People Now Realize What a Great Coach Matt LaFleur IsPosted:Oct 29th, 2021 2:10 am
This is the morning the NFL universe woke up and realized what a great coach Matt LaFleur is. It took a win on Thursday night, where he was forced to concoct a game plan on the road against a top five defense and without his top three wideouts on a short week.
Finally, he's getting some much deserved recognition, becoming the winningest regular season coach in the Super Bowl era through his first 40 games, at 33-7. Sure, he has Aaron Rodgers, but I'm old enough to remember that the Pack was coming off a 6-9-1 season when he was hired and the whispers were getting louder that Rodgers was toast after two subpar seasons. What he has done to resurrect Rodgers is something no one could have dreamed of.
A win under those circumstances makes you step back and realize that in the past, the only way the Packers win a game like that is with a ridiculous, Herculean effort from Rodgers. But this group didn't need that. Earlier this year, NFL players were asked to name the top 100 players in the league. Five Packers made the top 51 and only one--Rodgers--was on the field Thursday night. Yet they still took down the league's final unbeaten team.
It speaks to great coaching, great roster building and buy-in from the players. And it makes you start to believe something special might be brewing this season. If they can get out of the way of devastating injuries. It sounds like Robert Tonyan's season may be over with a knee injury and they lost KR/RB Kylin Hill for the season as well.
This was very simply a statement victory for this organization. You lose your defensive coordinator and have just a couple of days to figure out how to deal with MVP favorite Kyler Murray and his array of weapons? No problem. We'll hold them to 168 yards of total offense through three quarters. Granted, seeing DeAndre Hopkins' hamstring flare up after juking Eric Stokes out of his shorts didn't hurt, but this unit is so more physical and gritty than previous years. Seeing a Packer tackle Murray from behind as Darnell Savage did, or watching De'Vondre Campbell execute his craft in the middle of the defense--it's just not something we've seen a lot of over the years.
And let's throw a little love Gutey's way. He listened to Rodgers and traded for Randall Cobb. He has brought in re-enforcements throughout the defense--none bigger than plucking Rasul Douglas off the Cardinals practice squad, a bit of serendipity that provided the perfect back story for the amazing, game changing play the young cornerback made.
The offensive game plan was one we've seen Packer opponents try to engineer for years: run the ball early and often and keep #12 off the field. The Pack knew they could move the ball on the ground against a defense giving up five yards per carry and they never abandoned it, punishing them with an equal dose of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, both of whom run so hard, so physical; it's so much fun to watch them work their craft.
Of course, there are still things with which to quibble. It's maddening how often the Packers burn through their timeouts as the play clock ticks down to zero. That's eventually going to catch with them, hopefully not at the end of a playoff game. Then there's the play calling inside the five. How you throw three times and not take a shot with Dillon is a head scratcher. LaFleur said the defense dared them to throw and took away the run--to me, you still need to try to stuff it in there once or twice, especially since you were winning at the line of scrimmage all night.
But enough quibbling. This was the most impressive win of the Matt LaFleur era and positions the Pack to control their destiny in the NFC. They're 7-1 and have only played three home games. We know the schedule is daunting, with road tests upcoming in Kansas City, Minnesota and Baltimore, but the Pack proved on this night that they can handle a mega dose of adversity and find a way to win a big game against a very good team on the road.
Now we'll see if Gutey has another rabbit he can pull out of his hat, with the trade deadline looming and the Pack suddenly a little thin at tight end and maybe a returner/RB. He might even find another wide receiver for Rodgers. So far he's pushed all the right buttons, as has his head coach and the players.
The Packers appear to be hitting their stride just as the weather starts to turn in their favor. They should have a number of players back for the game at Arrowhead, armed with the belief that they're prepared to handle anything thrown their way.