NFL: Is Matt LeFleur What The Packers Need?

The Packers have their new head coach in Matt LeFleur. With the obvious frustration Aaron Rodgers showed towards McCarthy in 2018, it’s probably for the best.

The former offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans didn’t have the most productive season, closing out with the 27th ranked scoring offense overall, but his nine years in the NFL overshadowed a bumpy first season with a new team. Green Bay knew it.

What’s important is what LaFleur has done for organizations in the past. The Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins have all had LaFleur for brief tenures. And each one of these teams had at least one undeniable season of success that led them into the playoffs during his time there.

The Los Angeles Rams:

The organization is a powerhouse today, but two seasons prior, it was a completely different story. During the Rams’ 2016 season Goff only started the last seven games, and he lost every single one of them. Shoveling out a flaccid performance of 5 TD, 7 INT, and a QB rating of 64.08― it was not a good look for a first overall draft pick. Whispers of Goff potentially being a bust soon floated through the air.

Cue the hiring of Matt LeFleur as their new offensive coordinator.

Under LaFleur, Goff promptly laid the rumors to rest. Producing 9 TD, 4 INT, a QB rating of 94.07, and five wins in his first seven games. He then continued to lead the team on an explosive campaign that saw the Rams finish the season with an 11-5 record and a wildcard appearance. It was the absolute definition of a turnaround.

The Atlanta Falcons:

During his time with the Atlanta Falcons, Lafleur didn’t create a major transformation at the quarterback position, but he did help Matt Ryan produce the best season of his career thus far.

When Atlanta’s front office decided to move in a new direction in 2015, by hiring Dan Quinn as their head coach, they also sought out LaFleur. Convincing him to return to the NFL after a year with Notre Dame. His first year as the quarterbacks coach wasn’t remarkable, much like his time with Tennessee, and the Atlanta Falcons finished with an 8-8 record.

The following season was a different story.

It was as if Atlanta transitioned into a dominant force on the offensive side of the field overnight. Matt Ryan put up career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns, QB rating, yards-per-game, and yards-per-attempt. Leading his team to an 11-5 record. A team best since 2012. It also earned the veteran quarterback regular season MVP honors and a Superbowl appearance.

The Washington Redskins:

LaFleur’s time with the Washington Redskins is a period that some find worth criticizing. But there’s still room to argue that his time with the organization was a moderate success. It was LaFleur’s first major coaching position in the NFL after all.

After departing from his two-year “offensive quality control” position with the Houston Texans, the Washington Redskins picked up LaFleur as their quarterback coach. His first two seasons were rough and Washington closed both seasons off at 6-10 and 5-11. It’s worth noting that LaFleur was working with either a 34-year-old Donovan McNabb or a 31-year-old Rex Grossman.

To solve the quarterback issue, the Redskins decided to draft Baylor University’s star athlete, Robert Griffin III. The Baylor alum was an immediate success and he closed off the season with 20 TDs, 5 INTs, and a QB rating of 102.4

Griffin’s performance earned him 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, a 2013 Pro Bowl selection, and Washington’s first playoff appearance since 2007. His 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio and his QB rating were also rookie records.

Critics point out that LaFleur’s last year with Griffin didn’t see as much success. Yet, it’s often debated that the decline wasn’t a coaching issue as much as it was the lasting effects of injuries sustained by Griffin. It didn’t help that the star quarterback suffered from a tumultuous relationship between himself and then head coach Mike Shanahan.

After tearing his LCL, ACL, and meniscus in 2012’s wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks, Griffin never returned to peak form. The star quarter back was noticeably less mobile in 2013 and still under-developed as a pocket passer. To top things off, Griffin missed four games on the season—coming out of a game in week eight against the Denver Broncos and missing the last three games at the end of season. Mike Shanahan explained the move as an attempt to prevent further injuries.

The rest is history.

Why not a defensive coordinator?

While it isn’t the most popular take, there have been subsets of fans that are second-guessing Green Bay’s pursuit of an offensive-minded coach instead of a defensive guru. It’s understandable. The Packer’s defense was 29th overall in defensive efficiency this season.

Still, while the decision might be a head-scratcher to some, the truth is teams don’t change overnight. Packers fans shouldn’t forget how successful their current defensive coordinator has been in the past.

For 10 years straight, throughout three different organizations, Mike Pettine had a DVOA ranking among the top 10 organizations for team defense (DVOA explanation here). Eight of those seasons had Pettine within the top five and it was only during his tenure with the Cleveland Browns that Pettine fell outside of that range. Let’s not forget that the Browns haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and their offenses have been notoriously bad for as long as anyone can remember.

If the offense can’t stay on the field. The defense cannot remain efficient. Period.

By looking at the accomplishments of players LaFleur has worked with alone, it’s clear that he has a talent for bringing the best out of his quarterback and their offenses, regardless of whether they’re veterans or budding prospects. He should have no issues when it comes to working alongside Rodgers, and if LaFleur finds a way to apply that same success to the head coaching position, Green Bay could make a speedier recovery transitioning into 2019 than originally expected.

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