By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Packers’ Adams excited by change; New coach LaFleur filling out staff
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Super Bowl’s safest bet in recent years is that New England will be playing in it.
The next-safest bet is that Tom Brady will be the MVP.
The Patriots’ quarterback is the NFL’s greatest player of all time. That notion is neither novel nor likely to spark any heated debate from its dwindling number of detractors.
What can you say? Brady owns all the records and all the wins – in games both big and small – that a fan could ever hope for. A victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday would add another chapter to one of the NFL’s greatest stories ever told.
It also would further the view that head coach Bill Belichick is the NFL’s greatest coach of all time.
In Green Bay, Packers’ fans would be quick to counter with the Vince Lombardi-Bart Starr coach-QB tandem as the greatest.
Certainly, Lombardi-Starr was the most dominant combination of its era. The same could be said of the Steelers’ Chuck Knoll and Terry Bradshaw in the ‘70s and the 49ers’ Bill Walsh and Joe Montana of the ‘80s and the ‘90s.
Arguments aside, the Patriots’ Belichick and Brady do the NFL a great service each season. They remind fans that their team can be a perennial Super Bowl contender if it has three elements: An exceptional coach and an ultra-talented QB surrounded by a seemingly endless parade of competent, talented teammates.
Whether the Rams’ Sean McVay and Jared Goff ever approach Belichick-Brady status remains to be seen. That duo begins to carve out its legacy on Sunday in Atlanta. A victory over the Patriots, especially as 2 ½ point underdogs, would be a terrific first step down the path of greatness.
So what does this mean for the Packers?
In a word, it means hope.
If the Rams can go from 4-12 to a Super Bowl berth in three seasons, the Packers definitely can go from 6-9-1 to an appearance in next year’s big game.
Why? Well, it starts with Aaron Rodgers, who along with the Saints’ Drew Brees joins Brady as the NFL’s top three veteran quarterbacks. That’s a tremendous advantage in Green Bay where the Packers already have the great QB. If LaFleur proves to be the right coach for the job – and that remains a big if – the Packers should be back in the playoffs in 2019.
Obviously, the perception that the Packers were a perennial upper-echelon team was shattered last season.
So how does Green Bay go from being a 6-9-1 also-ran under Mike McCarthy to a legit playoff team under LaFleur?
Part of LaFleur’s plan, according to Packers’ Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, is to create the illusion of complexity.
It seems preferable to the illusion of exceptionalism that had been in play in Green Bay far too long. So how does it work?
Adams, who met with LaFleur in Green Bay last week before leaving for the Pro Bowl, explained it in an ESPN interview. He began by saying LaFleur made “a great first impression.”
“Great guy, young cat, which is great … You can be personable with him,” Adams said. “He’s a good guy. I like his philosophy. He wants to bring in a new kind of innovative style – an illusion of complexity. I like the idea of that. He kind of explained that to me. A great first impression so we’ll see how it goes.”
The illusion of complexity is an interesting concept. It sure sounds a lot cooler than the old phrase, “KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.”
It suggests that, in fact, there’s nothing incredibly complex about LaFleur’s offense. It’s more about the presentation, and the execution, than it is simply winning one-on-one battles.
In LaFleur’s perfect world, a run play looks like a pass play – and vice-versa – until the last possible second before the snap. A defense will be confronted with multiple formations, plenty of motion and a lot of pre-snap hocus pocus.
All the while, the offense knows where it’s going to attack.
In addition to the illusion of complexity, LaFleur also plans to incorporate a heavy dose of balance between the run and pass.
If a team is too pass heavy, or too predictable in any way, for that matter, it’s easier to defend. Why should a defense bite on all the pre-snap trickery when it knows there’s a 75-percent chance it’ll be a pass anyway?
Belichick discussed McVay’s offensive attack during an interview as part of the Super Bowl LIII run-up. It is interesting in that LaFleur is a McVay disciple.
Belichick said, “(The Rams) switch things up a lot, they just do it with the same players. That’s what makes them so good – everybody can do everything.”
It’s called balance. It’s also called not having to substitute heavily – and perhaps risk tipping your play-calling hand – if running backs can catch the football out of the backfield and receivers can be shifty in the slot or effective as a runner on jet sweeps and such.
Throughout Super Bowl LIII, I will be watching to see how Brady relies on his experience as well as his talent to KO the Rams. I’ll also be curious to see how McVay’s offense goes about trying to attack Belichick’s defense.
At New Orleans, the Rams’ Goff had an awful start. If he was nervous in the NFC Championship Game, I’ve got to believe it will be even more pronounced in the Super Bowl.
I’m predicting the Patriots will succeed where New Orleans failed by making Goff’s early mistakes quite costly. I see the Patriots building an early lead and fending off a late Rams’ rally.
Super Bowl LIII final: Patriots 31, Rams 27.
** Back in Green Bay, LaFleur is assembling his staff. Here is the latest:
* Offensive coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett in; Joe Philbin out.
* Quarterbacks coach: Luke Getsy in; Frank Cignetti, Jr., and Jim Hostler, out.
* Running backs coach: Ben Sirmans returns.
* Offensive line: Adam Stenavich, in; James Campen, Jeff Blasko, out.
* Wide receivers: Vacant; David Raih, out.
* Tight ends: Justin Outten, in; Brian Angelichio, out.
* Defensive coordinator: Mike Pettine returns.
* Defensive line: Jerry Montgomery returns.
* Linebackers: Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers; Mike Smith, outside linebackers, in; Scott McCurley, Patrick Graham, out.
* Defensive Backs: Jason Simmons, in; Joe Whitt, Jr., out.
* Special teams coordinator: Vacant; Ron Zook, out.
By Chris Havel