Anytime a team makes a change at head coach, the first season with the new coach is always met with skepticism. How the new coach can handle the players, how the new scheme fits with the existing roster, how positional coaches can connect with players, and on and on.
The 2019 Green Bay Packers have an opportunity to blow expectations out of the water next season, eliminating any talks of doubt before the first snap of the regular season.
First-time head coach Matt LaFleur will be tasked with reigning in a team that grossly underperformed in 2018, and that uptick in performance will all be tied to Aaron Rodgers, as any fair-weather fan knows.
When Mike McCarthy was brought in, he was known as an offensive guru, well-versed in the West Coast offense and a good fit for Packer personnel. When Rodgers took the helm after Brett Favre unceremoniously asked out, the QB-HC combination became the deadliest in the league for countless years.
Flash forward to last season, and even a year or two before that, the connection had seemingly grown stale between the two. Play calling and its creative factor that made it stand out from the rest of the league had become stagnant, falling to the wayside in terms of opportunistic calls.
It got to the point where Rodgers was commonly calling plays in the huddle after hearing what McCarthy had radioed in, showing the level of discord between the two. Irreparable as it may have seemed, the two kept the storm under wraps until other players confirmed those hunches.
Where LaFleur fits into this equation is interesting, as his youthfulness may present roadblocks for both he and Rodgers to overcome. Only being four years older than the quarterback, LaFleur will need to gain the star’s trust early on, instill the play-calling philosophies in him from the get-go while learning from Rodgers’ tendencies, which will help in formulating game plans.
Bringing in Nathaniel Hackett, who is most known for the impressive game plans that helped form Blake Bortles into an above-average signal caller (when he truly is far from it), will be an underrated aspect of returning Rodgers to MVP-caliber play.
Hackett, who had both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon at his disposal in Jacksonville, relies on a heavier run schemes than most coordinators, which works two-fold for Green Bay. This will help incorporate Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams into the game plan more, which in turn will help keep Rodgers on his feet and subsequently healthy.
Run-pass option plays were the bread and butter for Green Bay with McCarthy, and those should make an emphatic return to the Cheesehead playbook come 2019.
So how does all of this play into being an underdog, a role that this team or its fanbase has not been familiar with for a while?
Quite simply, the connection between Rodgers and LaFleur will not happen overnight, and the play style of Rodgers and how he carries himself in the huddle and on the field can rub pundits and fans alike the wrong way, to the point where 2019 may be predicted by some as being a regrouping year that yet again wastes a year of AR’s prime.
But with the weapons that Rodgers has had at his disposal over the years, a new coaching staff is such a small hurdle to overcome, as he has had to do more with less than most should have to.
LaFleur’s mindset, while intuitive and up to speed with the NFL’s offensive gameplay, will be stark in contrast to what Rodgers has ran in the past, simply because it is not exactly what he has ever ran. On a relatively consistent basis, quarterbacks are asked to forget what they learned the previous week or season due to schematic differences or coaching changes, and Rodgers will sit in both of these categories going into 2019.
A big aspect of McCarthy being let go was his failure to change with the times in the league, an aspect that has helped LaFleur rise through the ranks so quickly due to his evolving offensive philosophies.
The marriage between the new coaching staff and Rodgers will be a story that dominates the mini camp and preseason wires, one that will continuously evolve until both are satisfied with the team’s progress. The team’s personnel will look different than what it is now, which will go hand-in-hand with the new schemes instill for next season.
Underdog is not a commonly-mentioned word in Titletown, unless it refers to any team that comes into Lambeau for a Packers home game. The team, while stubborn to accept it in the beginning, should embody it and use it as motivation to make 2019 better than what most are picking it to be.
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23