Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers found themselves in the driver’s seat heading into their Sunday night matchup against the Detroit Lions. After crushing the Minnesota Vikings the week before, the Packers found themselves riding a four-game winning streak. Their Sunday night opponent was eliminated from the playoff picture earlier in the day. Along with that, they were playing in prime time on their home field. The Packers could taste the playoffs. But that taste quickly turned sour.
For a team playing for so much, they never showed it against the Lions. Instead, they laid down like dogs and were beaten 20-16, ending their 2022 season. It wasn’t just Sunday’s game that was disappointing. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, they never came close to playing like a contender. If you are looking to blame someone, it should start with Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.
Green Bay Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur Faces a Long Off-Season of Soul Searching
Sunday’s loss to the Lions is just one of many disappointments from Matt LaFleur this season. Lions head coach Dan Campbell and the rest of his team could have easily mailed it in. Unlike Matt LaFleur and the Packers, the Lions had nothing to play for. In fact, a loss Sunday night could have given them a higher draft choice in the 2023 NFL Draft. But credit to Campbell, he had his squad ready to play. The same can’t be said about LaFleur.
You are never going to mistake Dan Campbell for Vince Lombardi. In fact, some might wonder if Campbell is just an average head coach. But on Sunday, coaching against LaFleur, Campbell was the better head coach. Even with being eliminated, Campbell was able to motivate his team and they responded by beating the Packers. That’s what you want to see out of your head coach. Even when there is nothing on the line, you want your team to play their hearts out. The Lions did just that and the Packers didn’t. The failure of the Packers falls directly on LaFleur’s shoulders.
One game doesn’t make a season. But the way the Packers played falls right in line with what they did all season. Sunday’s loss was just another of a long line of mistakes and failures that Matt LaFleur committed this season. We take a long look at the many errors LaFleur made this season.
Hiring and then Sticking with Joe Barry
There is one key theme when it comes to detailing Matt LaFleur’s many mistakes in 2022. That being either his refusal or inability to adjust when things are bad. At the top of that list is sticking with Joe Barry as the Packers defensive coordinator.
It doesn’t matter how the Green Bay Packers defense finished the season. Since Joe Barry has been the Packers defensive coordinator, the defense has underachieved. NFL teams play a 17-game schedule, not a four or five-game schedule. If it was the latter, Joe Barry would be compared to Buddy Ryan, one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history.
For the second straight season, the Barry-led defense had stretches of playing just downright bad football. It can be argued that if Barry’s defense would have played better in just two or three games, the Packers wouldn’t have been faced with a win or in playoff scenario on Sunday like they were.
But even with a second consecutive long stretch of playing bad defense, LaFleur seemed fine to roll with Barry. In fact, it appears that he is doubling down with possibly having Barry return for 2023. Hiring Barry was a mistake, but having him return for a third season is just downright insanity.
When the Packers are healthy, their defense starts six former first-round picks. So the talent is there, but they continue to underachieve. The fact that LaFleur refuses to adjust, and make a change, makes it look like he is more than happy with what they are doing.
“Unacceptable” was the word Matt LaFleur used twice when describing the personal fouls during tonight’s game. #Packers pic.twitter.com/aXKWke5qIz
— Doug Russell (@DougRussell) January 9, 2023
Packers Offense Fails to Carve Out an Identity
Before the season, we wrote that we believed that Matt LaFleur’s playcalling would be an “X Factor” for the Packers in 2022. His play calling was an x-factor, but not in the way Packers fans had hoped.
The Green Bay Packers offense has the weapons to run the ball successfully and control the clock. But for good parts of this season, the offense seemed more than happy to have Aaron Rodgers drop back and throw the ball all around the yard. LaFleur did this even without the services of Davante Adams and playing two rookie wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson.
Recently, fellow LWOS writer Jonathan Barnett wrote an interesting article about how successful the Packers offense was when it didn’t run the offense through Rodgers. When Rodgers was the focal point, the Packers were 4-8 (the article was written before the Lions game). But when it ran through the running game, with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the Packers had a 4-0 record. So why didn’t LaFleur consistently do what made the offense click? Two reasons: bad play calling and Rodgers himself.
After every game that Jones didn’t receive the necessary touches, LaFleur would state that was unacceptable. But his words meant nothing because he continued to fail to get Jones the ball. Even if it was Rodgers who was changing the plays (which isn’t definite), that falls on LaFleur, the play caller and the head coach. It doesn’t matter that Rodgers has won four MVP awards. If he isn’t running the offense that LaFleur is calling, it is up to him to put Rodgers on task. That is why LaFleur is the head coach, he has the pull to do so. But yet, it appears LaFleur was scared to ruffle the feathers of Rodgers, who now is arguably the most powerful person in the Packers organization.
Pulling the Plug on the Rodgers Experiment as the Packers Returner
Just another prime example of Matt LaFleur not making the proper adjustments was the handling of Amari Rodgers as the Packers punt and kickoff returner. For some NFL teams, changing returners might not have been a big deal. But for the Packers, it could have put them in a better position to make the NFL playoffs.
Everyone who watched Amari Rodgers try to return punts and kickoffs knew he was incapable of getting the job done. Well, everyone but Matt LaFleur. For over a season and a half, under two different special team coordinators, Packers fans watched as Amari Rodgers bobbled punts, take kickoffs out of the end zone that shouldn’t have been taken out, and fumble both punts and kicks. But LaFleur and the Packers continue to roll out Rodgers week after week.
When LaFleur finally made the change, which ended with Rodgers, who Brian Gutekunst traded up in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select, being waived. In his place, LaFleur and special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia replaced him with Keiseasn Nixon.
All Nixon would do is become the most explosive kick and punt returner in the NFL. Nixon would become everything that Rodgers wasn’t. Instead of just hoping that nothing would go wrong on returns, he actually made plays, putting the Packers offense in better positional situations.
LaFleur’s hesitancy to replace Rodgers cost the Packers. Did it cost them games? Nobody will ever know. But it wasn’t a coincidence that the Packers started playing better football once Nixon became their returner.
Big Games Too Big for LaFleur
Many who will read this piece will claim, “this is just a hater hating on LaFleur when is down”. This isn’t a hate piece, but actually, it’s a piece taking a deeper look into what he has done as the Packers head coach.
Sure, Matt LaFleur has a 47-19 regular season record, with an impressive .712 winning percentage. But in his first three seasons as the Packers head coach, a lot of those wins came from beating up on a weak NFC North division. But now that the Vikings have become the king of the north and the Lions are improved (although the Chicago Bears are still the Chicago Bears), things have become tougher for LaFleur. It played a big part in LaFleur having his first under-500 regular season record this season.
Then of course there is his playoff record. In the three seasons the Packers have made the playoffs under LaFleur, he has a 2-3 record. Mind you, that 2-3 record includes them being the number one seed twice and having Rodgers, who was MVP of the NFL in two of the three seasons.
There are even more failures and mistakes that Matt LaFleur committed this past season. This article doesn’t even include his decision to take the bye week right after the Packers game against the New York Giants game in London. A game that saw Aaron Rodgers fracture his thumb on his throwing hand.
As Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh once said, “there are some people that stand on third base that think they hit a triple. but they didn’t“. After this season, many could be thinking that Matt LaFleur is one of those people. By no means does this season put LaFleur on the hot seat, but it does mean that many will start to question if LaFleur is the head coach many believed he was before this season. What he does this off-season and next season will dictate if he is truly the man that can lead the Packers back to a Super Bowl.