It's up to Matt LaFleur to create big plays for Packers without big additions

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even before Matt LaFleur began the review of his first season as the Green Bay Packers coach, he knew what he would see: an offense that, while proficient for most of the year, lacked punch.

“If you look back at last season, I know that one area that we really need to improve upon is creating more explosive plays,” LaFleur conceded in a recent interview on ESPN Wisconsin radio.

Notice LaFleur said “creating more explosive plays” and not “finding more explosive players.”

That’s LaFleur-speak 101.

Just as he did throughout his rookie season, LaFleur looked within first and foremost.

Maybe behind closed doors he begged general manager Brian Gutekunst for more explosive players on offense, but all he got was journeyman receiver Devin Funchess in free agency plus second-round running back AJ Dillon and third-round tight end Josiah Deguara in the draft.

Since the Packers didn’t add any proven playmakers, it’s worth wondering how they’re going to improve.

“It does start with the playcalling, maybe taking a few more chances to try to help generate those plays down the field,” said LaFleur, putting the onus on himself. “Typically, if you’re getting explosives, you’ve got a much better chance at scoring points.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Packers:

  • Ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, which measures success on a per-play basis.

  • Ranked 20th in total explosive plays (runs of at least 10 yards and passes of at least 20) with 133.

  • Ranked 18th in percentage of total plays being explosive at 9.6%.

Yet it wasn’t for a lack of attempts.

Aaron Rodgers had the NFL’s fifth-highest rate of pass attempts thrown 15 yards downfield last season at 24% and the third-highest rate of attempts thrown 20 yards downfield at 16%. Both rates were the highest of any single season in Rodgers’ career, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

If Rodgers must rely on a similar cast -- one that he said recently has progressed even without in-person workouts during the virtual offseason program -- then what is LaFleur to do?

“As a playcaller, you’re constantly learning,” he said. “Every game is a new learning experience. Certainly, there’s some things that I’ve looked at hard myself with the help of our offensive staff, just making sure we avoid certain situations so we don’t get ourselves in trouble.”

Immediately after the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss at the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers pointed to an area of LaFleur’s offense that never took off: the up-tempo package that they practiced extensively in training camp but rarely employed. Day after day in camp, they broke the huddle quickly, raced to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball with plenty of time still left on the play clock. Come September, that practically disappeared from their repertoire.

“That’s a product of personnel and the way that installation went,” Rodgers said after the season. “The scheme is there. The scheme and what Matt and his staff put together every week was fantastic. The execution and the moving pieces will continue to improve.”

Given that the personnel is largely the same, that means the way LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett devise and install the offense must change.

“This has been a great opportunity to go back and really fine-tune everything, go through everything last year that was good, what didn’t work, what we want to add to it, what we want to take out,” Rodgers said. “I think Matt and Nathaniel have done a really good job of going through those and keeping me in the loop about conversations. We’ve had a number of conversations about these installs, and I feel really good about where they’re at.”

Lest anyone thinks the virtual nature of the offseason program has hindered that should listen to something else Rodgers said.

“The virtual stuff has been at a slower pace, and I think it really helps everybody because there’s a lot of emphasis on the details,” Rodgers said. “For a second-year offense now, for the coaches to be able to go back through during their offseason and really take a deep dive into the film and the scheme and the playbook, I think has really been helpful. Matt and I and Hackett and [passing game coordinator] Luke Getsy have been meeting a lot about all those installs and really fine-tuning them and making sure they’re all in order by the time they get to the squad.”