Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur is Raising Red Flags as Coach
So, I'm not one of those football fans who wants a coach fired after a bad game or even bad season. I'm also going to point out some things can be outside a coach's control, like injuries and a late bye week. However, after watching last night's game against the Tennessee Titans, I think it's time to cast a large part of the blame in Matt LaFleur's direction.
To be fair, LaFleur has probably earned the benefit of the doubt after taking the team to two NFC Championship games and 39 regular season wins over his first three seasons. However, as this year's team struggles to remain relevant, there are plenty of red flags:
Red Flag #1 - Aaron Rodgers - I've made this point in other posts, but I'm going to make it again. The head coach is responsible for ensuring the best 11 players are on the field. Ordinarily, Rodgers would be one of those 11. However, even he is admitting the thumb injury he suffered against the New York Giants back in week 5 is affecting his ability to throw the football, something most casual observers (me included) have already noticed and is not getting an opportunity to heal. The injury has also forced the team to abandon part of the playbook because of Rodgers having issues taking a snap from under center.
Had LaFleur recognized this, sat Rodgers down and let Jordan Love start against the New York Jets and Washington Commanders, the results may have been the same, but Rodgers would have at least had an opportunity to get closer to 100 percent.
LaFleur has also been criticized for his leadership skills when it comes to Rodgers, including letting Rodgers yell at him on the sideline during the team's win against the Dallas Cowboys without any sort of consequence. Even though Rodgers probably deserves some special treatment, stuff like that can potentially undermine his authority, especially during the hard times.
Red Flag #2 - Joe Barry - When LaFleur hired Barry as his defensive coordinator last season, it raised a lot of eyebrows because Barry's previous stints at that position had been less than stellar. His first season was OK, thanks to the raw talent on that side of the football but year 2 has seen that same defense fail to live up to expectations, despite returning most starters. There have also been reports of locker room discord from players who feel Barry isn't doing enough to fix their problems.
Red Flag #3 - The offense - This is supposed to be LaFleur's forte, and his first three seasons seemed to support that. However, all offenses eventually become obsolete once defenses figure them out, especially if coaches don't make adjustments and, even if you take the young talent on the team into consideration, it just feels like that is happening. The wide receiver screens aren't getting the big gains they used to and some of his other plays don't seem to be as effective without a proven star like Davante Adams catching the ball. Yet, despite defenses stopping his scheme on a weekly basis, he's made no significant changes to counter.
It's also worth noting how his star running back, Aaron Jones seems to be forgotten at times and how some parts of his offense seem to be designed for a specific player, such as the jet sweep/motion that disappeared when rookie Christian Watson was injured.
LaFleur also doesn't seem to be as creative as some of his counterparts. Against the Titans, for example, Tennessee changed things up by attempting direct snaps to the running back or having Derrick Henry fake a run and pass the ball to a wide-open tight end. And that was done on a short week when they didn't need to resort to trick plays to move the ball. Green Bay could probably use something like that just to find some mojo.
Red Flag #4 - Questionable decisions. There are a couple that stand out for me. One is his tendency to waste challenges on calls that likely won't be overturned or, if they are overturned, have little impact on the game.
An example of this happened last night, when he challenged a first down call. He won the challenge, but it ultimately meant nothing because the Titans picked up the first down on the very next play. Earlier in the season, he used his two challenges in the first half of a game, one that only netted the team a couple yards and the other was rejected and cost them a time out.
Kick returner Amari Rodgers is the other thing that stands out. It's one thing to give a player another chance if they make a mistake but LaFleur stuck with him as a punt returner after multiple mistakes, a decision that nearly cost them their win against the Dallas Cowboys, when he fumbled, and the momentum shifted. Again, it's his job to put the best 11 on the field, including on special teams, and Rodgers wasn't one of them.
Green Bay is a team that tends to be patient with head coaches and, given LaFleur's past success and his recent contract extension, it's likely he will get another shot at coaching the Packers regardless of his record at the end of this season. While I hope it ends up being the right choice, the red flags do make me question if it is.