Matt LaFleur’s year as Titans OC offers glimpse of what Packers can expect

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s not unusual for successful teams to have assistant coaches plucked from their staffs. But it was a mild surprise for the Tennessee Titans — who didn’t make the playoffs and struggled offensively for much of 2018 — to have offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur plucked from theirs by the Green Bay Packers.

But the imminent hiring of LaFleur as the Packers’ new coach could be a refreshing change for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who reportedly clashed with former coach Mike McCarthy at times. Green Bay chose LaFleur in part because of his success working with quarterbacks such as Jared Goff (Rams, 2017) and Matt Ryan (Falcons, 2016 MVP season). LaFleur also was Washington’s quarterbacks coach when Robert Griffin III was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

LaFleur likes the play-action passing game, which should be ideal for Rodgers, who is one of the best quarterbacks at throwing on the move. LaFleur’s background traces to Mike Shanahan in Washington and Gary Kubiak in Houston — coaches known for moving the pocket and attacking down the field.

LaFleur carried those traits into his first opportunity to call plays as the Titans’ offensive coordinator in 2018, orchestrating big gains on play-action passes for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling averaged 15.3 yards per reception for Green Bay in 2018 and could be called upon to stretch the field on vertical routes when LaFleur dials up those play-action passes.

LaFleur is just 39, with one full season of calling NFL plays under his belt, but he will challenge Rodgers to raise his game back to an MVP level.

Mariota and LaFleur appeared to be a match made in heaven, but a nerve injury suffered by the young QB in the season opener along with Tennessee’s inability to establish the run hampered the Titans’ offense early on. Under LaFleur, the Titans averaged 312.4 yards per game, ranking 25th in the NFL. Adding LaFleur was supposed to spark an improvement in points scored, but Tennessee finished 27th, with 19.4 points per game.

However, not all of Tennessee’s issues can be blamed on LaFleur, who made the best of what was left after losing top tight ends Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith to season-ending injuries. Late in the season, LaFleur found ways to feature running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for 625 yards and eight touchdowns in the final five games.

Balancing the carries between running backs Dion Lewis and Henry was no easy task, and that experience should help LaFleur manage Green Bay’s backfield, which featured Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in 2018. If LaFleur’s time in Tennessee is any indication, the Packers’ backs will be busy on screen passes, catching the ball on choice routes out of the backfield and even lining up at wide receiver. LaFleur also likes putting two running backs on the field at the same time.

“He [LaFleur] is going to put every guy on the offense in the best situation possible. For me, that’s exciting because he’s using our best assets,” Mariota said of LaFleur during training camp.

Titans wide receiver Corey Davis, in his second season, took a step forward under LaFleur. He finished with 65 receptions for 891 yards and four touchdowns, which doubled his rookie statistics.

LaFleur had a knack for moving Davis around the formation to create favorable matchups, getting him targets lining up outside the numbers and in the slot. Davis’ targets increased from 65 in 11 games in the 2017 season to 112 in 16 games in 2018. That number would have been even higher if not for the late-season emergence of Henry and the running game.

LaFleur also loves wide receiver screens, giving players like Davante Adams an opportunity to create after the catch.

Putting players in position to excel shouldn’t be an issue for LaFleur in Green Bay, as the new coach’s scheme seems like a perfect fit for Rodgers.

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