GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Friday, after the Green Bay Packers come off the field following their final practice of the week in advance of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, coach Matt LaFleur will sit down with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and go over how he envisions the game will start.
They will review the plays they ran in practice and the ones they discussed in the film room all week.
LaFleur will then give Rodgers a list of plays and ask his quarterback to denote which ones he likes best.
They will reconvene the next morning, and LaFleur will present his quarterback with the opening script of plays.
The process is not exactly new for either party, but it’s new for them as a coach-quarterback tandem. Rodgers’ previous coach, Mike McCarthy, approached games in a similar manner. LaFleur did it last year when he called plays for the first time as the Titans' offensive coordinator and watched mentors Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan do it as well.
But LaFleur was reminded of just how quickly things can go off script in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. In his first game as Packers coach, his offense opened with minus-12 yards in the first quarter. It was the Packers’ fewest yards in any quarter in nearly 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We used a lot of plays from our ‘get-back-on-track’ menu, which is never a good thing,” LaFleur said after he reviewed the game film. “But we’ll look at everything. I’ll tell you this: I do think the effort’s there from our guys, and we’ve just got to continue to grind and work together to figure this thing out.”
The godfather of the West Coast offense, former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, became famous for his offensive scripts.
But former 49ers quarterback Steve Young told the Los Angeles Times they rarely got through the first 15 plays.
“Its primary purpose was to put people on notice the night before: ‘This is what we’re doing. This is where we’re headed. These are the things we’re going to be dialing up,’” Young told the newspaper. “It just got people focused on tactics and a plan.
“If we ran through the first 15, great. If we got three in, and all of a sudden it was third-and-15 and all heck breaks loose, then everybody knew … it wasn’t a cause for alarm that we didn’t run through the first 15.”
Most disciples of that system -- LaFleur’s tie is via Shanahan and his father, Mike, who worked for the 49ers in the early 1990s -- script plays in one form or another, and it’s usually 15 plays.
LaFleur takes it even further.
“I usually go about 20 and a lot of times you can’t even get all the way through that script in the first half,” LaFleur said in an interview this summer. “Those are, to me, more of the must-calls throughout the game. How many 10-play drives are there in this league? Typically if there are, there are third downs in there and you’ve got red zone, so you’re not necessarily running those plays in sequence.”
The process actually takes most of the week.
“As a quarterback, you’re in every day working through the plan with [the offensive staff] and any creative ideas you have, you bring them to the table,” Rodgers said before the season opener. “But it’s a very collaborative process, and it’s been good to kind of see the entirety of the offense in now and just kind of trying to figure out what we want to put in for this week.”
LaFleur calls the first 20 his “openers.” But the planning is very collaborative.
“If there’s stuff that [QB is] seeing throughout the week -- and we’ve done this with really every quarterback -- if there’s something you see that you think is going to be great, just let us know and we’ll take a look and see if we can implement that into the plan,” LaFleur said. “Typically, in regards to my past, a lot of the dialogue takes place during the week and come Friday, you’re on the same page.”
To LaFleur, it’s as much about throwing out plays the quarterback doesn’t believe in as it is including the ones that he does.
“If [a play] didn’t look good [in practice] or we really liked this, we’ll zero in on those because you can’t get every call actually called in a game,” LaFleur said. “You want to have answers for some of the different things the defense could potentially challenge you with, but we’ll have a pretty clear vision of -- I always want to know what are the plays you feel most comfortable with? Whatever those are, they’re typically in our openers. Those are the plays that will normally get called for sure.”
By the time the Packers’ work is done on Saturday, LaFleur and Rodgers will have reviewed the whole script and shared it with the entire offense.
“Usually what I would do is before we set the script … I would have him do is mark up the call sheet on Friday,” LaFleur said. “Then, I’ll take that home and set the script and then show him that on Saturday morning before we present it to the rest of the players.”
For an opposition standpoint, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he won’t spend a lot of time trying to predict the Packers’ opening script.
“The first 15 could change all the time,” Zimmer said. “We’re always aware of what they’ve done, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”