LaFleur-Hackett plan: Run the ball, then let Aaron Rodgers 'go play'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Tennessee Titans fielded the NFL's seventh-most prolific running game last season with Matt LaFleur as the playcaller. A year before, the Jacksonville Jaguars led the NFL in rushing yards per game with Nathaniel Hackett as the playcaller.

Those two coaches are now in charge of the Green Bay Packers' offense for 2019.

LaFleur, the first-year head coach, and his new offensive coordinator, Hackett, have a dynamic quarterback in Aaron Rodgers to go along with it.

Make no mistake about it, LaFleur knows his tenure -- at least in the beginning -- will be defined by Rodgers' play, but that doesn't mean he and Hackett can't incorporate what they've done in the running game.

"I think anytime you can take as much off the quarterback as possible that only helps them out in the long run," LaFleur said Thursday in an interview on ESPN Milwaukee radio. "Certainly Aaron's got incredible talent and we're going to definitely showcase that talent.

"But I just think in your early downs the more you can stay balanced and keep the defense offbalance and keep them guessing whether we're going to run the ball or pass the ball, I think that it opens up opportunities for big plays down the field and then when you get to the known passing situations, whether it's a third down or a two-minute drive, then you've got to let the guy go play. I'm certainly excited because you're talking about one of the greatest ever and his talent just speaks for himself."

Running backs Aaron Jones, who led the NFL in yards per attempt with 5.47, and Jamaal Williams, who finished the season strong after Jones' knee injury, would seemingly fit well with LaFleur's offense that's rooted in the Shanahan-McVay system. In Tennessee this past season, LaFleur rode Derrick Henry to 1,059 yards with 12 touchdowns plus Dion Lewis (517 yards), and the Titans averaged 126.4 yards per game. In Jacksonville in 2017, Hackett featured rookie running back Leonard Fournette to 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as the Jaguars posted a league-best 141.4 rushing yards per game.

"It really started more in Washington when we fully branched out into all the formations, the moving parts, tying the run game to the pass game, all the play-action, and then even the dropbacks to mix it in with different styles of quarterbacks, whether it was doing it with the zone read, run-game play-action or doing it with inside and outside zone play-actions," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan explained recently. "I always watched my dad and was with Gary Kubiak my whole life, so I always loved watching outside zone and that's what I wanted to build everything off of."

"It goes back to my dad, who worked for the Niners and used West Coast terminology. You're a product of your environment and when you get your opportunities it becomes your own."

While LaFleur and Hackett never worked together, they come from the same environment. His dad, Paul, was one of the early generation West Coast coaches, having coached under Bill Walsh.

LaFleur will call the offense but will rely heavily on Hackett's playcalling experience. It's possible that LaFleur won't even hire a quarterbacks coach because he and Hackett will be so hands on. LaFleur did not retain quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti from former coach Mike McCarthy's staff.

"Certainly I want to be in that quarterback room as much as possible and the goal is to be there all the time," LaFleur said on ESPN Milwaukee. "I realize as the head coach there's going to be things that come up that you have to take care of, but I entrust that [Hackett] and I have the same vision for the quarterback and we'll be on the same page."

LaFleur said he has had "multiple conversations" with Rodgers since he got the job early last week. It's not known if Hackett has been in contact with the quarterback yet, but given how much LaFleur raved about Hackett's organizational skills, it wouldn't be a surprise if that conversation has already occurred.

"He's so organized, and that's one thing I really valued in him," LaFleur said in the radio interview. "He's got experience as an NFL playcaller so he knows what's it like. I thought he did an incredible job in Jacksonville despite what may have happened this past season. There was a lot of adversity there that he had to fight through.

"We've got similar backgrounds in the fact that he's a coach's kid. He's been around the profession his whole life, and he's got a lot of the same influences that I have. I just thought it was a great fit. I've never worked with him, so there's certainly going to be a learning curve there."