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Wednesday Walkthroughs: How would you grade Matt LaFleur’s rookie season so far?

APC writers share their grades for the rookie head coach

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Matt LaFleur was something of an unexpected hire in Green Bay. With just one year of play calling experience under his belt and a relatively understated resume on the whole, he didn’t bring a lot of high-level achievements to the Packers.

But three quarters of the way through the 2019 season, LaFleur’s Packers are 9-3, a better record than even the most optimistic prognosticators would have forecast. Still, thanks to some high-profile face plants over the past month or so, some doubts remain. For that reason, we’ve asked our writers to weigh in with their grades on LaFleur so far.

How would you grade the rookie head coach?

Evan “Tex” Western: Positive in general

I’m going to split up my grading of LaFleur a bit here into two categories: head coaching and playcalling. Those are the two primary responsibilities that he has for this team, and they are very different, so I think they deserve to be addressed separately.

As far as his performance as a head coach, I would give LaFleur an “exceeding expectations” grade. Call that a B+ if you need a letter grade. Yes, his team laid two stinkers on the West Coast. But other than that, he navigated this team through a tough early stretch and has led them to avoid back-to-back losses. I feel that he is generally doing a solid job on go-for-it decisions on 4th downs, and he has seemingly infused a new, positive culture in the locker room. The fact that the Packers are competing for a first-round bye is alone worthy of positive assessment.

As a playcaller, however, I am less pleased with LaFleur’s performance, probably sitting at around a C+. Some of his game plans seem puzzling, and once the team gets out of their early scripted plays, LaFleur seems to struggle to adjust. He also has had trouble truly establishing an offensive identity, as the team seems to float through different styles of offense from game to game and often does not get the play in with enough urgency. Finally, while I have applauded several of his decisions to go for it on 4th down, some of those short-yardage playcalls have been...well...questionable.

Overall, I think the LaFleur hire was a good one, and I believe that the issues that he has had are fixable with time, experience, and self-scouting. I feel good about him learning from his mistakes and improving in the years to come, and he immediately returned the Packers to contention. That’s all you can really ask for in a first-year head coach.

Peter Bukowski: A

The stakes, and therefore the grading scale, can and will change moving forward. How he finishes the season will ultimately decide this, but to this point, LaFleur has been as good as could have reasonably been expected. The players speak highly of him. The offense, when he really leans into his philosophy, hums, and his biggest failings to date have actually been leaning too far away from his own ideals at times.

None of this is to say I think he’s going to be an A long-term. There’s plenty to prove when it comes to managing a team with real Super Bowl expectations, his ability to lead his team to big-game wins, and evolve over time.

But the question is about the first ¾ of the season. Going 9-3 through 12 games is an A by any standard. I’ll say it’s probably a 93 with a 92 being an A-, but when we consider the state of the Packers last season and the unmistakable cultural shift, this is an A for me.

Paul Noonan: B-

I’m still not sure on LaFleur. He’s been all over the map this season, ranging from brilliant play-calling and game management, to seemingly running the McCarthy scheme just for old time’s sake. I worry that he’s more different than better, like he has Kyle Shanahan’s playbook, but doesn’t quite get how this all goes together. He’s also not nearly aggressive enough on 4th downs, and risk-taking in general. He may be a young wunderkind, but he is noticeably behind the curve on some in-game tactics.

It’s hard to complain about a 9-3 team, but most of the Packers’ success is based on a laughably easy schedule. Even impressive wins like the Chiefs have asterisks due to Mahomes missing the game. He’s been fine. I’d like to see a bit more before I start handing out A’s.

Mike Pettine gets an F from me, by the way. Just awful.

Kris Burke: B+

LaFleur is going to be graded heavily on where the offense ultimately ends up because that’s obviously what he was brought in to do, but a head coach is responsible for much more than Xs and Os. They also must establish a culture and a program that the team has to buy into. For a team that had the same head coach for 13 seasons, making sweeping changes comes with a little bit of risk.

In that regard, LaFleur has passed with flying colors. The team has a looser feel about it and is much more connected, something LaFleur preached from his very first press conference when he was introduced as the head coach. The entire franchise has seemingly been revitalized under LaFleur, right down to in-stadium entertainment. The organization needed a refresh and the youth movement with the pairing of LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst has noticeably paid off.

As far as the on-field coaching aspect, there’s room for improvement of course but I’m more bullish on him in this area than most of my colleagues. Yes, consistency on offense is still an issue. Pre-snap penalties have occurred way too often, forcing the team into too many third and long situations. The fact this continues to be an issue shows LaFleur isn’t as quick to adapt as we previously thought

On a better note, he’s gotten Aaron Rodgers back on track for the most part, although some of the quarterback’s bad habits still emerge at inopportune times. It’s when Rodgers and the offense revert back to McCarthy-era concepts as Paul said where things bog down and LaFleur needs to sweep the last remnants of his predecessor’s offense away. Maybe this was a conscious effort as part of transitioning Rodgers to the new scheme, but the plays need to go away. They didn’t work for a reason and they aren’t going to work now with a new playcaller.

The team also is as healthy this late in the season as it has been in recent memory. LaFleur altered how the team practiced and clearly that deserves some credit.

Overall, he’s exceeded my expectations and he should be given some room to grow as he’s not only a rookie head coach but it’s only his second year calling plays and having control of the entire offense. Growing pains were to be expected all season. Thanks to this year’s success, I expect 2020 to be even better.

Jon: B

LaFleur lands on a B for me. While a 9-3 record is better than I think just about anyone reasonably expected, I’m not entirely convinced the Packers wouldn’t have done something similar with the some of Mike McCarthy’s later staffs. Perhaps not the 2018 version, but 2016 McCarthy might have done this well considering the schedule the Packers have faced.

By and large, the Packers have won the games they should win and lost the games they should lose. LaFleur has led something of a culture change, but there are enough coaching missteps on a week-to-week basis to make you wonder exactly how ready he was for the big chair.

Still, “winning the games you should win” is a bar the Packers couldn’t consistently clear last year, so LaFleur does get some credit for helping the Packers at least play closer to their potential on a regular basis.

Shawn Wagner: B-

It’s hard to argue with the team’s record, overall energy, and boost in team chemistry. There is also some level of forgiveness in a new head coach’s first year on the job. But as many of the other writers have mentioned above, I still have heavy concerns with playcalling.

Outside the team’s first two scripted drives of the game (which have been brilliant at times I will add), the offense has continued to go into long periods of woeful ineffectiveness game in and game out with the exception of Oakland. A lot of that struggle has to do with third down efficiency, an area the Packers have not gotten better at under LaFleur. To me, there are far too many similarities to last season when many, including myself, labeled it a Mike McCarthy problem.

At this point, I don’t think it is a McCarthy or LaFleur problem; it’s an Aaron Rodgers problem. I don’t question the relationship between LaFleur and Rodgers, but I do question Rodgers’ ability to listen and adapt. I’m not sure this has gotten too much better under LaFleur and it is a must for the Packers to get back to a Super Bowl anytime soon. I think my grade on LaFleur over time will hinge on his effectiveness in getting Rodgers out of his third-down, deep-ball rut that has stalled a significant number of drives over the past five years. There also must be more of an effort to engage Aaron Jones, one of the team’s best playmakers, in the passing game, even though LaFleur seemed to try to do that last week a bit more.

And yes, the defense must improve. LaFleur does not necessarily impact the strategy of that side of the ball as much as Mike Pettine. But he will need to make a decision soon on how much longer he can watch the unit struggle without making a move, which will impact the final season coaching grade too.


What grade would you give Matt LaFleur at this point this season?

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