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It Looks Like Coach LaFleur Has Zimmer’s Number

I’d say the opening week of the NFL season was worth the wait.

The two opponents the Packers are likely most concerned about are the Vikings and the 49ers. In the space of a few hours, each of those rivals suffered a loss – and in each case it was a home defeat.

Most of the Packers’ toughest matchups occur in the first half of the season. If Green Bay reaches the midway mark at 5-3 or 6-2, they might well match their 13-3 regular season record that LaFleur achieved in his first year as head coach. A lot of prognosticators who picked the Packers to go 8-8 in 2020 appear to be underestimating Coach Matt’s abilities.

With all the unknowns caused by the virus, such as an abbreviated training camp and no preseason games, I figured that the teams with the most organized, disciplined, and savvy head coaches would come out of the blocks the fastest. LaFleur has all those traits, so I anticipated he’d handle these unique challenges particularly well, and he didn’t disappoint on Sunday.

Green Bay was ready to go. The offensive game plan that all teams have months to work up for the first game of the season was top notch. It was loaded with unexpected and innovative play calls. For example, in just four well-timed end-around calls, receivers Tyler Ervin and Allen Lazard produced 57 yards.

The Vikings gave lots of playing time to three cornerbacks who are age 23 or under: Holton Hill and Mike Hughes are 23, and Cameron Dantzler is 22. Aaron Rodgers targeted the hell out of the youngsters, which negated the Vikes’ strength at safety.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) with teammate cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK

The final score didn’t accurately reflect how dominant the Packers were in this game. Green Bay wound up running 76 offensive plays, versus the Vikes’ 49. The Pack racked up 522 yards gained, while allowing 382. The Pack’s third down efficiency of 6 for 11 wasn’t bad for the first time out – and against what had been one of the league’s top defenses for the past several years.

The last time the two teams played, on December 23 and also in Minnesota, the Pack outgained Mike Zimmer’s crew, 383 to 139 yards, and the time of possession gap was over 15 minutes. On Sunday the possession times were 41:16 to 18:44, a huge disparity of over 22 minutes. Green Bay has been controlling and dominating its rival since LaFleur came to town. The fourth LaFleur-Zimmer butt-whuppin is scheduled for November 1 – by which time there had better be fans on the Lambeau Field benches.

Player preparation was excellent. The Packers had six penalties and no turnovers, with the only other obvious flaws being some drops by Marquez Valdes-Scantling and, yes, even by Davante Adams. There were few assignment mixups, communication errors, or poor play calls. Considering the nearly no-heavy-contact training camp, the tackling was pretty crisp.

Clock management was well done, with the jarring exceptions that with big leads the Pack’s defense three times allowed very quick scoring drives. It appeared they went into a prevent-big-plays mode, but this achieved the very opposite result. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has lots of work to do, but he seems to have better personnel to work with this season – it’s mostly a young returning group with another year of experience under their belts.

With each succeeding game, LaFleur is providing more evidence of how gifted, and even precocious, he is. Aided by his example, this team is unified, goal-oriented, and playing with ever-rising confidence. Players even seem to be reflecting LaFleur’s style of calmness, control, and calculation. This isn’t a coach who runs up and down the sidelines ranting and raving at every dubious referee call. LaFleur is so cool he could be doing deodorant commercials. That green on white-over-green windbreaker he wore almost made him look like a marching band leader.

It became apparent to me last year that LaFleur was unable to install much of the offense he had in mind in just one season. To gain over 500 yards on Sunday, against a defense that features two-each all-star caliber safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen suggests that we’re going to see a much more explosive and creative Packers offense during LaFleur’s second campaign.

Despite injuries to offensive linemen Billy Turner (who was inactive), Lane Taylor, and Lucas Patrick, the team was prepared – they’d been shifting their O-linemen around all preseason. Elgton Jenkins, likely to be named an All-pro this year, was moved to right tackle, new acquisition Rick Wagner got 46 offensive snaps, and rookie guard Jon Runyan stepped right in and looked NFL-ready in his 15 snaps.

No matter who the blockers were, Aaron Rodgers had excellent protection all game long. The stats indicate he suffered only two QB hits and no sacks – I’m having difficulty finding out when was the last time that happened. That protection led the way to Aaron’s very fine 127.5 passer rating.

Throw in the solid debut of ILB Kirksey (all 52 defensive snaps, 12 tackles), and all the times MVS and Allen Lazard got wide open, and this team was humming. Pending Monday night’s two games, Green Bay’s 43 points was the league’s highest scoring output coming out of the shortened preseason.

The coaching staff saved one big surprise for us fans. Who was going to be the other inside linebacker, beside Christian Kirksey, in the base defense? Some figured it to be third-year man Oren Burks, though most felt Chandon Sullivan would get the call. Instead, the defensive coaching cabal started 22-year-old Krys Barnes. Barnes, a lightweight at 229 pounds, was an undrafted free agent, after being a three-year starter during his four little-heralded years at UCLA.

The Packers appear to have hidden Barnes from the rest of the league, as there was next to no buzz on him throughout training camp, and he was cut a week before the home opener. After being signed up to the practice squad, he was only added to the active roster one day before the Vikings game. Barnes proceeded to start the game on Sunday. In limited playing time (15 snaps), he responded with seven tackles, five solo and two for lost yardage! That’s some debut for the stealth ILB!

It was also encouraging to see other rookies getting playing time. A.J. Dillon was in for five snaps, gaining 14 yards in two carries. TE Josiah Deguara, in his 24 snaps, showed considerable blocking talent, and he had one 12-yard catch out of two targets. Jonathan Garvin also got six snaps at outside linebacker.

Matt LaFleur is 40 years old, and still getting his feet wet as a head coach. Mike Zimmer, the disagreeable 64-year-old Vikings boss man, has a nice regular-season record of 57-38-1 in his six years of head coaching; however, he’s only 2-3 in the postseason. His best days appear to be behind him.

Despite this, last year in late July he signed a three-year contract extension through 2023 – by which time he’ll be 68. The two head coaches in this intense NFC Central rivalry are headed in opposite directions. My guess is that Zimmer will be relieved of duties before his new deal runs out.

Did anyone see whether Zimmer sportingly shook LaFleur’s hand (or elbow bumped) after the game? All I saw was Matt trotting out and shaking hands with Viking players, while Zimmer reluctantly slow-walked his way onto the field.

A final thought on how great Week 1 has been for the Packers. Sporting News forecasted seven NFC teams, besides Green Bay, to have winning records in 2020. Of those seven, five already have incurred a loss: the Vikes, the Niners, the Cowboys, the Buccaneers, and the Eagles. I’ll be told that’s it’s too early, but the NFC top tier already appears to be Green Bay, Seattle and the L.A. Rams.

All this, and Rodgers, with Davante’s huge assist, put on a show in Week 1 that hearkened back to his last great year, 2014. If you’re a Packers fan who’s still not feeling optimistic, it might be time to see a therapist. This was a big and dominating win: celebrate!

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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21 Comments

  1. NobodysBurfect September 14, 2020

    Unpopular opinion, but in the spirit of fairness (amongst other things) I don’t want Pack fans in the stadium for their next game. That would be a true compromise for the league – either both teams host fans or both don’t within the division, regardless of the state of the pandemic. How much good did that win against the Chiefs do us last year without Mahomes? If you’re not beating an opponent on equal ground you’re not preparing for what lies down the road.

    Also I hope Gute is on the damn phone with Jared Veldheer.

    Reply
  2. PF4L September 14, 2020

    CELEBRATE!!
    .

    Reply
  3. PF4L September 14, 2020

    I do like LeFleur and i hope i never have a change in that mindset.
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    What i like about him is he seems fairly forthright. He”ll still keep the injury 411 to himself, but someone asked him if he anticipated the offensive performance before the game. He kind of snickered a bit and said this…”ya know (chuckle) …i don’t want to put too much into it because again…it’s one game.” That show’s me someone who is grounded and won’t just pat himself on the back as if everything is fixed, because he knows it isn’t. I like that integrity about LeFleur. Will he lie to us if he feels he has to? Probably, but i don’t see it very much.
    The other thing i like about him is he will admit (to a point) things that he didn’t like, or that they didn’t perform up to a standard. He spoke about the failures initially in the red zone, he also spoke of the front 7 not keeping their gap integrity, saying it’s something the coaches need to work with the players on. Although he didn’t talk about the poorest performance of the game, the reason that i say….it’s always something. I’ll get into that at another time. Right now all i want to do is pure a nice cold glass of kool aid and rock out to Kool and the Gang.
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    Maybe some time we can discuss (intelligently) the reasons why Rodgers and the offense were so dialed in for that game, compared to last season. I think there are probably easily 3 or 4 reasons for that, and none of them have anything to do with Jordan Love being drafted.

    Reply
  4. MMSUCKS September 14, 2020

    Great to see you back giving us articles that have some meat to them! Thanks Rob!

    *
    Yes it was a dominating win! Although, I still remain skeptical, (though somewhat optimistic). The holes in the D and the WR’s playing a raw group of CB’s still gives me pause, as does the large chunks of yardage in short amounts of time that occurred in the second half, But I will give them a pass because it was the first game of the season. Other than a few drops, the offense seemed very relaxed and on point throughout the game. It was a great game to watch! Especially since I believed that no football would be played because of the pandemic.

    Reply
    1. R.Duke September 14, 2020

      It is a Veteran group. They went to the NFC CH Game. LeFleur is not much carthy. The plan changes week to week. Kirksey is better than Martinez. Krys Barnes is superior to Burks. A real LB, not some fucking safety-tweener. The Secondary is talent rich, although Sullivan was not at his best. Get ready to rumble. This is a SB contender.

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 14, 2020

        Sullivan looked horrible.
        Savage looked like he had better things to do.
        Stay thirsty

        Reply
    2. cj September 15, 2020

      One game does not make a SB contender or a division champ. Although, when you have Rodgers you will always be in the hunt. After a few weeks of opponents studying this offense, DC’s will figure out how to limit the production. And if our defense does not get its shit together, we will be in same boat as last year. Close but no cigar!

      Reply
  5. Ferris September 14, 2020

    Meanwhile, McRib and his bullshit predictable offense and the most overrated QB not named Kurt lost their opener. I know it was on the road, but the Boys looked like the 2018 Packers. Dak may has well have yelled out the play before the snap.

    Reply
  6. PF4L September 14, 2020

    As a Packer fan….Trust me when i say, watching this, is good for the soul.
    .
    “Anything can happen, and i mean…anything” – Aaron Rodgers
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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2xUEy-vXtU

    Reply
  7. rebelgb September 14, 2020

    Finally got a chance to watch the game, not just the highlights and I literally jumped out of my seat from a couple of Rodgers throws (3 to be exact). He threw some passes that only he can throw, Mahomes be damned. Like vintage 2014 Aaron Rodgers shit.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 14, 2020

      Yea, he was throwin darts. Not bad for an old guy who lost it and sometimes just doesn’t know what he’s doing out there (according to some).

      Reply
  8. PF4L September 15, 2020

    Well, ok, it’s truth time……
    .
    We have bathed in victory, now lets take a look at a Packer flaw that i had previously referred to as….it’s always something with this team.
    In what world……does an NFL team give up 34 points in 18 min and 44 seconds? Really?
    .

    One would imagine to accomplish that feat, the vikings would need turnovers and a short field to score that much….not so, zero turnovers.
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    382 yards, 25 first downs, 4 touchdowns, and a field goal in 18:44..WOW
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    Or……3 TD’s…. (three) 2 pt conversions in 7:05 just in the 4th quarter. The Vikings last scoring drive consisted of 9 plays, 75 yards, 8 points, in under 2 minutes.
    .
    I lauded this team many times for it’s improvement last year in defensive scoring. I know it’s one game, but giving up 34 isn’t a great start.
    Also…i didn’t think the Packers were in a prevent defense, but even if i’m wrong…what did it prevent?

    Reply
    1. Deepsky September 15, 2020

      Once Kenny Clark was gone, Z Smith got double teamed every play. Preston Smith did nothing the entire game, didn’t even get on the stat sheet, nor did Dean Lowry. Rashan Gary was mostly man handled by one guy, but got closer than P Smith or Lowry. Clark is worth every penny as he takes the double teams and opens things up for everyone else.

      Reply
  9. Deepsky September 15, 2020

    I hate to rain on the Packers parade, but not enough has been said about the top three Vikings corners having almost zero NFL experience. On top of that there was no pass rush. That’s probably the biggest reason for the average Packer receivers getting open and for Rodgers showing a willingness to pull the trigger he hasn’t shown in years. The next matchup Zimmer will have these corners coached up. I expect the receivers to be much less open against even average corners and Rodgers will go back to hanging on to the ball too long. This game was really just a fluke.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 15, 2020

      Yep, we kinda knew that already…..Your first point, partially reads like my next comment when i discuss…..
      the various reasons the offense looked so much better yesterday than last season. There are 3 more reasons, but i think that was the top one.
      .
      Zimmer can coach them up, but it takes time and experience.
      .
      Call it a fluke if it makes you feel good, call it whatever you want.
      Give Rodgers some receivers that can get open, and not many are better.
      Even when the receivers weren’t wide open, Rodgers was throwin darts.
      .
      Haters gunna hate.

      Reply
  10. PF4L September 15, 2020

    Ok fine……Reasons why the Packers offense performed so much better than last season. Each is self explanatory so i can keep my typing to a minimum.
    In order of importance…..
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    1) See comments above…….If a team has weak corners, coupled with a diminished pass rush against a HOF QB, it’s probably going to be a long day.
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    2) Rodgers was droppin dimes and throwing darts, like almost only Rodgers can do. Whether his receivers were open or not, the man was dialed in…period.
    .
    3) 2nd year under new offense. I think it’s a natural progression that more players understand the game plan in the 2nd learning season of a new offense. More players are on the same page and know what’s expected of them. Timing was vastly improved as proven.
    It’s amazing what can happen when the right routes get run.
    The trick is….consistency against different teams.
    .
    4) Honorable mention….That O line!!…Rodgers had time…..Credit the offensive line, pass rush be damned, i don’t care. When the O line has to play musical chairs it usually doesn’t go well.
    Patrick got hurt, Taylor is gone, Billy T was out. But this line kept Rodgers clean.
    If i met the Packers O line in a bar tonight, drinks and shots are on me, job well done.
    .
    I may rip on the O line in 2 weeks, but today….congrats.

    I also want to say….it was nice watching the guys have fun on the sideline, even before the TD assault. Also nice to see Adams smile, can’t remember the last time.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 15, 2020

      $250 limit on the drinks and shots (cough)

      Reply
  11. Yawa September 16, 2020

    Where’s all the rage? I keep checking back here to see some good discussion from the regular commentators but she’s gone cold lol. Assuming everyone’s staying quietly and cautiously optimistic for now after a pretty decent showing, hopefully not the slow death of TP. Come on PF let’s hear your 3-4 reasons the offence worked or at least scream broken a few times or something.

    Reply
    1. Yawa September 16, 2020

      Lol wtf as soon as I commented everything showed up I must be losin it

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 16, 2020

        ^broken^

        Reply
  12. PF4L September 16, 2020

    I appreciate all thoughts and actual viewpoints concerning the game from most everyone.
    .
    Yawa, as always…….thanks for trying.

    Reply

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