Week 3: A Coach’s Perspective

As a competitive youth baseball and soccer coach, I enjoy taking in sports from a coach’s perspective.  How do you establish a positive, winning culture?  What choices are presented to a coach and what path did they take?  Would I have made a similar choice?  How can I apply these decisions to my craft?

During the offseason, Matt LaFleur spent time with the Milwaukee Bucks and came away with some valuable lessons he could apply to his own coaching: https://www.espn.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/52450/how-road-trip-with-nbas-milwaukee-bucks-helped-green-bay-packers-coach-matt-lafleurs-football-education.

“The biggest takeaway that I had was just from top to bottom, how aligned everybody is, how they communicate, and there’s a genuine care for one another,” LaFleur said. “I see it with Bud and his staff. I see it with the staff to the players. I see it from player to player. Watching these guys on the plane how they interact with one another. They’ve got really good people and obviously you better have talented players, that is like a prerequisite and that’s exactly what they have. But when their best players are their best people as well, it makes it a lot easier.”

I also highly recommend reading a great recent article about Rich Bisaccia: https://www.si.com/nfl/packers/news/under-bisaccia-packers-kicking-special-teams-history-to-the-curb.

“Rich, you know exactly what you’re going to get every single day,” said defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who worked with Bisaccia with the Buccaneers and Chargers. “And that’s a guy that’s hard-nosed, he’s passionate. He really doesn’t show it all the time, but he’s one of the most caring, sincere people that you’ll ever be around. I think he brings that to our staff. He definitely brings that to our special teams unit and, collectively, he brings it to our entire building and our team. That’s what makes him unique. We should all be lucky that we have a guy that really should be a head coach in this league leading our special teams.”

Watching the Packers/Bucs game, there were a number of interesting coaching decisions worthy of reflection.

The Left Tackle Position
LaFleur, Bakhtiari, and the coaching staff have made the decision to stop trying to forecast the future with respect to Bakhtiari’s knee.  You now hear the drumbeat from all of them: “one game at a time”.  On Sunday, LaFleur made the decision to alternate Bakhtiari and Nijman with each possession.  Bakhtiari ended up taking 34 of the 61 offensive snaps for the Packers and he received an overall grade of 64.0 from Pro Football Focus (low for him, but not terrible).  Yosh Nijman, on the other hand, scored a 53.0 which was one of the lowest grades on the team.  If Bakhtiari had played the whole game, it is likely that the body of work for the 61 snaps would have been higher and also possible that his personal grade would have been higher with greater continuity.  This in turn may have had a meaningful impact on the game.  If the Packers had scored one more touchdown, this game may not have gone down to the wire like it did.  Would the offense have gone into a complete drought after the third series if Bakhtiari had played the whole game?

Considering that Bakhtiari’s knee has been so unpredictable, the approach of limiting his snaps certainly appears to be a shrewd decision.  Further, splitting snaps allowed both players some continuity.  These factors certainly feel more important considering the Packers won.

Going forward, the offensive line decisions only get more interesting.  Do the two tackles continue to split time?  Does Nijman slide over to right tackle and Jenkins to right guard? Does Nijman become a swing tackle and Zach Tom become the starting right tackle and Jenkins to right guard? These are interesting decisions which will have meaningful impacts on the win/loss column.

3 minute Defense
Football games are always a chess match: down to down decisions meant to increase your chances of winning.  The advent of advanced analytics only increases coaches’ ability to maximize those chances.  Down 14-6, Tom Brady took the ball at the Bucs’ 10 yard line with 3 minutes to go.  What defensive approach to take? 

While infuriating to watch considering how stifling the defense had been all game, the Packers chose to play a classic “bend but don’t break” loose zone approach.  Doing so resulted in the most likely outcome: the Buccaneers ate up the clock and failed to score twice in a goal to goal situations.  Perhaps the analytics told them that taking this approach would give them a win outright 90% of the time. With a 10% chance that the game goes to overtime and a 50% chance of winning.  In other words, perhaps the analytics told them that a loose zone gave them a 95% chance of winning.

How would a more aggressive approach have played out? Either the Bucs would have scored a touchdown more quickly or the Packers would have received the ball back more quickly. In both scenarios, the Packers offense would have been required to run out the clock in order to win.  While you would like to think they could have done that, that was certainly not assured.  Perhaps the Packers win percentage fell to 80% in this scenario.

Bottom line, the Packers won the game.  Does that make us feel better? No. But, we can’t forget that a win is a win in the NFL and beating the Bucs bodes well for future success in the playoffs.

– Follow me on Twitter @jcopernicum and Packers for the Win @PackersForTheWn

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