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While admitting he overstated Packers’ energy shortage, Matt LaFleur sees plenty of room for improvement

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lafleur photo 11-17

“I do think there’s still a lot more room for improvement. And it’s everybody,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday.

GREEN BAY — Upon further review, Matt LaFleur admitted Monday, his team’s energy level wasn’t quite as bad as he thought it had been in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s underwhelming 24-20 victory over Jacksonville.

But that doesn’t mean the Green Bay Packers second-year coach didn’t have plenty of other nits to pick with a win that pushed his team to 7-2 and into the driver’s seat for the NFC No. 1 playoff seed with seven games to play.

Speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, LaFleur copped to being a bit too harsh in his postgame critique of the players’ energy level, having called it “disturbing” and repeatedly emphasize that “we’ve got to be better” in that area.

“I think a lot of times, you get probably emotional after a game when things don’t go as well as you had planned,” LaFleur confessed. “After talking to a lot of people, I don’t know if it was necessarily as bad as maybe I made it out to be.”

Among those who didn’t think the energy was as problematic as his coach felt it was? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had been hyper critical of the team’s handling of the elements and energy level after a Nov. 1 loss to Minnesota at Lambeau Field. Rodgers pointed to the offense’s mistakes — his third interception of the season, Davante Adams’ fumble at the end of a catch — as well as the windy weather and Jacksonville’s eight-in-the-box, run-stuffing defense as being more troublesome than the players’ effort level.

“They have a lot of pride, they’ve played tough. They had a nice plan for us,” Rodgers explained. “The weather, I think, evens some things out a little bit because of the rain and the wind. And then we played uncharacteristic in a few areas. I obviously threw an interception, Davante fumbled, we gave up a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown. So there were some uncharacteristic things that happened.

“But I think the energy was really good, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”

While LaFleur admitted he oversold how bad the energy had been, he also insisted that it’s still an issue. The Packers play at Indianapolis next Sunday, then return to Lambeau Field for a Nov. 29 “Sunday Night Football” showdown with the Chicago Bears.

“I do think there’s still a lot more room for improvement. And it’s everybody,” LaFleur said. “It’s everybody on the sideline getting up for one another, giving the support, cheering on their teammates that are out on the field. But I really think a lot of our issues stem from lack of execution.

“Because if you look back and once you, again, get a chance to reflect and think about the week, I do think that our guys were having fun. I thought they were into it throughout the course of the week, bringing great energy, positive energy. And that’s what we need. We’ve got to continue to do that and at the same time still be critical and be real with yourself in terms of, ‘What do we have to work on?’”

On LaFleur’s to-do list were issues in each phase of the game.

On special teams, the problem was obvious: Keelan Cole’s 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. But JK Scott’s first punt, a 48-yarder after a three-and-out on the Packers’ opening possession, was low and allowed Cole to return it 18 yards to set up the Jaguars’ first points. Then came his 59-yarder that again lacked hang time and led to Cole taking it to the house.

“I think on both those punts, JK can do a better job. And I think he’d tell you the same,” LaFleur said. “I think JK has been a pretty darn good performer for us … but the one that got returned for a touchdown certainly it was a long punt that didn’t have quite the hang time we’re looking for. But, we have to be better in coverage. That’s no excuse to give up that big return. But we’ve got to do a much, much, much better job of covering.”

On defense, LaFleur was encouraged by the effort the unit gave but felt there too many plays where someone missed their assignment or missed a tackle, even with the defense getting a victory-clinching stop in the final seconds. With rookie sixth-round pick Jake Luton making his second NFL start, the Jaguars fed running back James Robinson, who finished with 109 yards on 23 carries.

“There were some really great things. I thought there were some moments where we did a great job of setting edges and playing our gap responsibilities and really swarming. That’s what we’re looking for,” LaFleur said. “But there were some other moments where we get a missed assignment in there and they get 12 yards on a play that you would like to only surrender 4 yards. Again, there was some good and there was a lot of stuff that we need to clean up.”

And on offense, LaFleur was displeased with the ineffectiveness on third-and-short. The Packers were 5 of 13 (38%) on third down and also failed on a fourth-and-3 play. On their third-and-3 or less, the Packers converted only twice in seven tries, plus the fourth-down failure. LaFleur also suggested that Rodgers might’ve opted for the secondary play call — what the Packers call “can” plays — too often on third-and-short.

“Certainly you’re always going to be critical and there’s a handful of plays that you’re going to wish you had back as a play-caller. No doubt about it. That happens every week,” LaFleur said. “So certainly there were a couple play calls I’d love to have back, and then there were some situations where we flat have to execute better.

“When you’re talking in those short-yardage situations, those are critical mistakes if people don’t execute their job the right way and do their 1/11th. Then you won’t convert. Because certainly we were not good enough in those situations. We had a lot of ‘em. So we’ve got to get better, got to be better.” I think we may have had too many ‘can’ plays in some of those instances, and that’s something we’re going to evaluate and make sure we do a better job of moving forward.”

Extra points

LaFleur would not confirm that wide receiver Allen Lazard will be activated off injured reserve on Wednesday and return to action against the Colts. “I would say it’s probably pretty promising,” he said. … LaFleur said the Packers are out of the NFL’s intensive COVID-19 protocols but that the team might keep some guidelines in place. “There’s certainly a lot of measures that we’re going to continue to move forward with in terms of how we go and conduct our business on a daily basis,” LaFleur said. “We know how important it is to have everybody available.” … Inside linebacker Krys Barnes and running back AJ Dillon remain on the reserve/COVID-19 list but LaFleur said he is “hoping to get them back.”

Photos: Packers' 2020 season so far in pictures


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