INDIANAPOLIS -- Aaron Rodgers might have to reconsider what the word “can” means when it comes to the plays his coach calls.
Under Mike McCarthy, that word might have been preceded by the word “trash," which is what Rodgers did with a significant percentage of plays called by his former head coach with the Green Bay Packers.
Under Matt LaFleur, the word means the veteran quarterback has the option of running one of two plays called, which might not give Rodgers quite as much pre-snap freedom.
“We traditionally haven’t had a whole lot of audibles, per se, in our offense,” the new Packers coach said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “Not to say that that’s going to be the way we’re going forward because, again, we’re going to build it our way. We try to give the quarterback as many tools as possible. There’s going to be a lot of playcalls where there’s two plays called.”
LaFleur calls those “cans.”
As in, he “can” switch to the other play.
“That’s always been a part of our offense -- the offenses that I’ve been a part of -- especially more in the last four years,” LaFleur said. “It’s about trying to maximize your plays and try to get to premium-opportunity plays. If we’ve got a shell ‘can’ on, meaning versus two-high [safeties], we’re going to run it, and versus one-high we’re going to throw it. That’s some of the stuff that we’re going to look for and try to give our guys -- again, it’s about putting our guys in the best position to have success. That’s going to be a big part of our offense moving forward.”
It's impossible to know exactly where and when Rodgers changed what McCarthy called, but at one point last season the coach said it happened at a rate between 15 and 20 percent. That was the day after the Packers’ 31-17 loss at New England on Nov. 4.
There also has been enough anecdotal evidence to suggest it was both highly prevalent and, at times, problematic. Rodgers also criticized the offensive plan after one game last season, a 22-0 victory over the Bills in Week 4, a game in which the Packers totaled 423 yards, their season high to that point.
“It might be more than 20 percent that he’s canning to the other play,” LaFleur said. “We’ll have to see where it goes in terms of giving him freedom to, if he sees something, to totally erase what’s been called and get to something else.”
Quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, whose history with Rodgers as a Packers assistant coach (2014-17) makes him well aware of how often the quarterback changed calls, said last week that he wasn’t sure whether Rodgers would be able to take a similar approach.
“We’re not far enough into this thing to be able to communicate that just clearly enough yet,” Getsy said.
While team president Mark Murphy told ESPN on Tuesday that Rodgers will need to “embrace” LaFleur’s coaching and his offense, the first-year head coach said Wednesday that he did not feel the need to take a deep dive into whatever issues affected the Rodgers-McCarthy pairing, which produced a Super Bowl title, two MVPs for Rodgers and a run of eight consecutive playoff appearances (2009-16) until it soured at the end.
“That doesn’t bother me what happened last year, to be honest with you,” LaFleur said. “To me, it’s about what we can do moving forward, the relationship that I can develop with him, that our staff can develop with him is going to be what’s critical moving forward. So to me, as long as -- just like [general manager Brian Gutekunst] and my relationship -- as long as that communication’s always there and it’s clear, open and honest, I think you can accomplish whatever you want to together. So I’m not going to delve too much into what happened in the past. He’s had a hell of a career up to this point. For me, it’s just about what can we do moving forward.
“I know this: When I talk to him, the guy wants to win. I think he’s at the point of his career where he’s starting to think about his legacy and what he’s going to leave. The only way you can do that is you better win a world championship. That’s the goal. We’re always going to strive for that. I think that’s where he’s at in his career.”
Brett Favre was at a similar point when McCarthy was hired in 2006. Favre was coming off his worst season, one in which he threw a career-high 29 interceptions during a 4-12 season. McCarthy successfully reined in an at-times stubborn quarterback. Two years later, the Packers went 13-3, and McCarthy and Favre were in the NFC Championship Game.
LaFleur’s charge with Rodgers, 35, is similar.
“When you’re dealing with these older guys, there’s going to be things that they’ve had a lot of success with, that they feel really comfortable with,” LaFleur said. “And then there’s going to be some things where they’ve got what we call scars of where, hey, maybe they’ve tried this play or a certain play and it hasn’t worked out. It’s just like when you go to a restaurant and you order something and get food poisoning. Are you going to order that same thing again? Probably not, you know? But we’ve just got to try to work it in as best we can and try to reframe how they see and Aaron how he sees certain things that we feel like gives us the best chance to win.”