LaFleur’s First Task in Green Bay: Revive Rodgers

Before we talk about Green Bay’s new head coach Matt LaFleur, we need to understand why the position was open in the first place. The position became vacant after Week 13 of the 2018 season when Mike McCarthy was fired after Green Bay had three consecutive losses, the last to a 2-9 Arizona Cardinals team. McCarthy, 55, had been the head coach of the Wisconsin pro team since 2006, and in his previous 12 years had 121 regular season wins and 10 playoff game wins, with a win at Super Bowl XLV.

When Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone playing against Minnesota in 2017, the Packers’ season immediately fell apart. Green Bay’s three-game win streak was snapped and the team quickly fell from a 4-1 record and first in the division, to eventually finishing 7-9 and third in the NFC North. This was the first time since 2008 they had finished third in the division, had a losing record, or missed the playoffs. Rodgers’ absence was a death sentence for the team and seemingly exposed just how many holes/weaknesses the team has.

Returning to the starting role for the 2018 season, Rodgers was healthy and ready to go but wasn’t interested in listening to McCarthy, who really wanted to focus on the run game, something Rodgers reportedly audibled out of as it was pass or die for the University of California alum. This divide would prove fatal to the team, and by Week 13 the team was standing at 4-7-1 for third in the NFC North. Soon to be out of playoff contention, McCarthy was shown the door, but it was too late. Green Bay missed the playoffs for the second time in as many years, the first occurrence for the team since 2006.

Enter Matt LaFleur, legendary quarterback whisperer. A disciple of renowned offensive minds like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur, 39, has an extensive history coaching quarterbacks and turning them into league sensations. His first major coaching job was as quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins under coaching great Mike Shanahan. LaFleur stayed with the team for four years, guiding a young Robert Griffin III to the 2012 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In RG3’s two years with LaFleur, he would have a 12-16 record, throw 36 touchdowns, and have a passer rating of 91.5, better in that period than other playmakers like Cam Newton, Eli Manning, and Joe Flacco (who won the Super Bowl in 2012).

We all know what happened to RGIII’s career after that, which perhaps not ironically coincided with the fact that LaFleur left the NFL after the 2013 season to serve as the quarterback coach for Notre Dame. In that 2014 season, the Fighting Irish finished 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl against #22 Louisiana. Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire was named the bowl’s MVP.

LaFleur returned to the pros in 2015, signing on as quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2016 the Falcons played in Super Bowl LI, where they ultimately lost to the New England Patriots. The Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, was still named league MVP and finished first in touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating.

With an almost supernatural talent at coaching men throwing the ball, LaFleur joined the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 as offensive coordinator. The team would go on to have their first winning season since 2003, finishing 11-5 but ultimately losing to LaFleur’s old team, Atlanta, in the Wild Card Round. Los Angeles finished as the league’s number one ranked offense in points scored and tenth in offensive yards. LaFleur led the former first overall draft pick Jared Goff in his sophomore season to a 100.5 passer rating, sixth best overall that season.

Lastly, LaFleur moved to Nashville in 2018 to become the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. While starting quarterback Marcus Mariota had a forgettable season, he did finish fifth in pass completion percentage at 68.9%. Since being drafted second overall in the 2015 draft by the Titans, Mariota has been unimpressive, but he does have notable wins over star quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Tom Brady. It should be noted that Mariota has also been plagued with several injuries in his short career, including a season-ending broken leg and a nerve injury this year.

Finally, we arrive at Green Bay. LaFleur will be a head coach for the first time, and will be facing a similar issue that McCarthy faced when he took the job in 2006: an aging quarterback that doesn’t want to cooperate. When McCarthy got the keys to the kingdom he had to jumpstart Brett Favre into gear. In his first year, the new coach took the team from 4-12 to 8-8, and the next year the Cheeseheads went 13-3, ultimately losing in the NFC Conference Championship Game to the future Super Bowl winning New York Giants.

LaFleur will have free reign to change the playbook however he sees fit, which will include more running plays but still a significant amount of play-action throws. You don’t just ignore one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but you do tell him to hand off the ball occasionally, which is just what LaFleur did with the Titans. After Mariota began to have serious issues, LaFleur relied more on carries and it paid off, particularly with running back Derrick Henry who finished the year with 12 touchdowns and 1059 rushing yards. It’s unlikely that Rodgers will throw nearly 600 pass attempts again next season, but he should be much happier and willing to cooperate with a new head coach who’s younger, unconventional, and has the player history to back up his ideas. Watch out NFL, the LaFleur Rodgers era is here.

As always, special thanks to ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference for all statistics. Please subscribe to our Patreon to get exclusive content and perks, and follow me on Twitter @somekidadam to stay up to date on all things Vikings!