GREEN BAY — More than 48 hours since the Green Bay Packers coach and the team’s biggest star had disagreed — publicly, in separate conversations with reporters — on the value of joint practices, the rookie coach nailed his response. And he defused a potentially troublesome issue brilliantly.
To recap: Matt LaFleur, shortly after the second of the two practices with the Houston Texans wrapped up on Tuesday, had raved about their value and said he was hoping to have another session — or perhaps two of them — next summer. Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, said shortly thereafter that he was “glad it’s over” and that he “wouldn’t mind if they didn’t do it for another 14 years” — a reference to how the Packers hadn’t had joint practices since his rookie year of 2005 with the Buffalo Bills.
Rodgers’ issue was that the matchup meant running vanilla schemes against the Texans’ defense, and he also was perturbed that a full-speed kickoff return drill led to Trevor Davis, the team’s top return man, suffering a stinger that forced Davis to miss the preseason opener.
That LaFleur and Rodgers didn’t see eye-to-eye on the subject made for terrific next-day fodder for Rodgers’ critics and sports radio shows, especially with the backdrop of Rodgers’ sometimes public complaints about LaFleur’s predecessor, Mike McCarthy.
But if it really bothered — or influenced — LaFleur, he showed no signs of that after Thursday night’s 28-26 victory over the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field.
Asked after the game whether he’d had a conversation with Rodgers about his remarks, LaFleur paused and deadpanned, “I don’t talk to him anymore.” After clarifying that he was “just joking,” LaFleur struck a balance between acknowledging Rodgers’ issues with the practices while also making it clear he and general manager Brian Gutekunst found great value in them.
“You know what? There’s a lot of things that a lot of players don’t like about training camp. And from his perspective, hey I can understand where he’s coming from in some regard,” LaFleur said. “Because (the Texans defense only ran) about four different coverages, so it’s not overly complicated. It’s not like (Packers defensive coordinator Mike) Pettine throwing everything at you. So, I get it from his perspective.
“But at the same time, there’s 10 other guys on the field with him on each play, and it was great for us, especially when you talk about our run game getting some different looks to go against. I always respect his opinion, just like I do all our players. But I do still think it was beneficial for us.
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“The one thing I will comment on that I thought he was dead right on, was when you look at the kickoff (drill). (The Texans) ramped up their intensity level and we didn’t match it — and it looked a little like we got it taken to us a little bit. That’s something that, moving forward, I probably wouldn’t do again, those full cover kickoff drills.”
In an effort to get their sometimes less-than-enthusiastic fans to be louder and more engaged in the proceedings, the Packers test-drove a new sound effect during Thursday’s game: A loud fog horn each time the Texans faced a third down.
The booming horn was panned on social media by those in attendance and those watching the television broadcast. Packers director of public affairs Aaron Popkey said Friday the club is still considering game-day engagement elements, and LaFleur acknowledged he and the team would like a more boisterous crowd than the club has seen in recent years.
“Hey, I just want anything that’s going to get fans out of their seat and make it a true homefield advantage. I don’t care what it is,” LaFleur said. “If you’ve got an idea, we’ll take it.
“It’s something we’ve all been talking about — how do we get this to be a tremendous homefield advantage and get the crowd on their feet and make it just a nightmare for opposing offenses? Because I know this: When I was in Atlanta in 2016 and there were a bunch of Packer fans there, we were going on the silent count in our home stadium. And to me, that’s the standard.
“When we show up other places and overtake those stadiums, I think it’s intimidating for the opponent. And how can we make that same environment when teams come in here?”