The early returns of the Matt LaFleur era were a little bit concerning for the Green Bay Packers. Mike McCarthy was fired as head coach in 2018, because the team was concerned it was wasting the career of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But squeaking out a 10-3 win against the Bears in Week 1 sure didn’t make their new head coach look like the remedy. Instead, it looked like the defense was going to have to save the day for the Packers. Even after a 21-16 win in Week 2, LaFleur’s Packers still looked painfully similar to McCarthy’s Packers.
Then the tide has turned for the Packers. After averaging 178.5 passing yards in the first two games, Green Bay had 312.4 passing yards per game in the next five weeks. The best of those five offensive showings came in Week 7, when Rodgers threw five touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating in a 42-24 win against the Raiders. Not only was it Rodgers’ first ever perfect rating, it was the first in the entire storied history of the Packers.
While it often takes time for a new offensive system to take hold, LaFleur’s is already making an impact.
Rodgers was the NFL MVP in 2011 and 2014, and the MVP of Super Bowl 45 in February 2010. But it’s been five years since his last season as an All-Pro. Now, he’s finally starting to look like his formerly dominant self, and LaFleur deserves a lot of the credit.
The running backs are giving Rodgers more options
One of Rodgers’ complaints during the McCarthy years was the lack of touches for running backs. Specifically, the quarterback practically begged for Aaron Jones to get the ball more, to little avail.
Aaron Rodgers thought RB Aaron Jones not only helped offense pick up 1st downs, but that he was especially useful in the red zone. #Packers scored 4 red-zone TDs vs. Dolphins. Jones had half of them. "He’s a great player. We just need to continue to give him more opportunities."— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) November 13, 2018
Jones averaged 11.1 rushing attempts and 2.2 receptions per game in 2018. Both of those numbers have increased in 2019, with Jones already over 100 rushing attempts — easily on pace to soar past his last season total of 133. He leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with eight and has topped 100 yards twice.
Better yet, Jones is consistently burning linebackers when he takes off as a receiver. In Week 6, that resulted in a drop that would’ve been a touchdown.
But a similar play design in Week 7 turned into a score for Jones, who finished the game with four receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown:
What a throw. What a catch!— Hogg (@HoggNFL) October 20, 2019
LaFleur & the offense keeps showing they are one of the best in the league with their opening script
It’s not just Jones either. Fullback Danny Vitale caught two passes for 43 yards against the Raiders and running back Jamal Williams had four receptions for 26 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown.
Jamaal Williams TD with Aaron Jones as part of trips. pic.twitter.com/SU5jxejEom— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 21, 2019
That’s a total of 10 receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns for the trio of backs. LaFleur is dialing up mismatches, but more than anything, he’s opening up a bevy of options for Rodgers. With No. 1 receiver Davante Adams out since suffering a toe injury in Week 4, Rodgers completed passes to eight different receivers. It was nine different receivers in a 23-22 win in Week 6.
Rodgers is going to be Rodgers
As much as the Packers need a jolt offensively, they also didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. While they were underachieving in McCarthy’s final seasons, the Packers were still 14th in the league in points scored and 12th in total yards during the 2018 season. Rodgers still had 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
In many ways, the Green Bay offense is similar to its previous form.
That’s not too surprising after the Packers made few changes to the offense in the offseason. Instead, the team spent both of its first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft on defense, and made three defensive players — Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos — its priciest additions in free agency.
Rodgers averaged 2.75 seconds in the pocket before throwing a pass in 2018. Only three full-time starters — Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson — waited longer. He’s a quarterback who looks for receivers downfield and trusts himself to buy more time while he waits for somebody to get open. He was sacked 49 times last season and 45 of those came on plays when Rodgers held the ball for longer than 2.5 seconds.
It’s been the same story in 2019 and probably will be for Rodgers’ entire career. That’s perfectly OK, because Rodgers’ live by the sword, die by the sword approach works out more often than not. It certainly was a positive for the Packers in their win over the Raiders, who only sacked Rodgers once and allowed him to sit back and pick apart the secondary.
Giving Aaron Rodgers 5 seconds to throw. pic.twitter.com/6tnJuiZg5d— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 20, 2019
LaFleur’s play designs are accentuating Rodgers’ strengths and giving the quarterback the tools to get back to what he does best. The offense is getting better every week and the 6-1 Packers look like they’re in position to make a Super Bowl run once again. And that’s all because Rodgers is playing like an MVP candidate again.