Honesty isn’t often rewarded in the NFL. It’s why so many coaches and players offer so little in interviews, worried their true responses will get twisted or taken out of context to satiate the content gods. Let us pray.
In order to allow a nothing-burger of a controversy (it’s an interesting story framed as drama) to remain so and not become a Culver’s bacon double deluxe, there’s one easy solution: start fast. If the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame quarterback sees the power of the offense on the field, he’s more apt to trust his coach. And his coach had better find a way to satisfy the intellectual challenge that Aaron Rodgers seeks. He’s a puzzle solver, a Sherlock Holmes-level savant, who has every answer for the riddles defenses throw at him.
Rodgers wants more flexibility at the line of scrimmage. Matt LaFleur has stated, on record, that he’s willing to give Rodgers flexibility, but that they’re working together to try and figure out exactly what that looks like. Rodgers called it “a conversation in progress.” LaFleur referred to it as the process of “working through” the checks at the line of scrimmage.
It this contentious? Is Rodgers annoyed or frustrated? To what level? We don’t have answers to those questions which only means that vacuum of silence gets filled with talk show takes, talking head breakdowns with no direct knowledge of the situation and blithering idiots on social media offering their two scents and dime store psychologizing.
In other words, it’s normal NFL talk in June.
The demarcating line appears to be that Rodgers wants what he used to have: Mike McCarthy’s system allowed him to literally change the play in the huddle if he didn’t like it, along with complete freedom at the line of scrimmages to make whatever changes he deems necessary.
There are inherent flaws to this approach. It ruins a playcaller’s flow. It’s impossible to set up plays when the quarterback is constantly making changes. Particularly in the LaFleur system, where an essential part of the scheme centers around misdirection and making one play look like another to trick defenses. It’s reasonable to wonder if Rodgers trying to get into the “perfect” play is worth the risk to LaFleur’s flow when every play in this offense already has a built-in answer.
On the other hand, LaFleur seems open to trying to make it work. He said so in an interview with The MMQB way back in April. If Rodgers can get them into the perfect play and bail them out, as he put it, then he wants Rodgers doing that. That was much easier in McCarthy’s offense, however, and the Packers haven’t even finished installing LaFleur’s. Rodgers may be ready to go full graduate level on LaFleur’s offense, but it’s unlikely the rest of the offense can get there right now.
If the offense hums early, trust forms between Rodgers and LaFleur, a trust that dissipated into nothingness under McCarthy. Shoddy playcalling, dated play design, and a lack of creativity drove Rodgers to hero ball. He didn’t believe plays would work when they were called, so he changed them. If he buys into the LaFleur offense and knows when a concept is called, they can kill a defense with it, why make any changes?
Rodgers said as much to Mike Silver for NFL.com.
“Look, you know the offense is great. And you scheme people up and you have formations and motions, and it should be fantastic. But if we need a little something, it’s ‘cause we need it.”
In other words, if LaFleur is calling plays effectively and the team is executing them, Rodgers won’t “need” to make checks at the line. It just so happened, by the end of McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers truly did need a lot more help from their All-World quarterback.
“Any check I’ve ever made is about getting us in a best-play scenario. So when it comes to that, if we need that, I’m sure he’ll be happy when it looks the right way.”
Rodgers knows the eyes of the NFL world are on him. He’s read what’s been written, heard what’s been said. He’s not coachable. He’s a diva. He needs to be reined in. He’s a coach killer.
No one wants Green Bay’s first-year head coach to succeed more than Rodgers. And if the built-in checks work, he doesn’t have to go off script as often. LaFleur’s offense still has the chance for Rodgers to scratch that analytical itch. Each play has two calls. It’s up to Rodgers to decide which one is better, even if it’s not the “best” or “perfect” answer. If those better answers work well and work early, no one feels the pressure to get into the perfect call every play, especially if it means staying true a game plan that sets up shot plays later in the contest.
LaFleur was brought in, at least in part, to ease the burden on Rodgers, who seems to relish that burden. It gave him control. In order to thrive under this system, relinquishing some measure of control could end up being the best thing for Rodgers and this offense.
While early success can quell Rodgers’ need to go off script, he must exercise patience as well. The offense in June will look very different from the offense in October. And in January of 2020. Green Bay’s offense underwent an enormous transformation this offseason tot he point that the team hasn’t even finished installing the schemes or polished the two-minute approach.
It took years for Rodgers to earn the right to go off script with McCarthy. Whether or not he needs to pay his dues with LaFleur the same way is up for some debate, but he has to be willing to trust LaFleur to do it in a way that makes sense for the offense. For the first time in years, Rodgers is behind his coach in understanding the offense they’re running. He must accept, for now, he doesn’t have all the answers.
“Like I always tell him, ‘Let’s make this our offense,’” LaFleur says. “And I think certainly I’ve got a philosophy of how we need to do things, but I’d be crazy not to listen to a guy that has got as much experience and has played at the level he’s played at.”
There’s little indication Rodgers wants rope LaFleur is unwilling to give in time, but the coach understands the scheme well enough to know it has to be done a certain way. He admitted it took Matt Ryan a year to get used to what Kyle Shanahan and LaFleur wanted him to do. When they got on the same page, Ryan put together a historic season en route to the MVP and a Super Bowl trip.
That kind of success would sure quiet any concerns anyone, Rodgers included, has over something as trivial in the grand scheme as complete freedom at the line. Coach and quarterback face diametrically opposed timelines: LaFleur must fast track a solution to Rodgers’ desire to do more, while Rodgers needs to be patient with both his coaches and his team as they put together a brand new system. Pressure on both fade away with a simple checkpoint: get this offense rolling as soon as possible.