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Cowboys scouting report: Breaking down the Packers offensive scheme

The Packers have a bright future, but the playoffs are all about the present

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Packers went through a bit of a retooling process this offseason, finally moving on from Aaron Rodgers after years of drama that always seemed to be blamed on someone other than the mercurial quarterback. The organization turned the page and handed the keys to Jordan Love, for whom they controversially traded up to draft in 2020 with Rodgers still on the roster.

There were some growing pains, as one might expect, but Love and the offense started clicking and finished as one of the best offenses in football over their last eight games. Now, Love leads the 9-8 Packers into Dallas for his playoff debut. He’ll try to do something no other team has done all year: beat the Cowboys on their home turf.

Love isn’t the only youngster leading this offense, though. The Packers don’t have a single receiver over the age of 24, and three of the four tight ends on this roster are rookies. Their most senior starting offensive lineman is guard Elgton Jenkins, who is 28 years old. This offense definitely puts the green in Green Bay.

Working in their favor, though, is a head coach with plenty of experience. Matt LaFleur may be young by coaching standards, but he’s in his fifth season leading the Packers. LaFleur replaced Mike McCarthy, who he’ll be facing this week. While that makes for plenty of savory storylines, the reality is both coaches have had success in their new jobs. McCarthy has achieved a level of consistency the franchise hasn’t seen since the 90’s, while LaFleur won 13 games in each of his first three seasons.

Like McCarthy, LaFleur calls his own plays on offense and is usually pretty good at it. LaFleur comes from the Shanahan style of offense, with his first NFL coaching stint coming as an offensive assistant on the Texans under then head coach Gary Kubiak. The offensive coordinator at the time was Kyle Shanahan, and current Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel also worked as an offensive assistant.

LaFleur then joined Mike Shanahan’s staff at Washington, which included a who’s who of modern coaching stars like the younger Shanahan, McDaniel, Bobby Slowik, Sean McVay, and later on Kevin O’Connell. LaFleur spent a brief stint at Notre Dame before joining the Falcons under Dan Quinn, reuniting with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Then, when McVay became the Rams head coach, LaFleur became their offensive coordinator. A year later, LaFleur left for the same title in Tennessee as part of Mike Vrabel’s inaugural staff, with the bonus of getting to call plays for the first time in his career. That was enough to land him the Packers job, where he enjoyed immediate success.

Looking at LaFleur’s background, it’s easy to figure out how this offense operates. The Cowboys have seen variations of it all year long, having faced the Jets (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett held the same title in Green Bay under LaFleur), Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, and Dolphins.

At its core, this is an offense built around the run game, though that doesn’t always mean it’s a run-heavy offense. When Rodgers was under center, LaFleur called for passing plays on early downs at a 54.7% rate; that’s down to 51.1% this year, a sizable drop The running scheme is built around the wide outside zone, and the passing game is married to that; this means a ton of play-action that, upfront, looks exactly like a run play.

On top of that, LaFleur throws a bunch of shifts and motion into the mix to confuse defenses. It’s nothing revolutionary - in fact, the only three teams with a higher motion rate than Green Bay this year are the teams led by McDaniel, McVay, and Shanahan - but it works. The scheme also has a penchant for making things very easy on the quarterback, which is why it wasn’t all that surprising to see Love take off after a few months of getting comfortable in the role.

And get comfortable he has. Over the last eight weeks, Love ranked second in both EPA/play and CPOE. His accuracy improved by a large margin, and Love also began to let it rip more frequently. In fact, he leads the league in pass attempts beyond 20 yards downfield. However, he’s only completing 39.5% of these passes and has a 7.8% turnover worthy play rate when going deep. Still, Love’s confidence is evident.

As great as Love has been as he enters the postseason, though, he’s never faced a defense quite like the Cowboys. Their combination of pass rush and ball skills presents a very unique challenge that seems, at least on paper, like a poor fit for a young quarterback feeling himself. It’s also worth noting that Love’s four worst games this year, by PFF player grade, all came on the road. Meanwhile, three of his five best games came at home with the two outliers against familiar divisional foes in the rematch.

It’s not hard to envision a path to success for Dan Quinn’s group against these Packers. They’re well tested against the scheme by now, and they certainly have the ability to fluster inexperienced quarterbacks like Love. But there also exists the possibility that Love elevates his game with the higher stakes and rises to the occasion. That chess match could be the deciding factor between whether this is a blowout win for the Cowboys or a close, competitive game.

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