As a Packers fan there were a lot of positives to take out of the opening night win in Matt LaFleur’s coaching debut in Chicago. All wins over division rivals count the same, even when they’re profoundly ugly. The defense, in its second year with Mike Pettine and overhauled with six new starters from free agency and the Draft, is dead sexy. Nonetheless, several times game management issues that were a hallmark of the Mike McCarthy era reared their ugly heads, and these can easily swing close games and need to get ironed out:
What in tarnation were they doing throwing on 2nd and 5 trying to ice the clock?
After an Adrian Amos interception in the endzone, the Packers took over at a smidge under the two minute warning. On first down, Aaron Jones rushed for 5+ yards and the Bears took their first timeout with 1:53 remaining. On second down, Aaron Rodgers inexplicably threw a pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that fell incomplete and stopped the clock.
This was baffling on a number of levels. You can say that the Bears expected a run here and the Packers wanted to catch them off-guard, but that expectation was similarly true on first down and they notched off five yards.
The upside/downside proposition of throwing here was out of whack. Even if Valdes-Scantling got a first down on the play, the Packers still would’ve needed another one to fully ice the game without giving the ball back to the Bears, but an incompletion meant a clock stoppage. I know we’re not sitting here talking about it if the play works, but the decision was mind-boggling.
We’ll never know the answer to this but: If this play was an Aaron Rodgers audible, then you can understand why LaFleur was so intent this summer on limiting those decisions before eventually relenting.
Burning timeouts with disorganization and an egregious challenge.
LaFleur’s first challenge as an NFL head coach was a truly awful one. Taylor Gabriel caught a 15-yard pass on Jaire Alexander after minimal contact and LaFleur challenged a non-call for offensive pass interference. The standard for the new rule says that it needs to be “clear and obvious” pass interference (or lack thereof) for the call on the field to be reversed, and this circumstance was clearly and obviously not clear and obvious. To his credit, LaFleur told reporters he was “pretty upset” with himself over this blunder.
This wasn’t the only timeout the Packers burned. They used one in each half because the ball wasn’t going to be snapped before the play clock expired. On a dozen or more other plays, they either had to eat a delay of game penalty (which, by the way, is almost always preferable to squandering a timeout) or hastily snapped the ball for a busted play.
This was something that was endlessly frustrating during the McCarthy era.
When the play-clock approaches zero you are effectively providing the opposing defense with the traffic light to start races in Mario Kart. They see that it’s about to hit green and rev up and go. You put your offensive line at a considerable disadvantage when the defense has that knowledge of when the ball will be snapped. The Bears are too good to give that power to.
Once again it’s unknowable if these issues are with Rodgers waiting too long with his audible freedom. Further, there will understandably be growing pains for a new offensive scheme where Rodgers sat out the whole preseason. But it can’t happen with the frequency that it did. These are the things that swing matchups between teams with close talent levels. Your season can end because of them.
In fairness to LaFleur, Matt Nagy made some head-scratchers too. The Bears were doing things like not picking up first downs from 2nd and 1 or finding themselves needing 40 yards to get a first after a series of penalties. His decision not to kick a 50-yard field goal down 7-3 with 3:54 remaining in the fourth quarter on 4th and 10 could never be adequately explained. They abandoned the run.
Mitch Trubisky, who got a lot of MVP bets placed on him this offseason, was so bad you honestly wonder if they might need to start over at the QB position.
LaFleur and the Packers came out of last night with a win, but from an offensive game management perspective there is a lot to work on.