GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur might be one of the new guys in the NFL head-coaching fraternity, but the Green Bay Packers’ first-year coach said Tuesday he was on board with his coaching brethren when it came to their attempts to expand instant replay during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix.
With New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton leading the charge after a controversial missed call by officials in the NFC Championship Game almost certainly cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl, NFL head coaches had a lengthy coaches-only meeting on Monday to discuss instant replay.
According to Sports Illustrated, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid convinced the rest of the coaches to stay late and discuss the issue further, and by meeting’s end they’d voted 32-0 to add a so-called “sky judge” official in the booth to oversee “clear and obvious” mistakes on defensive and offensive pass interference, roughing the passer and hits on defenseless players.
While the eye-in-the-sky idea didn’t come to fruition, the coaches’ voices — including LaFleur’s — ended up being heard after all.
Early Tuesday afternoon, indications were the owners wouldn’t vote on the coaches’ proposal, reluctant to apply instant replay to judgment calls. Later, though, the owners reconvened and discussed ways to compromise with the coaches’ recommendations and wound up passing a rule change that will allow pass interference to be reviewed — both when it’s called, and on non-calls like the one that cost the Saints.
According to the league office, the rule change is for one year only, and “expands the reviewable plays in instant replay to include pass interference, called or not called on the field.” Coaches will be allowed to use their challenges on such calls during the game’s first 58 minutes, then the replay official in the booth will initiate replays in the final 2 minutes.
In the NFC title game, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman walloped Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on a play late in the game. No flag was thrown, and the Rams went on to win in overtime. Then, in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams didn’t get a pass interference call on a late pass to Brandin Cooks in the end zone.
“When it’s clear and obvious, sure you’d like to see them correct that no-call,” LaFleur told reporters at the annual NFL coaches breakfast Tuesday morning. “If that means putting a flag on the field, then that’s the right thing to do.”
LaFleur also said he was in favor of expanding overtime so each team would get a possession — even if the team with the ball first were to score a touchdown. But that measure was tabled until the owners’ next round of meetings in May, when it could be enacted only for playoff games.
LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta when the Falcons lost in overtime to Patriots in overtime in Super Bowl LI, as Tom Brady led New England to the game-winning touchdown on the opening possession of overtime and NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense never got the ball in OT.
“Being on the wrong side of things in the Super Bowl versus the Patriots, certainly we would have loved to have the opportunity to take the ball down and score,” LaFleur said. “Yeah, I’d like to see both teams get an opportunity.”
In 2014, then-head coach Mike McCarthy changed the weekly practice schedule in hopes of reversing the team’s bad injury luck. Instead of following the NFL’s traditional practice structure as he had his first eight seasons, in which teams practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then do a light walk-through on Saturday, McCarthy started the STAA program (Soft Tissue Activation and Application) on Fridays, when players would do yoga and have massages in an effort to reduce muscle pull injuries.
“I just think that’s the most comfortable and most efficient in terms of coaching,” LaFleur said. “If you do want to make an adjustment, then you have Saturday to do that. If you go through Friday practice and you don’t like something in your red zone, you still have time to adjust that and at least get walk-through in on Saturday and jog through some of that stuff. Whereas if you do that (i.e., practice) Saturday, to me you have to have your whole plan and everything done before Thursday because there’s no time to make an adjustment.”
LaFleur told reporters at breakfast he does intend to keep some elements of the STAA program, though.
“You have to look at that data,” LaFleur said. “Player workload is so important. The whole goal is to get them to Sunday and they’re peaking, that’s the goal. How do you do that, yet get all the work you need to get in in the practice setting. You absolutely 100 percent have to use that data and have people in place that know how to not only digest that but also give us all the necessary information so that we can go forward and plan practice.”
LaFleur also said the team plans to practice against another team in training camp, something the Packers haven’t done since 2005 when Mike Sherman was the head coach and the Buffalo Bills game to Green Bay to practice with his team. The practices would likely be right before the preseason opener. “I’ve done it the last two years,” LaFleur said. “You can get so much good-on-good work. And quite honestly, you can practice your guys and not have to play them as long in the preseason game.” The team will continue its Family Night event, however. … Team president Mark Murphy confirmed to reporters at the meetings the Packers are in talks to play a preseason game this summer in Canada against the Oakland Raiders. Murphy said the game would likely be in Saskatchewan or Winnipeg. “We're in discussions. This would be the Raiders' home game,” Murphy told Packers.com. “Still kind of up in the air. But it's a possibility that we would either play most likely in Saskatchewan or Winnipeg.”