 15, 2019

      You have been watching film I see. GB has two problems, Pettine and Rodgers. Pettine has great athletes playing out of position and giving up tons of big plays on D. Rodgers set an NFL record against the Niners for fewest passing yards by a QB with 20+ completions. He refuses to throw downfield and over the middle. In my opinion, he has become obsessed with the INT stat. And don’t throw the receivers under the bus – they are getting open!

    3. Kato December 15, 2019

      Yeah, I criticize Rodgers, but I mean comon. This isn’t even mostly on Rodgers. He is part of the issue, but to say it’s his fault is asinine.

  5. PF4L December 14, 2019

    In other news: Congrats to the U.S. team for winning the Presidents Cup. Also to International Captain Ernie Else, a World Champion and class act whose team represented him well and did him proud, even in defeat.

  6. rebelgb December 15, 2019

    Sorry but I dont buy the Rodgers is learning a new offense excuse as a reason for his sluggish play. Why? Because he is doing the SAME THINGS he did in the old offense. Hold the ball too long/ dont trust tight windows with your recievers / go deep or audible out of a run on 3rd and short / take no chances even if they are needed to catch up on an oppenent / happy feet / throwing off his back foot.

    None of things are new and in fact have been an issue for years. Most of us had hoped that a new coach would change at least some of these issues. The first 4 – 6 games of the season that seemed to be the case and hope was high. After that Arodge has regressed right back to 2016 – 2018.

    Oh well. Hopefully he continues to win games despite these issues and we at least get some playoff football in GB.

    1. art December 17, 2019

      Yep, right on that assessment.