The Resiliency of LaFleur's Teams is Under Appreciated

Post season disappointments cloud his accomplishments. 

After three straight seasons of crushing losses in the playoffs, Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff have to shoulder their share of the blame. There’s plenty of it to go around. From lack of adequate attention to special teams, to decisions on starting offensive linemen, to play calling in clutch situations. LaFleur himself is quick to take the heat, frequently pointing out the buck stops with him. 

But if you’re going to saddle him with the blame, then you also need to give him the credit he and his staff are due for something that, in careful retrospect, is quite amazing. To win thirteen games in 2021, and achieve the number one seed in the NFC playoff bracket, is nothing short of incredible, considering the injury adversity the team dealt with. 

Consider that, for much of the regular season, the Packers were without three of their five preferred starting offensive linemen, two of whom are All Pro caliber players, and one of whom played the most important position in the line at left tackle. They were without their second best wide receiver, who also functioned as their deep threat and field stretcher. They were without their starting tight end who was coming off a breakout year and had established himself as top five at his position. They were without their All Pro edge rusher for all but a few plays in the very first game. They were missing both of their starting cornerbacks, one of whom was also All Pro quality. 

How many teams could sustain that kind of injury devastation, and still emerge as the best regular season team in the conference? Yes, the front office found the coaches a few players to step into the gap, but LaFleur and his staff have done a job that becomes even more impressive when you delve into the injury numbers. 

Last season, the 22 preferred starters missed a cumulative 110 games. Of the 22, only four played in all seventeen contests. Only one of those four, guard Jon Runyan, played on offense. On defense, Dean Lowry, Adrian Amos, and Darnell Savage were the only players who did not miss at least one game.  

The hardest hit unit by far was the O-line. David Bakhtiari missed every game except the week seventeen contest, and probably should have sat that one out, considering he was hurting so badly afterward he couldn’t take the field in the playoffs despite a two week rest. Elgton Jenkins went out in week eight and missed nine games. Josh Myers, the promising rookie center who won the starting job immediately went out in week six and missed eleven games. Right tackle Billy Turner missed four games. 

The second hardest hit unit was cornerback, where starters missed a cumulative 24 games. Jaire Alexander went down in week four and missed thirteen games. It’s easy to forget that, when the 2021 season began, the preferred starter at the other corner was Kevin King. The team had re-signed him to a one year deal with the intention of bringing first round pick Eric Stokes on slowly. King, who has had availability issues his entire career, continued to form, missing eleven games, forcing Stokes to start and learn under fire, which he did quite well.  

Besides Za’Darius Smith missing nearly the whole year, Preston Smith, De’Vondre Campbell and Rashan Gary missed one game each.  

Injuries are part of what every NFL team deals with every season, but all injury situations are not created equal. It’s not how many are hurt, it’s who is hurt. How many of your key guys, your core players have you lost? And for the Packers last year, that answer was a lot. As already mentioned, Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Tonyan, Za’darius and Alexander would all rank among the top ten players on the team. MVS and Myers would not have been far behind. 

How did the coaches stay the course? For one thing, despite players going down all around him, they managed to keep their Hall of Fame quarterback healthy for all but one game. And the one contest Aaron Rodgers missed was because of Covid, not an injury. In fact, that is the only game Rodgers has missed since LaFleur arrived before the 2019 season. The coaches did a masterful job of assimilating an offensive line that had to shuffle personnel almost weekly.  

They had to get back-ups and late additions like Josiah Deguara, Austin Davis, Jonathan Garvin, Henry Black, Juwann Winfree, Malik Taylor, Whitney Mercilus, Rasul Douglas, and yes, Jordan Love, ready to play.   

The injury bug bit the Packers so hard in 2021 that the effects will still be lingering as the 2022 season begins. Question marks still surround the availability of Jenkins, Tonyan, Bakhtiari and even back-up running back Kylin Hill for week one against the Vikings. 

Considering all of that adversity, a 13-4 season and a number one seed are an extraordinary accomplishment. Maybe if we, as fans, focus more on enjoying the journey, it might make a letdown in the playoffs a little less devastating.

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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4 points

Comments (21)

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NickPerry's picture

June 06, 2022 at 06:25 am

"Considering all of that adversity, a 13-4 season and a number one seed are an extraordinary accomplishment. Maybe if we, as fans, focus more on enjoying the journey, it might make a letdown in the playoffs a little less devastating."

Since the MLF hiring the regular seasons have been fun, especially the last two, and I have enjoyed every second of them. BUT, when the Packers lose in the playoffs, I'm devastated no matter what. Especially they WAY they've lost the last 2 years.

In 2020 there's the play Rodgers could have run it in from the 8 IMO, or made it within inches of the goalline at worst. Instead there were 3 straight passes to Davante, the 3rd into triple coverage, leaving MLF with the feeling he had to kick a FG after not gaining a single yard on 3 straight goal to goal plays.

Last year it was ST and MLF deserves much of the blame for keeping Drayton as long as he did. I mean Aikman was commenting from like week 10, the Packers were HOPING ST didn't bite them in the ass. BUT, they still had opportunities to win, SEVERAL of them. The last with a WO Lazard streaking across the field WIDE OPEN. Had Rodgers threw him the ball he'd ran to the 49ers 30...AT LEAST. Instead it was a no chance pass to #17 (sound familiar) into double or triple coverage.

2020 and 2021 weren't as bad as 2014/15 in Seattle, but they SUCKED all the same. This game is all about winning the SB. When you're a fan of a team whose home is called "Titletown" the regular seasons are fun...But it's ALL about Championships.

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Swisch's picture

June 06, 2022 at 02:10 pm

When Tom Brady lost in the playoffs to the Rams last season, it at least seemed like he did all he could do in getting the most out of his team -- but with Rodgers against the 49ers, not nearly so much.
As previously written, Rodgers is the fault line around which the team topples into ruin under pressure from pounding defenses. It seems he doesn't have the nerve to withstand fierce pass rushes, nor the patience to outsmart them.
Not only does Rodgers seem to shrink in the biggest of games to the point of crumpling into a figure of ugly wreckage, but it seems to be largely caused by his own arrogance of uncoachability.
In other words, Rodgers in his egotism doesn't realize his limitations, and insists on doing things his way with devastating results.
That's not just a disaster, but a tragedy -- which dramatically increases the agony for us.
***
That our head coach and general manager enable the arrogance of Rodgers and his intrusion into their jobs seems to cause a lot of their good work to be undone by jarring disappointments on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
I get that it may be acceptable for the good of the team to defer to a superstar quarterback at times, but it seems to have gotten way out of hand -- to the point of humiliating both LaFleur and Gute, and poisoning the team.
They can't control Rodgers -- yet instead of trading him for a huge return of talent, eagerly bring him back with a mega-contract that cripples the salary cap for signing other top players.
Rodgers has become a diva sucking the dignity out of all who abide his pomposity and petulance, and tarnishing the golden reputation of the Packers. This in itself is the worst part, almost unbearable.
A secondary note is the inevitability of further gut punches in the future, with the sickening feelings lingering long afterward.
Character counts.

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NickPerry's picture

June 06, 2022 at 05:02 pm

Hey Swisch... You and I are definitely in the we should have traded Rodgers camp. I would have LOVED the haul Denver gave up for Wilson AND when you throw in what we got for Adams, we could have REALLY set up nicely for the future.

The Packers have a TON of young talent on this roster. What I hoping for is Rodgers FINALLY see's he can't do it his way. He's got one hell of a smart coach with a great scheme. He's got two of the better RB's in the NFL and as a group probably the best with Hill and Taylor. The Defense IS going to be good, really good with a strong possibility of being GREAT. Rodgers needs to learn to lean on them, don't get in the way, and just try to do it someone else's way for once!!!!

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Swisch's picture

June 06, 2022 at 07:16 pm

I'm still hoping that Rodgers has a major readjustment in outlook and attitude.
He has plenty of responsibility in his role as quarterback, and should not intrude on the roles of GM and head coach.
Yes, he has a lot to offer them in terms of ideas, but he has to be ready to let Gute and LaFleur make the calls even in disagreement.
Yes, Rodgers is a superstar and our leader on the field; but he has to remember that he's also just another teammate, and show respect to all of them as equals.
***
I'm still rooting for Rodgers. I want to like him again, too, and really get behind him.
He doesn't have to be perfect, as none of us are perfect. If he just made a sincere effort at growing in agreeability and coachability, he could really get the fans behind him.
Packers fans are good people. We don't like to get jerked around, but we're also forgiving. We want to support our Packers as players and persons.
Please, Aaron Rodgers, a genuine gesture of humility. We'll meet you even more than half way.
Give us as fans a chance, rather than dismissing us, and the positive response will be overwhelming.
We won't grovel before you, but would be glad to embrace you once again.

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PatrickGB's picture

June 06, 2022 at 06:59 am

The Packers, like all the teams, want a Super Bowl every year. But with the salary cap and draft order it’s not realistic. What is realistic is getting to the playoffs. I can fuss about not making the Super Bowl but I have to realize that sometimes luck is involved. It doesn’t mean that I am I am satisfied with a just winning record. But at the same time I cannot fault a staff for what often feels like bad luck. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we can learn from it. But I will not condemn a staff for doing the best they can under the certain circumstances that is out of their control. As GBP fans we are a bit spoiled. We have had decades of superior play only to lose in the playoffs by uncharacteristic circumstances. This is not a post calling for the fans to settle for the loss. Instead it is one to be great full for the wins we get.

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murf7777's picture

June 06, 2022 at 07:24 am

Patrick, I couldn’t agree more with what you said. I’m grateful for all the fun and occasional disappointment the Packers have provided me.

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murf7777's picture

June 06, 2022 at 07:22 am

Great article and I concur….while its easy to be critical, its much harder to be complimentary. Yes, they have Arod, but in the prior two years to Mlf they were an average team. . Mlf is a winner. Glass is half full. GPG.

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Since'61's picture

June 06, 2022 at 10:19 am

MLF and his staff deserve a great deal of credit for their 41-13 record including the playoffs which they have achieved over their first three seasons.

The team is usually well prepared and consistently plays hard. In 2021 they found a different way to win almost every week despite all the injuries mentioned in the article.

My first question is how much of their success is due to Aaron Rodgers? Where would this team be without Rodgers and his MVP level of play?

Second question, why does a team which plays well during the regular season make questionable decisions come playoff time? Why did the Packers switch up their OL for the SF playoff game? Why didn’t they keep Nijman at LT and Turner at RT? Why did they ignore ST all season and allow a disaster waiting to happen end their season against SF?
In all three of the playoff losses where were the adjustments?

I realize that the injuries are a factor but once you see how your opponent is playing against your team the coaches need to adjust their plan to counter the opponents plan. It’s an ongoing game of adjustments especially in the playoffs.

Kevin King left alone against the Bucs fastest receiver, really!!!??? Thanks, Since '61

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Packer_Fan's picture

June 06, 2022 at 08:34 am

I agree. The losses in the playoffs are more coach and front office strategy than player issues.

Gute and LaFleur messed up with special teams. And hopefully that will be corrected this year. It is sad that they had to learn the hard way.

And LaFleur needs to be able to adjusts during the game better. Perhaps being ahead in the SF game cause LaFleur to think to continue the way he was, but the pressure on Rodgers increased as the game progressed.

And thank heaven that Kevin King is no longer on the team. Enough with him.

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Since'61's picture

June 06, 2022 at 10:26 am

Packer_Fan - I'm thinking that MLF was thinking of utilizing Dillon in the 2nd half against SF to try to play control and run the clock down. Then Dillon was injured on the 2nd half kickoff and that plan was done.

But the first mistake IMO was the decision to change up the OL which resulted in 6 sacks and numerous hurries/hits for Rodgers, and poor running game results.

As for Kevin King I've noticed that no team has been in any hurry to sign him yet. Thanks, Since '61

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Coldworld's picture

June 06, 2022 at 09:45 am

An alternative explanation could be that the combination of a roster with talented depth present plus a GM who has been able (or lucky, maybe both) to be able to acquire bargain in season help that has made a difference (remarkably so) and an elite QB means that GB has enough with Rodgers that it wins in the regular season and against most teams. The difficulties arise against the better teams when it’s all on the line and that’s when other coaches have out planned us.

The recent season performances could easily be more roster, players and Rodgers than LaFleur and our losses be in part due to LaFleur being out coached when it matters and the opposition is strongest.

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Since'61's picture

June 06, 2022 at 10:30 am

Coldworld - I agree. It's been pretty obvious that LaFleur has been outcoached in our 3 playoff losses. I will give him some benefit of the doubt for the 2021 playoff loss to SF because Gute should have tried to acquire some help for the STs and/or MLF should have replaced the ST coach about midway through the season when it was already obvious the guy was in over his head. Thanks, Since '61

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Ron61's picture

June 06, 2022 at 08:16 am

Great year without Adams.

Last season’s win at Arizona without Davantae and MVS was encouraging for this year. Rodgers was forced to use different receivers and it highlighted his ability to make everyone better. Spreading it around so defensively Arizona couldn’t focus on Adams. Also relied on our two excellent RBs to pound the ball.

Adams leaving is great! We got two more defensive studs and Watson.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 06, 2022 at 08:20 am

sometimes you can impose your will leading to victory...

sometimes the other team is just better than you and you lose...

but most of the time you have to take what the opponent gives you and bring it together enough to emerge victorious. THIS is where MLF has failed in the playoffs and why it leads to criticism. Victory was sitting there for the taking, the opponents were not the better team in the last 2 playoff losses.

coaching decisions that seem obvious to long time knowledgeable fans, player performances well below their norms... these are the issues that lead to criticisms.

I have not read any criticisms that a player wasn't Superman and overcame an opponent who performed at his peak, I haven't read where a player was criticised for being injured or not giving best effort.

The criticisms have all been well deserved and any mention of "luck" is just plain lazy, there were plenty of instances where "luck" had nothing to do with poor decision making, a lack of preparation or attention were the true culprits for unfavorable outcomes.

Cheer when things go well, cheer when the effort is there but the result is less than desired, but when criticism is warranted don't tell me it was "bad luck".

4 points
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Roadrunner23's picture

June 06, 2022 at 08:29 am

Losing Bakhtiari almost immediately after signing that huge contract and then losing Elton Jenkins were just devastating to the offense.

What a terrific job by Matt LaFleur and steno keeping the train on the tracks during the regular season.

The playoff loss to the 49ers at home was a crushing loss especially after that first drive where the Packers went right down the field scored a touchdown. Then the offense was driving again and Lewis fumbled the ball killing that drive. And then of course the horrific special teams play!

The Packers have found so many Excruciatingways

Oh what could have been…again 

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blondy45's picture

June 06, 2022 at 09:09 am

MLF and his position coaches deserve the lion's share of credit for the Packer's sucess for the past 3 seasons. Each player had to know his assignment & had to prepare each week before each game. Whether the player was the starter or the backup, he had to be prepared by his coaches. Each player had to be part of the team's plan for each game. Each player had to give his all for the team each week.

MLF, Gute, & company have done a great job of developing a formidable roster for the past 3 years. Just look in our own division. Have the Vikings, Lions, & Bears developed formidable teams with the same salary cap and better draft picks every year? NO! The winning records comes from the organizational superiority, not just Rodgers being great in the regular season. Recently when Packers have had failures in the post season, the game plan, special team's failure, lack of execution, or QB's tunnel vision proved fatal. Once again having the MVP is fantastic, but winning the Super Bowl takes more than an MVP. It takes a team prepared, a team focused on their assignments, a team that is unselfish, a team that is not reliant on just the QB. The KEY here is it takes a total TEAM effort. The latest playoff losses have lacked the team effort to win.

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Tundraboy's picture

June 06, 2022 at 09:32 am

Somewhat ironically, when you revisit all the injuries to the offensive line, it's nothing short of miraculous but to lose at the very end with the reshuffle being such a factor, and self-inflicted still lingers. I think it lit a fire under Yosh for sure.

With all that said, I'm so looking forward to this year.

3 points
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splitpea1's picture

June 06, 2022 at 11:19 am

MLF has received plenty of accolades for his regular season performance, and deserved so. He will face some new challenges and variables on offense this season--that's for sure. Right now the strength of this team seems tilted towards the defense, which to me is a welcome development.

But the post-season journey has to be completed successfully at some point with a MVP quarterback at the helm and two consecutive #1 seeds for him to be considered a great coach. The last two playoff losses have been devastating, and there's no way it can be sugarcoated.

LaFleur has hired two great assistants in Barry and Bisaccia, so those two phases of the game are well on their way to being straightened out. Now it's up to him to make the right calls and adjustments on offense while stressing that Rodgers find the open receivers come crunch time in the playoffs.

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TarynsEyes's picture

June 06, 2022 at 11:40 am

Yes, by all means, let's not underappreciate MLFs ability to get outcoached yearly when the playoff win is most important to have a successful 'journey' come to fruition. Yes, let's list again all the excuses, ahem, pardon me, reasons for the yearly collapse of a team that cannot get out of its own way regardless of the advantage ( home-field, #1 seed) obtained from regular-season success, Yes, I absolutely appreciate the consistency of this team, whether by way of the HC being outcoached and a QB who disappears in playoff games to ensure that the season ends on sour notes yearly. I appreciate the lapses by HC, QB, etc, that keep me from celebrating a journey of total success and eliminating the next day's awakening with euphoria. Yes, too many fail to appreciate how hard it must be to not achieve the final victory. Hat's off to MLF and company and their 3 in-a-row successful failure.

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lou's picture

June 06, 2022 at 05:55 pm

Based on 13 wins 3 straight seasons it is hard to be negative. My only real gripe would be that he has to play Rodgers and the offensive line starters more in the preseason to avoid having to tell everyone to relax after getting blown out in openers.

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jlc1's picture

June 07, 2022 at 01:20 pm

Worth noting that MLF now has, for the first time, a two game losing streak. He also has a two game losing streak in the post-season. So let's hope the Pack comes out swinging, unlike last year. Otherwise MLF will be saddled with a three game losing streak, a two game regular season losing streak and that two game post season losing streak. Hey Matt what have you done for me lately?

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