It’s the question that has been asked so many times by so many people.
“Will Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur get along?”
By now you have seen all the talking heads on various forms of media debate this point ad nauseum. They either think LaFleur is in over his head or Rodgers will go rogue like he did in the final years of Mike McCarthy’s tenure. They think the audible thing will cause a divide between quarterback and coach that will ultimately sink the Packers’ chances.
Instead of focusing on such negativity, how about we focus on what could go right? Let’s say Rodgers and LaFleur find their groove sooner than later and the Green Bay offense begins to hum like it used to. What would that look like? Imagine the insane statistics Rodgers would put up on his way to a third NFL MVP award!
Hold the cheese curds. What if I told you Rodgers would experience a “bounce back” season but his numbers were not necessarily all that flashy, even by his standards? I’d argue that it’s not just possible that could happen, but it’s almost likely.
One of the first things LaFleur said upon arriving in Green Bay was that he wanted to make Rodgers’ life as easy as possible. That already should have been music to the quarterback’s ears. The Packers relied far too much on him playing hero ball the past few years (the Packers don’t even make the playoffs in 2015 if not for the Miracle in Motown) that this should have been met with a sight of relief on Rodgers’ part. Sure, every quarterback wants the ball in their hands when the game is on the line, but what about the other 58 minutes? Rodgers constantly trying to make something out of nothing because the archaic iso-route heavy McCarthy offense was struggling to generate open receivers and forced Rodgers to hold the ball too long. Did he miss some open guys? Of course. Yet you have to wonder how this habit developed in the first place.
LaFleur’s offense evolved out of Mike Shanahan’s system in Denver. This version of the west coast offensive prides itself on scheming receivers open instead of asking receivers to constantly win their battles against defensive backs like McCarthy’s did. This means more open receivers on shorter routes to eat up chunks of yardage which therefore means no need to look for constant shot plays. This means a lower yards per completion average and less highlight reel plays. Would a lack of those indicate Rodgers is playing poorly? Under this new system, not at all.
This also would improve his accuracy. Rodgers had the highest amount of throwaways last year and that hurt his completion percentage (62.3%, the second worst of his career as a starter). The reasoning behind the throwaways came down to either Rodgers simply not seeing the receivers (bad), he didn’t trust his receivers not named Davante Adams (also bad) or just not trusting the offense any longer (the worst and likely the most true). Some of that can be corrected schematically but the not seeing the receivers part would require coaching. LaFleur brought back Luke Getsy, someone Rodgers knew from a previous McCarthy staff and reportedly was fond of, as quarterbacks coach to presumably instill some tough love and get Rodgers back to seeing what the offense was creating.
The new coach also mentioned multiple times his intent to “marry the run with the pass.” Rodgers’ pass attempts have gone up each season he has played a full 16 games since 2014 (520 in 2014, 572 in 2015, 610 in 2016) and would likely have exceeded that 610 number last season had he not left the game very early worth a concussion. This indicates an offense badly out of balance which should come as no shock to anyone who watched the Packers the past few seasons. Part of that had to do with a lack of consistent talent at running back. Eddie Lacy unfortunately could not stay healthy or at a proper weight and his drop off severely hindered the running game.
Now with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams along with a renewed and sincere attempt at running the ball, the Packers will likely find balance once again. Jones in particular showed flashes as a rookie and late last season before injuries derailed both campaigns. Thankfully the former UTEP standout learned some things, cut out junk food and is now in the best shape he has been in since being drafted according to Rodgers.
LaFleur will get Jones the ball and will create opportunities for him. Rodgers has only had a 1,000 rusher three times in his career and two of those were during his first two years as a starter with Ryan Grant. The last time he had running back behind him run for 1,000 yards was Lacy in 2014 and guess what happened that year? Rodgers was the MVP and the Packers came oh-so-close to a Super Bowl. If Jones stays healthy and goes for 1,000 plus (I went bold and said he goes for 1,500 in this week’s Walkthroughs) on the ground and maybe 1,500 from scrimmage that’s going to eat into Rodgers’ yardage total. Yet it would indicate an offense that’s working and that would benefit the quarterback as well.
Predicting a quarterback’s stat line for a season is a fools errand, but if Rodgers finishes the year with around 500 attempts with a 65%+ completion percentage, 4,200+ yards passing and 30-ish touchdowns with 10-13 interceptions then I would call that a bounce back season and LaFleur’s mission was a success in year one.
McCarthy once said “stats are for losers” and that’s true to a degree. The only statistic that matters in the end is wins and losses and if the Packers are winning more than losing without Rodgers putting up utterly ridiculous numbers, then that is a successful season and a season I’d wager ended with a deep playoff run.