LaFleur Leap? Challenging Assumption of Year 2 Improvement

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers will be better on offense in Year 2 under coach Matt LaFleur.

That statement is practically taken on faith. There are a few pieces of common sense involved, after all. One, LaFleur’s offensive system is in place. Two, LaFleur knows his players’ strengths and weaknesses and should be better able to deploy his personnel. Three, combining those factors, the offense’s starting point when training camp begins will be well ahead of where it was last year. With the foundation set, the Packers should be poised for improvement after finishing 15th in the league in scoring last year compared to 14th in 2018.

“When I was looking at our installs from when we first got here and before we ever had a practice with any of our players, it’s just drastically different. It is drastically different,” LaFleur said recently. “I think when you go through a season with your guys, you kind of find out who’s good at doing what and you find out what you really are good at doing. And it’s our job as coaches to make sure that we’re putting our guys in a position to be successful and really showcase what it is that they do well.”

There’s some notable history to support the statement, as well. In 2015, Dan Quinn was hired as Atlanta’s coach, Kyle Shanahan was hired as offensive coordinator and LaFleur as quarterbacks coach. The Falcons fell from 12th in scoring under the previous regime in 2014 to 21st in 2015. The Year 2 jump, however, was dramatic. The 2016 season ended with the Falcons leading the league in scoring, Matt Ryan winning MVP and the team playing in the Super Bowl. The second-year leap from Ryan was the key. From 2008 through 2014, the first seven years of Ryan’s career, his passer rating was 91.1. In 2015, the first year with Quinn/Shanahan/LaFleur, his rating dipped slightly to 89.0. In 2016, his rating soared to 117.1. The hope – perhaps even the expectation – is Rodgers will return to vintage form in Year 2 under LaFleur. The past three seasons, the player with the best passer rating in NFL history ranks only 12th of 32 quarterbacks (600-plus attempts) with a rating of 96.6.

“I just think it’s just (a matter of) making (the offense) more instinctual for him so that each week, each game, it’s not something that they’re going through,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said at the Scouting Combine. “Where, it’s just something that our team as a whole starts to understand exactly the nuances that Matt wants. I think I’ve referenced Matt Ryan in Year 2 when they were (with the Falcons). It’s Matt and his staff having another year with our guys to develop them (and) get them further than where they were last year.”

That’s all well and good. The data, however, doesn’t support the Year 1 to Year 2 assumption.

From 2014 through 2018, there were 33 coaching changes. Since scoring is far and away the most important measuring stick, where did those offenses rank in points before the coaching change? Did those offenses get better in Year 1? And was there a Year 2 jump?

The findings:

Year 1: Fifteen offenses moved up the rankings by a total of 204 spots, an average of 13.6. Sixteen offenses moved down the rankings by a total of 142 spots, an average of 8.9. Two offenses did not move in the rankings. All told, the 33-team average was a 1.9-spot improvement.

Year 2: Compared to Year 1, 13 teams moved up the rankings by a total of 102 spots, an average of 7.8. On the other hand, 16 offenses moved down the rankings by a total of 128 spots, an average of 8.0. One offense did not move in the rankings. Three coaches were fired after their first season. All told, the 30-team average was a slight step back of 0.9 spots in the league rankings.

While that should serve as a bucket of cold water on the assumption that Green Bay’s offense will take flight in 2020, there is a bit of positive history for a team like the Packers, who were basically unchanged from the year prior to the coaching change. Of the aforementioned 33 new coaches, 10 recorded similar offensive results in Year 1 (defined as between five spots better and five spots worse in the league scoring rankings). Of the nine coaches who returned for Year 2, five produced better results (up an average of 8.0 spots, including Philadelphia moving up 13 places and winning the Super Bowl), two produced worse results (down an average of 4.0 spots) and two were unchanged.

“I just think you’ve always got to look at yourself critically in order to be the best version of yourself,” LaFleur said on Thursday’s “Wilde & Tausch” on ESPN Wisconsin, an interview in which he emphasized the need for him to help create more big plays. “That’s all we’re trying to do. That’s all we ask of anybody in our organization is do the best job you possibly can do. I think as a play-caller, you’re constantly learning. Every game is a new experience, a new learning experience. Certainly, there’s some things that I’ve looked at hard myself with the help of our offensive staff, just making sure we avoid certain situations so we don’t get ourselves in trouble.”

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