There has been a lot of talk this season about Matt LaFleur and his fast start as a first-year head coach in the National Football League. For good reason, too. The Packers have started the season off 5-1, a record that surprises most. From the start of last off-season, both the Packers’ players and front office have been preparing for a new season in which lots of questions were on the line. The questions in focus from the media included the relationship between Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur and whether or not Rodgers would be coachable. Suttle criticisms from outsiders on Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy hiring Matt LaFleur as the new head coach, after all, he was connected to Sean McVay. The running joke of the league was that this coach shook Sean McVay’s hand, so, therefore, that person should be hired to be the next head coach. Two seasons ago, former Packers General Manager Ted Thompson stepped down from his position. Guys like Elliot Wolf, Brian Gutekunst, and Russ Ball all remained as top candidates for the position. Murphy eventually went with Gutekunst, who he saw as the most prominent candidate, while Ball became head of the Packers’ finances, and Wolf went off to Cleveland to be the Browns’ assistant GM.
It has been a whirlwind of transactions in Green Bay. Gutekunst and Murphy have essentially stripped the Mike McCarthy era away and laid down a new foundation and blueprint for Packer success. That “success”, however, always was speculation. Nobody knew how this season was going to start. When Mark Murphy hired Gutekunst as GM, Murphy did not know how well Gutekunst was going to draft, nobody did. Murphy may have had confidence, but nothing was guaranteed. So far Gutekunst has hit on most of his draft picks, selecting standout defensive players in Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage. Others such as Rashan Gary and Ka’dar Hollman have yet to make a major impact, though only time will tell.
Just as it is the General Manager’s job to draft the players, it is the coaches’ job to coach them. Matt LaFleur was given a young, mostly inexperienced roster. The elephant in the room was always how he would develop the offense with Aaron Rodgers in mind. Just like any brand new offense, they struggled. The Packers’ first quarter of play to start the season in Chicago against the Bears saw the team struggle to gain a single yard. Nonetheless, it was a natural start to the season and it was always going to be that way. What Matt LaFleur has done with the Packers’ offense given the circumstances is nothing short of incredible. He has taken an offense that was unproductive last season and slowly and surely formed it into his own. Sure, the Packers offense had a slow start to the season, but they progressively got better. When the Packers went down to Dallas to play the Cowboys everyone counted them out. Davante Adams was out with a turf toe injury and the number two receiver Geronimo Allison was struggling. It looked like the Packers were down and out. Who would have thought that they could have gone into Jerry’s world and pulled out a win? Not many people.
Everyone from ESPN to NBC sports thought the Packers were going to get pummeled. I mean, without Davante Adams, their odds did not look great.
After Aaron Jones rushed for four touchdowns, a career-high, it put the naysayers to rest.
Was Aaron Jones solely responsible for the Packers victory down in Dallas? From a production standpoint, he had a lot to do with it. From a scheme standpoint, it was not just handing the ball to Aaron Jones and watching him run, LaFleur set it up that way.
The credit for the Packers’ success is not just one person. It is a group of people making the right (but risky) decisions to put the Packers into the place they are now. They are 5-1, 3-0 in the division. In terms of setting themselves up for long-term success, they could not have done a better job. The team is sitting atop the NFC North with just one loss, at a time when the gap between division play is the largest of the season. If the Packers are going to continue to succeed, however, those responsibilities are on Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur.
This past week, Brian Gutekunst brought in a wide receiver in Ryan Grant. Grant has extensive experience in the NFL, particularly as a slot receiver. He brings veteran experience and can hopefully bolster the Packers’ weakened wide receiving core. That is Brian Gutekunst’s job.
Matt LaFleur has made do without Davante Adams, mixing in guys like Marcedes Lewis and utilizing the one-two punch at running back with Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, something Mike McCarthy did not really do.
The credit to success is to Mark Murphy for hiring Brian Gutekunst, Gutekunst for re-shaping the roster, and Matt LaFleur for shaping that roster into success. Of course, we cannot forget about Aaron Rodgers and what he has accomplished at quarterback. The Packers defense has been stellar this season, led by the Smith’s.
If the Packers continue to succeed without Davante Adams, Matt LaFleur might be a candidate for coach of the year. He took a team that was beside itself last season and made it into a wholesome group. Looking forward, we can only hope the Packers’ success continues, even without Davante Adams.