LaFleur's aim is to turn lowly Rams into high-flying Falcons
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) As Matt LaFleur was helping the Atlanta Falcons prepare to play New England in the Super Bowl, he took special interest in one particular game, a 26-10 victory by the Patriots over the Los Angeles Rams.
LaFleur knew he would be joining new Rams head coach Sean McVay's staff as offensive coordinator and ''paid a little more attention to that game,'' the 37-year old said Thursday.
What that film showed is the scope of the challenge awaiting LaFleur, McVay and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson in overhauling the worst offense in the NFL last season. Quarterback Jared Goff made his third career start against the Patriots, throwing one of the five touchdown passes during his erratic rookie season. Running back Todd Gurley rushed for just 38 yards, and the Rams finished with 162 yards.
It was a stark contrast from the Falcons' prolific offense, which led the league in points per game and yards per play in LaFleur's second season as quarterbacks coach. However, LaFleur won't make firmer judgements based on tape alone.
''I don't think you really truly know until you start to work with these guys,'' LaFleur said. ''We have a system that we're going to put in place. Sean and I worked together in Washington. I think philosophically, our views are very, very similar. But I think at the end of the day, you have to be able to adapt to the players that you have and put them in the best position to be successful.''
LaFleur was quick to credit the Falcons' improvement to greater familiarity with the scheme, personnel upgrades and hard work put in by the players during the previous offseason.
Goff is already doing his part to improve, working with pitching guru Tom House. Goff made the decision to work with House on his own, but LaFleur endorses it, having seen first-hand the impact House had on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
''They offer some things that maybe we can't as coaches from just a strength and conditioning standpoint in terms of how these guys train and keep their core strong, keep their shoulders strong,'' LaFleur said. ''You're talking about a long season for these quarterbacks. I didn't see Matt Ryan fall off from Day 1 to the Super Bowl, his arm strength was as good as it was at the beginning of the season.''
Goff should also benefit from the tutoring of LaFleur, McVay and Olson. While it is still to be determined how much LaFleur will work with Goff on a daily basis, LaFleur believes the similar philosophy and approach shared by all three coaches will prevent conflicting messages from overloading 2016's No. 1 overall draft pick.
''When you see it the same as the other guys it makes for a much easier transition,'' LaFleur said.
The immediate challenge for LaFleur is assessing the talent level on the current Rams' roster and preparing for the draft and free agency, understanding exactly how a supporting cast contributes to the success or failure of a quarterback. As a college quarterback at Saginaw Valley State, LaFleur was throwing to two future NFL receivers, joking that ''it didn't matter if I threw a good ball or a bad ball, odds are they were going to make me look good.'' The Falcons benefitted from the signings of center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, upgrading an offense that thrived on balance.
Goff's struggles were compounded by Gurley's sophomore slump, rushing for 221 fewer yards and four fewer touchdowns despite playing in four more games than his rookie season. LaFleur and McVay understand the importance of a strong running game from their time together in Washington, especially in helping a young quarterback get comfortable.
''It just alleviates pressure on everybody, from the offensive line to the quarterback,'' LaFleur said.