Allow me to be transparent: while I write about the Los Angeles Rams, I am actually a New York Jets fan. Yes, it is as miserable of an existence as you’d imagine.
So when I saw former Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur landed with the Rams, my immediate thought was “talk about landing on your feet.”
Going from the dumpster fire that is the Jets organization to becoming Sean McVay’s right-hand man is about as great of a change in fortune as you can imagine. And it’s the ultimate opportunity for LaFleur to revive his career after a bad two-year stretch in the Big Apple. McVay is quickly developing one of the league’s strongest coaching trees, headlined by Bengals coach Zac Taylor, Chargers coach Brandon Staley, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell, and LaFleur’s brother, Matt, who has had tremendous success in Green Bay. LaFleur clearly recognizes this, saying:
“You’re going into an organization that has won, knows how to win, wants to win, has the right system and process and culture in place to win, and to be able to do it with great people, not just Sean, but the rest of the staff.”
Heck, in two years Mike LaFleur could be an NFL head coach. That’s just the way it’s gone for anyone connected to McVay recently.
The bigger question is whether LaFleur is capable of becoming that next up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. He definitely has a lot to prove after a failed stint with the Jets. But it’s fair to wonder how much of that was truly on him considering what he was dealing with from a personnel perspective.
Of course, we all know McVay is the architect of the Rams offense at the end of the day. But what can LaFleur bring to the table? Here’s a breakdown of his Jets tenure from a (tortured) Jets fan.
What will LaFleur’s role be in L.A.?
Sean McVay nearly retired this offseason because of being burnt out. And while McVay most likely won’t give up play calling duties, I’d expect him to delegate more of the weekly gameplanning to his offensive staff. LaFleur mentioned in his introductory press conference that his role hasn’t been ironed out just yet. But if nothing else, LaFleur will be McVay’s primary source of support as he looks to take some responsibilities off his plate.
LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree
Before joining the Jets in 2021, LaFleur spent four seasons with the 49ers as a wide receivers coach and eventually passing game coordinator. He attempted to bring San Francisco’s outside zone running scheme and West Coast passing principles to New York. But LaFleur’s scheme never really established much of an identity.
Los Angeles’ offense is rather similar schematically, which should allow for a smooth transition for LaFleur.
LaFleur was a pass-happy play caller
One of LaFleur’s biggest indictments was that he was overly-reliant on the passing game. In 2021, New York ranked third in the league by passing on 63% of their offensive plays with rookie Zach Wilson mostly under center. In 2022, the Jets ranked fourth in pass rate with a combination of Wilson, Joe Flacco and Mike White under center.
This pass-happy philosophy didn’t translate into much success. The Jets ranked 26th in offensive DVOA this season, 26th in yards per play, 29th in points scored and just 15th in passing offense.
LaFleur also wasn’t an inventive situational play caller. The Jets ranked 28th in third-down offense and 31st in red zone offense. Just re-watch New York’s final drive against the Minnesota Vikings to see a perfect example of how LaFleur struggled to scheme players open when it mattered most.
LaFleur was undermined by injuries and awful QB play
While LaFleur is definitely not free of blame for the way his Jets tenure ended, it’d be unfair to put the blame squarely on him. LaFleur dealt with a rash of injuries along the offensive line in 2022, as New York utilized nine different starting line combinations this season.
New York also had some serious talent, including Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and fellow rookie running back Breece Hall. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a torn ACL midseason that completely derailed New York’s running game. In the same game, the Jets also lost emerging guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to a torn biceps. Vera-Tucker was arguably New York’s best lineman.
New York’s offense wasn’t elite with those two in the lineup, but it certainly wasn’t the same once those two got hurt.
Lastly, LaFleur was dealt a terrible hand in having to run an offense with Zach Wilson at the helm. Wilson simply wasn’t ready for the show, and it was obvious there was frustration between play caller and quarterback. New York’s offense performed somewhat better with White under center, but the unit was still mediocre overall.
LaFleur does deserve blame for the failure of the Wilson experience, as he put too much on his plate and failed to develop an offense that catered to his strengths (if there were any). But Wilson will likely go down as one of the draft’s biggest busts, and that certainly has to be factored into the equation.
LaFleur will have talent to work with in L.A.
The Rams are far from a perfect team, and we saw just how bleak things could get when injuries struck. But if nothing else, LaFleur has an established core to work with in quarterback Matthew Stafford, tailback Cam Akers and receiver Cooper Kupp. The rest of the offensive roster is thin, but at least LaFleur has a professional to work with under center.
“A lot of times, coaches can teach players a lot of things but in more instances players can teach coaches a lot of things too,” LaFleur said. So I’m excited to get working with him, learn from him, and whatever I can provide for him, I’m going to do. I can’t wait to start building that relationship with him.”
Mike LaFleur is far from a sure thing. And he certainly enters Los Angeles needing a career rehabilitation. But under McVay’s tutelage, there’s no reason to believe he can’t play a role in turning this unit around in 2023.