GREEN BAY — :03 … :02 … :01 …
For all those Green Bay Packers fans who’ve been panicking — or getting irritated — as they watched the play clock wind down and impatiently waited for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to snap the ball this season, Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur have a message for you: We know.
Yes, Rodgers and LaFleur realize it’s an issue, and they plan on fixing it — during the offseason. For now, they’re just going to try to think on their feet more quickly, get the wordy play calls out of their mouths more swiftly and limit the number of delay-of-game penalties during the Packers’ final five regular-season games, starting with Sunday’s meeting with the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Neither Rodgers nor LaFleur wants the process — LaFleur radioing his play-call into Rodgers via the helmet communication system, Rodgers relaying the call to the rest of the offense in the huddle, and then Rodgers stepping to the line of scrimmage and trying to gather as much pre-snap intel as he can about the defense before the clock strikes :00 — to take as long as it does. But because LaFleur’s offensive verbiage is more long-winded than previous coach Mike McCarthy’s terminology, it’s been an ongoing issue.
How much of an issue? According to NFLPenalties.com, the Packers have more delay-of-game flags (nine) than any team in the league. They’ve had at least one delay penalty in seven of their 11 games this season, and they were flagged twice for delay of game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 27 and against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 10. They didn’t commit any delay-of-game penalties during last Sunday night’s 37-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, their first delay-free game since Oct. 20 against the Oakland Raiders.
“We’re glad we didn’t have any delay of games (against the 49ers),” Rodgers deadpanned this week, “but I don’t think they’re giving out too many ribbons for that lately.”
Rodgers started wearing a play-calling wristband during the first month of the season to help expedite the process — so LaFleur can simply tell him the play number and save the entire call from being said twice, once by the coach and once by the quarterback — but the accessory only holds so many plays and other variables — including LaFleur’s preference for changing personnel groupings frequently — also have created tempo challenges.
“There’s some long calls in the offense,” Rodgers said. “You look down at the wristband and there’s run checks to passes, there’s passes checking to run. There’s 15-syllable in plays. That’s the way this offense is. The play’s got to come in, it’s got to get to me, we’ve got to have the right personnel in, I’ve got to get us lined up and make the right check. There’s a lot going on there.
“We’re trying to get it in, break (the huddle) and get to the line as quickly as possible. There’s also the realistic part of running three different guys on the field and three off and getting everyone on the same page, so we’re trying to make it work.“
LaFleur’s calls are often wordy because he’s essentially calling two plays some of the time — the play he wants run, and what he calls a “can” play, which Rodgers “can” run if the defense gives him a look that makes the original call untenable. The nature of the offense also means LaFleur has a little bit less time to decide which play he wants to call because he knows time is of the essence.
“I don’t think anybody wants to create long play calls. Shoot, it’s hard (for me) to spit it out to the quarterback. And it leaves more room for error. So that’s not the intent,” LaFleur explained following the Packers’ Thanksgiving Day practice Thursday afternoon. “The intent is just to try to clearly communicate so there are no misunderstandings out there, there are no busts, so guys can go out and execute. But to your point, obviously the longer the calls, the harder it is to get up and get going.”
LaFleur, who called plays as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator last year, acknowledged it has been a bigger issue than he might’ve expected, and the wordy calls are compounded by Rodgers’ ability to diagnose defenses’ intentions at the line of scrimmage before the snap and his desire to gather as much information as he can before center Corey Linsley snaps him the ball.
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“I think it is obvious in those third-down situations where there’s a lot more going on, where there’s moving parts,” LaFleur explained. “I think we also have to be mindful of what we’re asking, in terms of how much motion (is being run) and whatever it is we’re going to do at the line of scrimmage or whether we’ve got a long play call with a ‘can.’ or what we’re asking our guys to do.”
However, LaFleur admitted he can’t make any meaningful changes to how the Packers operate offensively until after the season is over. Whether there’s an abbreviated language or a shorthand he could use, or if he wants to let Rodgers call more plays at the line of scrimmage as he did under McCarthy.
“The only time it becomes a concern to me is if we’re getting penalties. Then obviously it’s a problem. Because we never want that to occur,” LaFleur explained. “But I do think that’s something that we’re going to take a hard look at when we get to the offseason — how we can speed up that process and how we can make it better. But I think at this point in time, it’s always hard to make wholesale changes at this time of the year. It just is.
“I’m certainly not making an excuse or anything, but that’s something that we will look at in the offseason. How can you do things better? And that’s not just with that. That’s with everything — every facet. How can you do it better? And to Aaron’s point, there are some long play-calls. There’s no doubt about it. And that definitely bogs down the time. So we’ll look at other ways to try to speed that up as well.”
Bryan Bulaga, who left last Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers after just nine plays because of a right knee injury, practiced on a limited basis, one day after LaFleur said he wasn’t ruling the veteran right tackle out for this week.
“We’ll wait and see throughout the week, but I thought he looked OK,” LaFleur said afterward. “It doesn’t surprise me. He’s a pretty tough guy. I know if he’s able to go, he will.”
If Bulaga can’t go, the Packers appear poised to start Billy Turner at right tackle and bring Lucas Patrick off the bench to fill Turner’s usual right guard spot. But if Bulaga can play, that juggling won’t be necessary.
“I know all the positions except for center, so I’ll be prepared if my number is called to play right tackle,” Turner said. “It’s a little bit different mentality and mindset as far as certain techniques coming into play, but at the end of the day, it’s the same goal and the same objective and that’s to keep ‘12’ upright and win the football game.”
The Packers added safety Darnell Savage to the injury report with a back injury that apparently cropped up Thursday. … Tight end Jimmy Graham (calf) and safety Will Redmond (foot) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday. … The Packers did not announce the addition of veteran tackle Jared Veldheer, whom they claimed on waivers after he ended his retirement and was released off the reserve/retired list by the New England Patriots earlier in the week. LaFleur declined comment on the addition of Veldheer — “I don’t think anything’s official yet, so I’ll refrain from that for now,” he said — but did say it would be the first time he’s ever coached a player who just came out of retirement. … LaFleur was planning to spend Thanksgiving with wife BreAnne, the couple’s two sons and his in-laws. “We’ll see what time I get out of here,” he said after practice. … Asked for his favorite Thanksgiving dish, LaFleur revealed he’s not a big fan of turkey. “I’m more of a steak guy, personally, but I’ll eat turkey,” he said. “I’ll suck it up and eat some.”