Throughout the first three years of his tenure, Matt LaFleur has had his team on easy mode.
A 39-10 regular season record, three consecutive NFC North titles and first-round byes, and two NFC Championship appearances made it look like LaFleur had the Midas touch. He never lost consecutive regular season games and his relationship with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of the NFL’s best bromances. LaFleur appeared to have the answer for whatever ailed his team.
Six games into the 2022 season, it would appear Green Bay’s coach may have run out of solutions.
For the first time in his tenure, LaFleur has lost consecutive games in the same regular season. While that streak was destined to end eventually, it’s how the Packers lost these past two weeks that is cause for concern. It hasn’t so much been a scheme problem. It’s been something worse.
Last week against the New York Giants in London, the Packers raced out to a 17-3 lead and held a 20-10 lead at halftime. The offense appeared to be finally getting its footing after an inconsistent start to the season and the defense had largely kept NFL leading rusher Saquon Barkley in check. All signs pointed towards this being the game that would springboard them to bigger things down the line.
Until everything went off the rails in the second half.
The run defense couldn’t stop anyone and the Green Bay offense couldn’t convert a third down to save their life. The Giants stormed back to a 27-20 lead but the Packers were knocking at the door for the tying score. Surely they wouldn’t let this one slip away, right?
They in fact did let that one slip away.
Three straight passes in an infuriating goal-line sequence turned the ball back over to the Giants and that was pretty much it. The Packers did get a chance for a Hail Mary to win the game but that ended up in a sack before Rodgers could attempt to work any semblance of magic.
Fans were stunned and angry. Surely the players would be even more upset and would come out against the New York Jets playing angry and with purpose. LaFleur would have his team ready to go and the Jets would have their doors blown off. It was a tale fans had seen many times before during the LaFleur era.
Instead, it was the Packers who were embarrassed.
Yesterday’s 27-10 loss to the Jets was a full-blown indictment of the team. The lack of intensity and effort was alarming, except perhaps on defense. They at least kept it close but Green Bay’s ineptitude on offense was far too much to overcome for the exhausted group late in the game. Still, the defense deserves credit for at least making an attempt to win the game.
How bad the offense looked was truly appalling and not all like what LaFleur has preached since he arrived. The “illusion of complexity” he touted has given way to actual complexity and full-blown bamboozlement. Rodgers himself echoed this yesterday, saying the best way to get the offense on track is to “simplify everything.”
That’s easier said than done but the Packers have to do something. Luckily for them, LaFleur can adapt and shift gears quickly when things go south.
Except in the case of the offensive line, apparently.
Why the Packers continue to trot out Royce Newman is beyond logic. David Bakhtiari just played a full game after being in a rotation for the prior few games so if that’s your excuse for continuing to play Newman, it is no longer valid. The solution of benching Newman, moving Elgton Jenkins back to guard, and starting Yosh Nijman at right tackle is obvious to everyone except LaFleur.
For the first time in his head coaching career, LaFleur is facing serious heat for decisions he has made or in some cases has not made. He’s clearly a smart head coach which makes the troubles the Packers are facing all the more maddening. They have the chance to dig themselves out of this situation, it’s just a matter of using the right tools to do so.
The one drawback to LaFleur’s teams even before this downturn was that the Packers seemed to fold whenever the opponent would punch them in the mouth. Green Bay apparently can’t work up the fortitude to punch back and just collapse like a house of cards.
The Packers have been punched in the mouth for six consecutive quarters now. Are they going to say they have had enough and start to fight back or are they just going to fall down, curl up into a ball, and start sucking their thumbs?
If they choose to fight, it starts with LaFleur.
After three pretty seasons and multiple jokes about his eyebrows, it’s time to see what the Packers coach is truly made of.
Is it iron that can will his team back from the brink or is it just a soft center that has a hole in it the moment it’s poked?
We’ll find out Sunday in our nation’s capital.