LaFleur Retains Pettine as Defensive Coordinator
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike Pettine will be back as the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator, despite coach Matt LaFleur’s anger over the defensive performance in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game loss to the 49ers.
LaFleur seemed to leave the door open for changes during his season-ending news conference on Wednesday. “We’re still working through everything right now,” he said. But, according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky and confirmed by Packer Central, LaFleur met with Pettine after his news conference and made the decision.
For the most part, it was a good season for Pettine in Year 2 as coordinator, thanks in part to a bold series of personnel moves by general manager Brian Gutekunst. At outside linebacker, he signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to contracts worth a combined $116 million and used his first first-round pick on Rashan Gary. At safety, he signed Adrian Amos and used the second of his first-round picks on Darnell Savage.
The signings paid immediate dividends where it counted: the scoreboard.
In terms of total defense, there almost was no difference whatsoever between Year 1 and Year 2 for Pettine. In 2018, when Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were the outside linebackers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice and Jermaine Whitehead were the safeties, the Packers finished 18th in total defense with 354.4 yards allowed per game. In 2019, despite the personnel upgrades, they finished 18th again with 352.6 yards per game.
But, really, the only thing that matters is points and turnovers. Green Bay finished ninth in the league with 19.6 points allowed per game, its best performance since the 2010 Super Bowl season, and just 0.2 points per game behind eighth-ranked San Francisco. In 2018, Green Bay ranked 25th with 25.0 points per game. Against the pass, Green Bay finished sixth in opponent passer rating at 81.1 compared to a 28th-ranked 100.9 in 2018.
During the final five games of the regular season, all victories, the Packers were second in the league in points allowed.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Pettine said before the Week 17 game against Detroit. “Just continuing to grow in the system and being more confident in the calls, and the recognition of things pre-snap allowed them (to play) it better with a little more confidence. We had some communication issues that we finally kind of made it that we overemphasized it, and I think the guys responded. The overcommunicating part was a positive. I think it really forced guys to really buckle down and make sure they knew the graduate-level details of their job. Otherwise, guys are quiet if they don’t know.”
Video: Pettine on late-season success
All those improvements went down the drain with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. After a three-and-out punt, the 49ers drove 89 yards for a touchdown, kicked a field goal after a long punt return, drove 37 yards for a touchdown after a bad snap and short punt, drove 75 yards for a touchdown after a fumble and drove 30 yards for a touchdown after an interception. With San Francisco rushing for 185 yards and scoring on five consecutive possessions, it was 27-0 at halftime. Raheem Mostert finished the game with 220 rushing yards – the second-most yards in a playoff game in NFL history.
“I think it was a combination of a lot of things,” LaFleur said. “I think you have to give San Francisco credit. They definitely outcoached us. I just didn’t feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness. We didn’t set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season. It’s disappointing, because it’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to try to do. We knew exactly what they were going to try to do. We knew they were going to run the football, and for them to be able to do that was extremely disappointing. I just didn’t think we played with the same effort as what I had seen earlier in the season.”
The lack of effort especially irked LaFleur considering what was at stake.
“Yeah, that’s a great question,” LaFleur said. “That’s something that I’m still trying to figure out right now as we speak. I mean, I don’t understand that because you’re there. You have an opportunity to go to play in a Super Bowl and for that to happen, it’s extremely bothersome. We have to look at ourselves, everybody. I’m going to look inside of myself and see why weren’t our players playing with their hair on fire. I think everybody in our organization has to do that.”
Ultimately, LaFleur must have judged the performance was the more the fault of personnel than scheme, with the defensive line being pushed around and the inside linebackers lacking the speed to track down the speedy Mostert, and decided not to throw the baby out with the bath water.