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Matt LaFleur preparing for 'new set of challenges' to come

Packers head coach bothered by last game, excited for the future

Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – As he heads into his first offseason as an NFL head coach proud of what his Packers accomplished but disappointed in how their season ended, Matt LaFleur will be driven by one overriding question.

"How can we improve in every facet?"

That's how he put it in his season-ending press conference Wednesday, the lens through which he'll be evaluating the 2019 Packers.

Because for all the success found in winning 13 regular-season games and a home playoff contest, all three phases had their shortcomings.

The offense put together a lot of clutch drives late in games, but its overall inconsistency produced rankings of just 18th in total yards and 15th in scoring. The defense bailed out the offense at times and finished in the top 10 in points allowed, but it collapsed on the brink of the Super Bowl. The special teams were better, and played cleaner, than a year ago, but they didn't make any momentum-turning plays and badly lost the field-position battle in a handful of games.

Year 2 for LaFleur will begin with a foundation of knowledge about his players, results in game situations, and his own experiences as a first-time head coach that have him looking forward positively. He uttered the word "excited" with regard to the future at least a half-dozen times Wednesday.

"For the guys that'll be back, you know what they can do, and you know areas where they need to improve," he said. "Or where you might need to go add some pieces."

Offensively, the transition to a new scheme had its fits and starts, but LaFleur appreciated quarterback Aaron Rodgers' open mind with regard to the changes. He anticipates more change to come in 2020, including reducing the playbook verbiage to streamline the communication and implementing an up-tempo segment that never really materialized this past year.

He'd like to alter the pace at times to keep a defense more off-balance, and he's aiming for more efficiency, especially on third down. He's also looking forward to having a second season in one place for the first time since 2016 in Atlanta – LaFleur spent one season each as offensive coordinator for the Rams (2017) and Titans (2018) – to study film on his own team as well as other trends and ideas around the league.

"There were some glimpses of really good and then there were moments of really bad," LaFleur said of his offense. "We've got to try to eliminate those and certainly there's some pointed areas of emphasis we'll make sure we improve upon.

"It'll be fun to get everybody on the same page again, and I think everybody has a much better understanding of what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it."

Defensively, an impressive year with regard to pressuring quarterbacks and turning the ball over was undone by an inability to stop the run in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.

LaFleur said he's still working through all the post-mortem debriefing with his assistant coaches this week, and they're looking for answers to what happened with both the scheme and the players.

"They definitely outcoached us," he said. "I just didn't feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness. We didn't set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season. It's disappointing because it's not like we didn't know what they were going to try to do. We knew exactly what they were going to try to do. We knew they were going to run the football."

The reason behind the lack of intensity and energy in the biggest game of the year, and on the verge of the Super Bowl, is a question that might nag at LaFleur the entire offseason.

"That's something that I'm still trying to figure out right now as we speak," he said. "I mean, I don't understand that, because you're there. You have an opportunity to go to play in a Super Bowl and for that to happen, it's's bothersome.

"We have to look at ourselves, everybody. I'm gonna look inside of myself and see why weren't our players playing with their hair on fire. I think everybody in our organization has to do that."

On the whole, LaFleur has established the culture he wants – buy-in to the plan, players who care about one another, the 1-0 mentality. What he doesn't know are the roadblocks and obstacles that are around the corner.

The 2019 Packers were extremely healthy, and they never experienced a losing streak. They also won a ton of close games, which is hard to do year after year, and there will be different expectations thrust upon them from the outside after getting as far as they did. He emphasized nothing will be easy.

"I do think next year is going to have its new set of challenges, and it's going to be difficult," LaFleur said.

"We're gonna have to battle through some adversity that maybe we didn't have to experience this first season. Like I said I am excited, I'm optimistic. But it's gonna be done one day at a time."

The closeness and chemistry in the locker room will be a challenge to replicate as well, with inevitable roster change afoot. Every team has its own dynamic, and LaFleur's first one had a special one.

But as with any aspect under LaFleur's leadership, the base has been built, and the players know what it feels like. The goal now is to make it the starting point for everything that follows.

"It was definitely one of the closest locker rooms I feel like I've been a part of," LaFleur said. "That's why it hurts so bad to go out that way, because these guys put everything they had into it. Listen, I know it wasn't always pretty or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, as a team we found a way to win 14 games. Anytime that comes to an end, it's tough, especially when you have a bunch of great guys, like we do.

"It's not where we want to finish. We want to finish hoisting that trophy up. Until we do, we're going to keep working. But I like the resiliency of everybody involved here, just the mindset, and we're going to keep plugging away."

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