Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has faced a lot of challenges since taking the job prior to the 2019 season. But the Packers bench boss may have done his best work during the 2023 season by leading this young team to the playoffs. The Packers finished this season with a 9-8 record after a 2-5 start. The challenges he faced this season were very different than the obstacles he overcame earlier in his head coaching career.

The Unique Challenges Packers Coach Matt LaFleur Faced When He Took the Job in 2019

When LaFleur joined the Packers in 2019, he faced a very different set of challenges. The Packers finished 2018 with a disappointing 6-9-1 record. Mike McCarthy was fired mid-season in 2018 when he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers seemed to be having a disagreement on the direction of the offense.

LaFleur had to come in and win the confidence of Rodgers, who was only a few years younger than his new coach. He had to find a way to create an offense that combined LaFleur’s philosophy with the plays that Rodgers liked to run under McCarthy.

Simultaneously, LaFleur needed to change the culture in the locker room which had been problematic at the end of McCarthy era.

LaFleur succeeded on all fronts. He and Rodgers quickly formed a strong working relationship. The offense became a hybrid of LaFleur’s philosophy and what Rodgers did best. Finally, the coach created leadership councils to improve communication between the coaches and the players. The result was a 13-3 record and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

The Challenges of 2023 Were Very Different

LaFleur faced very different challenges entering this season. Rodgers demanded a trade over the offseason and was dealt to the New York Jets. The dead cap hit due to the onerous contract Rodgers signed the previous year meant the team also had major cap issues. Veterans like Allen Lazard, Adrian Amos, Randall Cobb, Mason Crosby, Robert Tonyan, Dean Lowry, and Marcedes Lewis were all not brought back for the new season.

The Packers and LaFleur entered the new season with the youngest roster in the NFL. New starting quarterback Jordan Love had exactly one prior NFL start. The Packers had no wide receivers on the roster with more than one year of NFL experience and all three tight ends on the roster were rookies.

LaFleur now had the chance to run more of “his” offense, but he had plenty of teaching to do to a group of players with limited or no NFL experience.

The In-Season Challenges Packers coach Matt LaFleur Faced in 2023 with Injuries

Injuries really hurt the team throughout the season. After Week 1, the team lost All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari for the season. The team’s top running back, Aaron Jones, suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener and missed six games and was limited in many others.

The team’s top wide receiver, Christian Watson, missed eight games and was on a play count in others. Starting tight end Luke Musgrave missed six games, starting safeties Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford missed seven and four games respectively while inside linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker also missed time. Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander was out for 10 games with various injuries. Former first round pick Eric Stokes played in just three games all season because he couldn’t stay healthy.

Keeping the Faith Through Tough Times

The Packers got off to a sluggish start. After winning two of their first three, the Pack lost four straight games to fall to 2-5 on the season. Inexperience was a big reason for the team’s early-season struggles. Love suffered through accuracy issues especially on deep throws and was inconsistent at reading defenses.

The young receivers often ran the wrong pass patterns or ended up on the same spot on the field because they didn’t read the defense correctly. Penalties and self-inflected errors hurt the team again and again.

But LaFleur kept teaching his young players. Eventually, they started to learn and make the plays as they were drawn up. When plays broke down, they were on the same page as they improvised.

The Packers won six of their final eight games and their last three to qualify for the playoffs. The team has a can-do attitude and no matter who goes down with an injury, they don’t panic and go out and play to the best of their abilities.

Few people expected the Packers to have a winning record or make the playoffs in this season of transition. The fact that they did with such a young team and after dealing with so many injuries is a credit to LaFleur and his staff. While he won more games in his first three NFL seasons, this may have been his best coaching job to date.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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