It would be a stretch to believe the Green Bay Packers’ game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday could be their most critical one of the season.
After all, the Packers are off to an impressive 3-1 start and will play 11 more regular-season games after exchanging unpleasantries against the Cowboys.
But it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s an important one, especially for unproven first-year head coach Matt LaFleur whose highly questionable play-calling in the Packers’ loss to Philadelphia last Sunday undoubtedly raised some eyebrows with his players in general and his offensive line in particular.
LaFleur came under intense scrutiny after he foolishly opted to pass the ball on four consecutive plays in the fourth quarter after the Packers had advanced to the Eagles’ one-yard line.
The perception, and it’s an accurate one at that, is LaFleur showed a total lack of faith in his offensive linemen’s ability to run block and pick up a measly yard.
Now, contrast LaFleur’s decision with that of Kansas City coach Andy Reid’s against the Detroit Lions. With the Chiefs in a first-and-goal situation from the 3-yard line, Reid took the ball out of the hands of best quarterback in today’s game –Patrick Mahomes – and chose to let his offensive linemen play smash-mouth football.
On first down, Chiefs running back Darrel Williams gained two yards. On second down, Williams ran the ball again and scored, giving the Chiefs a 34-30 triumph.
LaFleur’s inexplicable decision to not let his offensive linemen rise to the occasion not only may have cost the Packers a victory but it might have tarnished with his credibility on them.
Two former NFL running backs – Terrell Davis and Maurice Jones-Drew – didn’t pull any punches when they were recently asked on NFL Network their opinion of LaFleur’s decision to pass fourth straight times from the one.
“When you get to the goalline, there’s a situation in football called a tough yard,’’ said Jones-Drew, who played nine seasons in the NFL. “It’s about attitude. No matter if it’s little kids football, high school, college, professional … They (the defense) know you have to get a yard; you know you have to get a yard and you got to will yourself to it.
“You can’t do that by throwing the ball. I get it; Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback. I understand it. But it’s about your offensive line; it’s about your team. It’s an attitude. It’s a swagger. It’s a mind-set.
“If you can’t get a yard to win the game, what are we doing this for you?’’
Davis, the former Denver Bronco and Hall of Fame running back, was even more critical.
“To me, this is indefensible,’’ Davis said. “You are talking to a running back who is sitting on the sideline watching this non-sense, the ball being thrown four straight times.
“Two reasons why I didn’t think this was a good call: No. 1, (star receiver) Davante Adams is not in the game. He torched them, but he wasn’t in the game. He had the turf toe, was on the sidelines. The second thing, when you don’t run the football, you are just telling defenses you’re one-dimensional. At least give me the token run as a back. (Jones-Drew then interjects and says: “Run a full-back dive. Do something.’’
Davis then resumes talking, adding, “What are you telling me in the meeting room when you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play tough football. We’re going to be a tough team.’
“I ain’t buying it that, coach. You can’t sell me about being a tough team if we can’t get one yard. Most coaches will say ‘If we can’t get a yard, we don’t deserve to win.’ ‘’
The Packers don’t necessarily have to win their game against the Cowboys on Sunday but LaFleur absolutely has to reconnect and regain the trust of his offensive line. If he doesn’t, what has started to be an extremely encouraging season could quickly dissolve in a bitterly disappointing one.