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KISS: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”
The acronym, which was popularized by the U.S. Navy in the 1970’s to emphasize avoiding unnecessary complexity, is the perfect text-savvy response to LaFleur’s late game play-calling following a Thursday night game, where the Eagles handed the Packers their first loss of the season.
LaFleur and the Packers’ offense have followed a pretty consistent script this entire season: obtain an early lead and lean on their defense to carry them to victory. Thursday’s game started out no different when the Packers bolted out of the gates to an early 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter against the Eagles. However, unlike the previous three weeks, the defense wasn’t able to contain the deadly air and ground duo of Carson Wentz and Jordan Howard. Rodgers and the offense were forced to match them score-for-score heading into the fourth quarter where they trailed 27-34.
Rodgers marched them down the field with a few dink-and-dunk pass plays until the Packers found themselves one yard from the paydirt. From there, LaFleur’s offense hit a self-induced road bump where they tried four unsuccessful pass plays—three of which were targets to Jimmy Graham—in a row.
According to SI.com, run plays from the one-yard line have a 53.88% chance of success compared to pass plays which only boast a 48.34% chance of success. That means that, theoretically, if LaFluer had only called run plays each of those four downs, his chance of scoring a touchdown would’ve been approximately 95.5%, near certain odds. (Accounting for the throw away on third down, the odds of scoring by passing the ball every time were slightly less at 86.2%.)
But the questionable play-calling didn’t end there. The Packers defense stepped up and forced one of their lone-stops on the night, giving the Packers the ball back with 5:02 left in the game. Everything seemed to be lining up for an iconic Rodgers fourth quarter comeback. The Packers marched 82 yards to the Eagles seven yard line. LaFleur seemed to have learned his lesson from before as Rodgers handed the ball to Jones who barreled his way to the three-yard line. A touchdown run seemed inevitable.
However, that changed when the Packers lined up in a four-wideout, shotgun formation. The Packers ran a play nearly identical to the Seahawks-Patriots play from the end of Super Bowl XLIX—and ended up with the same result. Rodgers’ pass bounced off of the intended receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and was intercepted by Nigel Bradham to ice the victory for the visiting Eagles.
When asked why the team didn’t try to run the ball in early in the fourth quarter, LaFleur said, “That’s a great question.” He went on to add that “when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, you trust him to continually gain yards and get down the field.”
Perhaps some of this seemingly-forced play calling comes from LaFleur’s motive to please a frustrated Rodgers. Early in the first quarter, Rodgers tried a short pass from the seven yard line to Adams which ended up just shy of the end zone. The next play, Rodgers handed off to Aaron Jones who lunged across the goal-line. It’s evident that there is still some disconnect between Rodgers, who prefers the free-reined style of play that allows him to call more audibles, and LaFleur, who favors a structured, methodical style of approach with his play-calling. Whatever the reason for the obscure play-calling late, it’s clear that there are still some kinks in the system that need to be sorted out between LaFleur and his QB if they want to close out games in the future. Being fancy is great for the highlight reel, but at the end of the day, points win games. And the Packers didn’t score enough when it counted most.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that coaches have failed while trying to get fancy near the promised land. Cleveland’s Head Coach Freddie Kitchens has also caught heat for calling four straight pass plays from within the ten yard line late in their Week 3 loss to the Rams which ended with an interception thrown by Baker Mayfield on fourth down to seal their fate. And Pete Carroll will probably never outlive his legacy as the coach who threw the ball one yard away from a Super Bowl victory after Marshawn Lynch bulldozed his way down there.
Despite all the negativity surrounding LaFleur and the new-look Packers offense, there’s certainly light at the end of the tunnel for Titletown fans. LaFleur’s offense has found ways to perform early, outscoring their opponents 28-3 in the first quarter. A lot of these play-calls are scripted the day before in practice, so if LaFleur can find a way to translate this efficiency into the second halves of games (especially the fourth quarter, where the Packers have only scored 6 total points on the year), the Packers offense can be a dynamic threat.
The Packers were also without a few key pieces on their final two drives. They lost their complementary running back Jamaal Williams on the first play from scrimmage to a head-to-head hit by Eagles DE Derek Barnett. Davante Adams also suffered a toe injury on the play before the Packers’ first-and-goal attempt from the one-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The depleted Packers receiving corps was unable to pick up the slack for Adams, who caught a career-high 180 yards before being sidelined for the remainder of the game.
The Packers hope to rebound this week where they travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys in what’s sure to be a hard-fought battle between NFC elites.