GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s a good thing years of experience don’t correspond directly to points. Otherwise, Sunday night’s NFC Divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks would be such a blowout that the broadcast would be shifted to public-access television.
The experience starts at the top. Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who is the oldest coach in the league at age 68, will be the head coach for his 20th playoff game. Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, who turned 40 in November, will be the head coach for his first playoff game.
“Yeah, tell Matt it’s a big advantage for us, OK?” Carroll joked in his conference call with Packers beat reporters.
The experience – or inexperience – filters through their staffs.
For the most part, LaFleur hired a young coaching staff. Eight of his main assistants are 40 or younger: Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett , defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus are 40, outside linebackers coach Mike Smith is 38, tight ends coach Justin Outten and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich are 36, quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy is 35 and assistant defensive backs coach Ryan Downard is 31. That doesn’t include some of the lower-level staffers, such as Christian Parker, the team’s 28-year-old defensive quality control coach.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who at age 53 is the only member of the staff in his 50s, has coached in 11 playoff games. That’s tied with Jason Simmons, the team’s defensive backs coach, for tops on the staff. First-year special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga, who turned 49 on Wednesday, is one of 10 members of LaFleur’s staff who will be making his playoff debut.
Combined, Green Bay’s coaching staff has 71 games of postseason experience, a figure that includes LaFleur’s five games as an assistant coach. Seattle’s coaching staff has a whopping 313 games of playoff experience, led by defensive coordinator Ken Norton, whose 29 games include being a three-time Super Bowl-champion linebacker for the Cowboys and 49ers.
Carroll’s staff includes 14 coaches with more experience than any members of Green Bay’s staff. Five members have more than 20 games of experience, including offensive line coach Mike Solari, who was assistant offensive line coach for Green Bay in 2015, and running backs coach Chad Morton, who won a Super Bowl during his five seasons on Green Bay’s staff.
The key, everyone in Green Bay has said this week, is to not make the game bigger than it is. “It’s just another game,” LaFleur said, even though it definitely is not just another game.
“That was the message when we met as the staff: We’re going to be the same,” Pettine said. “The players don’t see us doing anything different, then hopefully they can settle back in. ‘Hey, we kept the routine the same this week.’ The more you can preach, like, ‘Hey, I know there’s a lot around it, but once we step on the field it’s all the same.’ It’s consistent with our preparation. (LaFleur’s) been fine, great in front of the team. Messages have been great. Hopefully, the players take heed and it works out on Sunday.”
The difference isn’t nearly as stark with the players, with most of the 56-game difference between the rosters coming because the Seahawks played last weekend. Seattle’s roster totals 172 games of playoff experience, led by 14 for quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, 13 for linebacker K.J. Wright, 12 for running back Marshawn Lynch and 10 for guard Mike Iupati and tight end Luke Willson. Green Bay’s roster has 116 games of playoff experience, led by 18 for kicker Mason Crosby, 17 for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 13 for cornerback Tramon Williams and 12 for right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Of course, experience doesn’t add up to points on the scoreboard. Otherwise, the Bill Belichick- and Tom Brady-led Patriots would have beaten the Titans by a thousand and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees would have led New Orleans past Minnesota.
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“Obviously, it’s a more important game because it’s win or go home, but the mind-set needs to stay the same,” Rodgers said. “I think that’s what can happen, is you just make it a little bit too big, you try to do a little bit too much more than you have been doing. So, reminders about just how important just doing your role is and doing what got us to this point, and that’s the little things and guys not trying to do too much, which in fact win these games instead of maybe the ultimately thinking that you have to do even more to win these games. It’s actually not that.”
Video: Mind-set needs to stay the same