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The OC Files: Is Mike LaFleur the right hire for the Rams offensive coordinator?

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NFL: New York Jets OTA John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams will have a new offensive coordinator in 2023. While nothing is official, reports from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo suggest that former New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur could be joining Sean McVay.

The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue confirmed this as well, saying,

“Mike LaFleur, who was most recently with the Jets before he was let go earlier this month, is absolutely a name to watch here and perhaps even a frontrunner, some league sources believe. McVay has a type.”

Hiring someone like LaFleur to replace Liam Coen shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. In 2017, McVay brought Matt LaFleur with him to be his offensive coordinator during his first year in Los Angeles. LaFleur went on to be the offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans and then the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

During that same time, Matt’s brother, Mike LaFleur joined Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco as the passing game coordinator. Under LaFleur, the 49ers had the 16th, 24th, 8th, and 22nd ranking passing attacks in DVOA. It’s worth noting that in only one of those seasons did the 49ers have a full season of Jimmy Garoppolo.

LaFleur followed Robert Saleh to the New York Jets last offseason and despite a lack of talent, was able to design some fun things on offense. The Jets had the 22nd ranked offense in DVOA, but were the 15th best rushing attack.

However, despite drafting Zach Wilson with the second overall pick, the Jets started four different quarterbacks in 2021. LaFleur still managed to design some fun concepts and there was a lot of excitement in the Jets building regarding the offense heading into this season.

According to The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt, LaFleur preferred the other Jets’ quarterbacks over Wilson. Rosenblatt said,

“LaFleur would tell people how much more effective the offense looked with quarterbacks Flacco, Josh Johnson and especially (Mike) White...But Wilson was the Jets’ future, so LaFleur adjusted the scheme, reduced the volume of plays and tried to make things more digestible.”

While there were flashes, the offense didn’t take that step forward that many were expecting. Starting three different quarterbacks, the Jets ranked 26th in offense DVOA and failed to score a touchdown in the season’s final three games.

Even with a bad quarterback situation, not scoring a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters is very difficult to do in the NFL, especially when Garrett Wilson is one of the wide receivers on the field. LaFleur was fired by the Jets last week.

According to Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, the Jets decided to fire LaFleur due to a disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff. Pauline says,

“The belief in the Jets’ front office is that while Saleh can work with just about any type of defensive player where there’s little margin for error in LaFleur’s offense...While key members of the front office wanted LaFleur fired, members of the coaching staff wanted to keep him as their offensive coordinator heading into the 2023 season...members of the front office believe it’s a failure of LaFleur to develop (Zach Wilson), while members of the coaching staff believe it is because Wilson is simply not a good quarterback.”

Rosenblatt from The Athletic seemed to confirm this when describing the Jets’ downfall this season.

“Multiple people in the organization pushed back on the narrative that (Woody) Johnson forced Saleh to fire LaFleur, though Saleh likely did feel pressure from above to make changes.”

According to Rosenblatt,

“LaFleur’s hiring was praised by many around the league. “It’s the West Coast system,” he said in his introductory news conference. “We’re trying to run the outside zone and do the play-action stuff off of it, but we fit it to our players.” But some players found the system to be needlessly complicated...“We’ll have one route but it has a bunch of different names depending on the concept,” said a former Jets receiver who spent time with the team in training camp this year. “I’ve been on multiple teams, this is the first time I’ve experienced that.”

Wide receiver Calvin Jackson, who spent time with the Jets this season, described LaFleur as, “One of those soft-spoken guys that won’t say much. But if you need help, you can always go to him and ask for it.”

Despite a rocky tenure with the Jets, Los Angeles could provide LaFleur an environment in which he can succeed with players who already run a similar system. With a background in San Francisco, LaFleur has a 49ers-type offense that requires a specific type of player, including zone-blocking linemen and receivers who are precise in their route running.

With McVay at the helm, these are player-types that the Rams already have in the offense — namely Cooper Kupp. The Rams and McVay put an emphasis on route-running and the run game has been built on zone-blocking in the past. That foundation is already in place whereas that wasn’t the case in New York with the amount of turnover that has taken place over the past decade.

The Rams also have a veteran quarterback who provides more stability and experience than Zach Wilson. Matthew Stafford has the arm and big-play upside of Wilson, but has the experience and football IQ to know where the ball needs to go. Some of the chaotic elements remain the same, but they are paired and nullified with big plays.

Coming from a Shanahan background, LaFleur brings many of the same elements that McVay already utilizes.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Jets used empty formations on a league-high 14.1 percent of their offensive plays last season. They went empty on a league-leading 133 plays which is an average of 8.9 plays per game.

In 2021, the Rams offense threw from empty the most in the NFL. Stafford led the league in dropback-rate out of empty last season at 29.1 percent. Lining up in empty forces the defense to declare what they’re doing and puts a lot of responsibility on the quarterback to make sure the ball comes out on time. This is something that Wilson struggled with in New York.

With LaFleur, the Rams would be getting someone who can come in seamlessly and help the McVay offense build on their current foundation. He adds a creative offensive mind to the staff and the ability to adapt to his players.

LaFleur’s offense features a lot of pre-snap motion, especially in the run game. While the Jets were in the middle of the league in 2021 in overall pre-snap motion, they ranked inside the top-five in pre-snap motion on run plays. The Jets were looking to build on that this season as they ranked inside the top five in motion at the snap, coming in just ahead of the Rams.

Along with pre-snap motion, the Jets used a lot of play-action fakes and play-flow misdirection. Among quarterbacks with at least 200 snaps, Wilson ranked 12th in play-action dropback percentage at 28.3 percent.

The play-flow misdirection is on display in the example below shared by The Athletic’s Nate Tice. These types of plays and utilizing receivers in the run game on jet-sweeps to distract the linebackers are a common theme in the LaFleur offense.

These are the type of wrinkles that the Rams lacked at times this season in the run game. The wide receiver jet sweep used to be a staple in the Rams offense. Brandon Powell’s 17 carries this season were the most since Robert Woods in 2020.

While the Jets finished 25th in rushing offense DVOA, they ranked 10th up until Breece Hall’s injury in Week 7.

It’s fair to criticize LaFleur for some of the Jets’ failings on offense. However, he shouldn’t be completely at fault either. When diving into the LaFleur offense, there are a lot of fun concepts. The quarterback continued to be an issue.

Both Mike White and Joe Flacco had an expected completion percentage of around 63.2 percent according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s in the same area as Jalen Hurts. The difference was that White only completed 58.9 percent of those passes while Hurts completed 66.5.

All three of the Jets quarterbacks ranked in the bottom-six in completion percentage over expectation. In other words, they had a negative effect on the scheme.

LaFleur has room to grow as a play-caller, specifically on third-down and in the red zone. However, his experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL is something that McVay will value. It’s uncertain whether or not McVay would hand over play-calling duties to LaFleur if he were to join the staff. Given LaFleur’s experience, he likely would prefer to go to a team where he’s the primary play-caller.

As mentioned above, nothing is official yet. LaFleur is simply a name being connected to the Rams and is seen as a front-runner for the offensive coordinator. However, with Kliff Kingsbury in Thailand and serious schematic differences in someone like Frank Reich, LaFleur makes the most sense. That’s especially considering his familial connection to McVay.

LaFleur comes from the Shanahan tree which has many of the same concepts as McVay runs in Los Angeles with the Rams. Connections aside, it’s a good fit. LaFleur gets to work under McVay’s wing as he continues to develop as a coach in an established environment. Meanwhile, McVay gets someone that he’s comfortable with and has NFL experience as an offensive coordinator previously.

The Rams offense struggled in 2022. However, by hiring LaFleur, it could be just what the offense needs to bounce back next season.