After Six Long Months, Payoff Arrives for LaFleur-Rodgers ‘Partnership’

Bill Huber

Matt LaFleur was named the Green Bay Packers’ coach on Jan. 8.

On Jan. 16, Nathaniel Hackett was named his offensive coordinator, with the rest of LaFleur’s offensive staff being announced over the next couple weeks.

On April 8, players reported for the first day of offseason workouts.

From April 23 through April 25, the team hit the field for a minicamp, followed by 10 organized team activities spread over three weeks beginning on May 20. The offseason slate of practices ended with minicamp on June 11 through June 13.

On July 25, LaFleur’s first training camp got under way.

Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, LaFleur and his staff toiled away building the playbook the players would take to the practice field and, ultimately, to the playing field. There were the big-picture items, such as teaching the scheme and adjusting it to the players’ strengths. And there were countless smaller items – those small details that bring the playbook to life.

In Sunday’s 42-24 victory against Oakland, the payoff arrived with by far its best performance of the season.

Green Bay’s offense was productive for a couple series in Week 1 against Chicago, one quarter in Week 2 against Minnesota and a little more than one half in Week 3 against Denver. In Week 4 against Philadelphia, Green Bay moved the ball but couldn’t get it across the goal line. In Week 5 against Dallas, the offense rolled through most of the first three quarters before faltering. In Week 6 against Detroit, the offense got going just in time to rally past the Lions.

Sunday was different. The Packers started fast and never stopped. They set season-high figures in points (42), third-down efficiency (60 percent), red-zone efficiency (100 percent), passing yards (421), completion percentage (80.7), average yards per play (8.7) and average yards per pass (13.2)

“It’s a lot of fun,” LaFleur said with a smile. “You know, time there’s never going to be a perfect game, you know? You can always think about, like I think about the backed-up drive that we had where we weren’t able to get any first downs and we went three-and-out. There’s always room for improvement. So that is always going to be the constant theme – hey, we’re going to try and keep working to be perfect and I think we’ll be in a better spot because of that.”

Aaron Rodgers was on the field for eight possessions and led six touchdown drives of 75-plus yards.

“I feel like this has been coming, I really do,” Rodgers said after the game. “I feel like we’ve been building and I’ve been feeling a lot more comfortable and Matt’s been feeling more comfortable with him calling it for me and feeling when I’m in that rhythm and when to be aggressive and when to pull back.”

In the quest for perfection that LaFleur referenced, the devil is in the details. Scheme will only take a team so far because the other team’s coaches are smart, too. Talent will only take a team so far because, as the cliché goes, the other team’s players get paid, too.

Details are what tie those things together. It’s up to the assistant coaches to teach those details but it’s up to the players to master them and put them to use.

“I think it’s vital to any offense,” LaFleur said. “Any offense, any defense is, the details are what separates. It gets you from good to great, or just gets you a little bit better.”

While LaFleur loves to talk about each player doing his 1/11th, the fate of the offense and, really, his tenure as the team’s 15th head coach would boil down to his “partnership” – the word he used upon his hiring – with Rodgers. LaFleur came to Green Bay with his offense but inherited a Hall of Fame quarterback with an absurd amount of talent but an unorthodox style. The success of this season would depend upon not just how quickly Rodgers could unlearn what made him great under Mike McCarthy and master LaFleur’s scheme and way of doing business, but how quickly they could form a cohesive tandem.

“As a play-caller, that relationship with the quarterback is absolutely critical,” LaFleur said. “So, whether it’s here or whether it was in my past, in Tennessee, wherever it’s been, I’ve always valued that relationship because you’ve got to be on the same page. The way I view the quarterback is it’s an extension of the coaching staff. So, yeah, we’ve got to be on the same page. And I think just like anything, any relationship it takes time to make sure that the communication is on point. I like where we’re at right now, but we’ve got to continue to work each and every day just like any other relationship.”

As coaches like to say, once something is put on tape, that becomes the standard. Not that 42-point performances will become the expectation, but the efficiency the Packers played with against the Raiders shows how far they’ve come since walking onto the practice field with LaFleur for the first time almost exactly six months ago.

“You try to take each play and try to do the best job you can on every play,” LaFleur said. “That’s going to be the constant theme.”