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An In-Depth Look at the (Very Brief) History of Matt LaFleur As A Playcaller

Let’s see if we can get some idea of what to expect from Matt LaFleur’s offense on Thursday night.

NFL: Tennessee Titans-Minicamp Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans hired Matt LaFleur as Offensive Coordinator after he spent last season with the Los Angeles Rams in the same position.

Well, not exactly the same position...

LaFleur held the same title in LA, but he wasn’t calling the shots. It was ultimately head coach Sean McVay’s offense that LaFleur was helping to run.

LaFleur has never called plays in a regular season NFL game. He was the playcaller at Ashland University in 2007, but that was over a decade ago.

However, Sean McVay gave LaFleur the exciting opportunity to call plays during certain moments of the 2017 preseason. LaFleur called the entirety of the Rams’ August 19th matchup with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the second half of the final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

So, taken with a few extra helpings of salt, let’s see if we can learn anything about Matt LaFleur from looking at these games, broken down drive-by-drive.

August 19: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders

Drive 1: 8 plays, 85 yards, TD in 4:46

The Rams got off to a hot start. With a good mix of zone handoffs and easy-access passes for Jared Goff, the Rams moved down the field efficiently. The offense capped off the drive with a beautiful play-action play that resulted in Goff finding a wide open Cooper Kupp in the end zone.

Jared Goff finds a wide open Cooper Kupp for Matt LaFleur’s first called touchdown (NFL Gamepass).

Drive 2: 3 plays, 7 yards, Punt in 2:13

The Rams’ second drive didn’t go quite as well as the first. Really the drive was derailed by Khalil Mack’s sack on 2nd-and-5, a somewhat-famous play in which the Rams attempted to block Mack with a pair of rookie tight ends. Goff dumped the ball off to Todd Gurley on 3rd-and-15, who came up three yards short of the first down.

Drive 3: 8 plays, 41 yards, Touchdown in 3:25

The Rams’ third drive was another success. Using a heavy dose of shotgun passes, the Rams quickly marched to the two-yard line before Gurley punched through into the end zone.

Drive 4: 15 plays, 58 yards, Field Goal in 8:57

On the Rams’ fourth drive, they held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the second quarter. Mixing shotgun passes with runs from under center, the Rams slowly plodded down the field.

LaFleur repeated a similar type of play that had worked on the first drive. It was blown up for no gain on this attempt.

The Rams tried a similar play earlier where they brought Robert Woods back across after faking a handoff to the opposite side. The play to Woods worked great; this time, however, the Raiders saw it coming (NFL Gamepass).

The drive came to a halt at the Oakland 17-yard line after backup running back Malcolm Brown was taken down for a loss of three, followed by Jared Goff stepping out of bounds for one yard after being pursued towards the sideline, and finally a screen to Cooper Kupp for 3 yards on 3rd-and-12.

Drive 5: 6 plays, 13 yards, Punt in 2:50

The Rams actual fifth drive was a one-play hand-off before halftime, so we’ll skip that one and move on to the first drive of the second half, with LaFleur calling plays for backups.

Sean Mannion picked up one first down with a quick-out throw for 5 yards, but the drive stalled after back-to-back incomplete passes on 2nd and 3rd down.

Drive 6: 4 plays, 22 yards, Punt in 2:57

The next drive opened with a nicely designed underneath dump-off to the H-back that went for a 13-yard gain. The Rams had to punt after failing to convert a 3rd-and-1 run.

Drive 7: 5 plays, 16 yards, Punt in 3:47

This drive got off to a pretty good start with a couple of handoffs picking up a first down. Then a ten-yard holding penalty set the offense behind the chains, and they weren’t able to make up the lost yards.

Drive 8: 3 plays, 1 yard, Punt in 1:11

It’s really hard to judge play-calling this deep into a meaningless preseason game. With backups, lack of game-planning, and a general commitment to withholding the “good stuff,” it’s hard to isolate Matt LaFleur’s abilities as a playcaller and fairly evaluate him.

Drive 9: 13 plays, 80 yards, Touchdown in 5:19

But that being said... the Rams took over possession trailing 21-17 with 6:30 to play, and they marched down the field, chewed up nearly the entire game clock, and scored the go-ahead touchdown to win the game.

The possession mixed a handful of hand-offs in with a mostly quick passing attack to get down the field. The Rams only had to convert one third-down on a 13-play drive, which is quite impressive. However, that doesn’t include the one 4th-down they converted on a pretty nice route combination.

On fourth down, the Rams run a double-in concept with the slot receiver clearing out with a 7 route. The “other” Michael Thomas makes the catch for the conversion.

The go-ahead touchdown came on a 20-yard deep fade against single coverage on the next play.

The Rams’ final possession was a one-play kneel-down.

August 31: Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers

Sean McVay called plays for the Rams in the first half of this game, and then turned the reigns over to LaFleur for the second half.

The Packers received the second-half kickoff and proceeded to mount a nearly 12-minute drive, meaning the Rams didn’t gain possession until 3:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

Drive 1: 3 Plays, 4 Yards, Punt in 1:44

Our good pal Dan Orlovsky quarterbacked the Rams’ offense in this meaningless preseason contest.

He opened things up with a short completion, but couldn’t connect with his target down the left sideline on 3rd-and-6 two plays later. The Rams punted.

Drive 2: 9 Plays, 64 Yards, Touchdown in 5:39

LaFleur’s second drive as a playcaller didn’t begin until the 4th quarter, with 12:23 to go in the game. A pair of inside handoffs moved the ball into Packers’ territory. A couple short-outs and another hand-off put the Rams at 1st-and-10 inside the 35-yard line.

The drive was full of inside zone hand-offs, but sprinkled in were quick-drop pass plays from under center, similarly aligned to the plays that became inside zones. Not much play-action, mostly just alternating between inside zone and quick drop pass, usually to a speed-out in the flat. The defense’s inability to recognize pass or run from the formation led to the touchdown at the end of the drive.

The Rams ran many plays in a row out of a similar formation and kept the defense off guard, leading to this touchdown.

No one follows Johnny Mundt, a backup tight end trying to make the Rams roster, as he motions across the formation, expecting him to be a lead blocker for a run play. But he leaks out and Orlovsky finds him with space to run in for the touchdown.

Drive 3: 4 Plays, 19 Yards, Punt in 1:00

Orlovsky hit his running back out of the backfield for 12 yards on first down, but then the drive stalled after an incomplete attempt on 3rd and short.

The final drive of the game consisted of two clock-killing handoffs.

Analyzing the Data

Even though it’s preseason, and all the caveats I described above (about backups getting significant playing time, about the full offense possibly not yet being installed, about teams not gameplanning for their opponents, and about teams trying not to give away all their secret plans) are in play, I still think it’s worthwhile (or at least interesting) to break down LaFleur’s playcalling tendencies.

Matt LaFleur Playcalling Data

Distribution # of Snaps Percent of Plays Average Yards per Play Total Yards Gained
Distribution # of Snaps Percent of Plays Average Yards per Play Total Yards Gained
vs Oakland Pass Plays 44 66.67% 6.4 282
vs Oakland Run Plays 22 33.33% 2.7 59
vs Green Bay Pass Plays 9 47.37% 5.3 48
vs Green Bay Run Plays 10 52.63% 3.9 39
Total Pass Plays 53 62.35% 6.2 330
Total Run Plays 32 37.65% 3.1 98
(QB Scrambles) 1
(QB Sacks) 1
Total Plays 85 5.0 428

The distribution of the second half Green Bay game was fairly even, with 9 passes to 10 runs (two of those coming with little to no time remaining).

The Oakland results, however, were pretty heavily weighted towards the passing game.

There were two plays called as passes that ended up not counting in the pass attempts, the Khalil Mack sack mentioned above and the play Jared Goff was forced to step out of bounds for a one yard gain. I included those as part of the pass count in the table above.

What To Expect

So based on all this information, what can we expect to see from LaFleur’s Titans on Sunday?

Well, without getting into too many specifics, I expect to see a fairly balanced distribution between run and pass.

A good dose of play-action and easy-access throws are likely, especially if Luke Falk gets heavy playing time. They’ll probably want to make life easy on the rookie by giving him plenty of defined reads, easy dump-offs and screens, and plenty of misdirection and play action to open up passing lanes.

Mostly, the playcalls will be pretty simple in general. They want to see if the fringe roster guys are executing plays with proper technique when the live action begins. Are the wide receivers hitting their depths? Are the linemen staying low in their stance? Are the running backs reading the zone blocks in front of them?

So while this data may give us a hint or two of what to expect from LaFleur, the truth is we won’t really know anything until we see this new offense in action.

The good news is kickoff is (finally) right around the corner.