You listen to him in post-game press conferences and in interviews and he sounds and looks nothing like the prototypical NFL head coach. He seems too young, too unassuming, too fresh-faced.
Admit it, when Matt LaFleur was hired and introduced to all of us, you thought, ‘Really? This is our new head coach?’ 20 months later, after leading the Pack to a 17-3 regular season record through his first 20 games, we are now shouting ‘This is our head coach!’
LaFleur has taken the Pack’s offense into the 21st century and in the process, has rekindled the fire and love of the game for Aaron Rodgers. We couldn’t have dreamed of this kind of partnership. We can only dream about where it all might lead.
It’s time to insert LaFleur’s name into the conversation with his former mentors Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. He has done what many pundits thought was unthinkable: he has harnessed the otherworldly talents of Rodgers and has dialed up what could be a dazzling second act in the future Hall of Famer’s career.
First it was Davante Adams, then Aaron Jones, followed by Allen Lazard and on Monday night it was Robert Tonyan. Weapons? We don’t need no stinking weapons. This offense is led by a historically great QB and a top-five offensive line. The first four games have shown us that there is plenty of talent at the skill positions to complement LaFleur’s innovative offensive system.
It’s been a near perfect start: 143 points scored by the offense and no turnovers. And most of it coming without Davante Adams in uniform. He should be back following the bye, making this unit even more lethal than it’s looked the last three games.
Monday’s game plan was simple. With the wide receivers banged up and facing a defense that can’t stop the pass, LaFleur targeted the backs and tight ends and Rodgers was in perfect lock step, going 20-20 when throwing to his non-WRs. Tonyan will get all the headlines, and rightfully so. I’ve been waiting for this since I started touting him to Paul Allen and Paul Charchian early last season on KFAN. He is not a flash in the pan: he will be a reliable weapon and featured part of the offense going forward.
But let’s not lose sight of the impact Jamal Williams had on this game. By putting him on the field with Aaron Jones and moving both of them all over the place, LaFleur found matchup advantages all night, as Williams caught eight for nearly 100 yards. The step forward this offense has taken from a year ago is incredible, especially when you consider the lack of offseason work and preseason games.
It was a better than expected night for the defense–I didn’t expect them to hold Atlanta to 16 points. The highlight was the way they held up during that interminable 20 play drive that started on the one year dline, when the Pack’s second series stalled at the goal line. To be on the field for more than ten minutes, yet have enough left in the tank to tighten up in the red zone and force a field goal? Well, that had to take a lot of air out of the Falcons’ sails.
Despite losing corners Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan to injuries, the secondary contained the high flying Matt Ryan-led passing attack. Jaire Alexander once again negated Calvin Ridley, who caught as many passes as I did in the game. When Julio Jones dropped out late in the second quarter as his injured hamstring started squawking, I wasn’t the only one thanking the Pack’s medical staff for holding out Adams and letting him get well during the bye week.
After a relatively quiet first three games, Za’Darius Smith exploded for a three sack night and seemed to always be around either Ryan or the ballcarrier. When Smith is that disruptive, the rest of the defense feeds off it. He should get some help with Kenny Clark expected back in Week 6. The early reports are that King and Sullivan should be back by then as well.
We couldn’t have dialed up a more impressive first quarter of the Pack’s season. The early storyline that last year’s 13-3 record was a mirage has turned out to be, in itself, a mirage. Rodgers is in the conversation for MVP, the running game is fourth best in the league and Adams is coming back.
Oh, and that second year head coach? He’s just finding his rhythm.