GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur had heard the phrase this summer, too. But he had no idea where it came from.
“If you’re on the same page, there is no wrong page.”
As the Green Bay Packers kicked off training camp in late July, several defensive players mentioned the adage during Q&A sessions with reporters. Safety Darnell Savage was the first to bring it up, but others followed, prompting an inquiry into where the saying originated. Had LaFleur said it? New defensive coordinator Joe Barry? Veteran defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Jerry Gray?
“That definitely did not come from me, but I do like that saying,” LaFleur said. “I don’t know if that came from Joe or who that came from.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever specifically said that,” Barry said.
“I’m not sure who came up with that one,” inside linebacker Krys Barnes said. “But it’s definitely right.”
As catchy as it may have been, six weeks after that phrase was first uttered publicly, it definitely did not translate into better communication — or better play on defense. During their 38-3 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, one could argue on several plays Packers’ defenders weren’t even in the same library.
Now, as they look to rebound against the Detroit Lions on “Monday Night Football” at Lambeau Field in their home opener, the Packers are focusing on their defensive communication breakdowns and trying to regroup.
“It’s a lot of things that we do need to correct,” veteran safety Adrian Amos admitted. “We’re not into pointing fingers over who had what. We just have to make our plays. We have to communicate. We have to be on our assignments. We can’t just pinpoint one or two things this game. Obviously, you see the score. There’s a lot that went wrong. We need to get to work and be better.”
There were multiple plays where the defense wasn’t working in concert and confusion seemed to reign. But three plays in particular seemed to illustrate the communication breakdowns.
“To be the defense that we want to be, we have to be on the same page 100% of the time,” Amos said. “There were certain plays at certain times where we can be better and we will be better.”
The first came with the Packers defense trailing 10-0 and facing a fourth-and-7 at the Green Bay 41-yard line with 5 minutes 8 seconds left in the first half. Saints coach Sean Payton gambled and went for it, dialed up the perfect play — a tight end screen pass to Juwan Johnson — and the 12-yard gain kept the drive going en route to a touchdown and 17-0 lead.
Afterward, Payton said he called that play based on how he expected the Packers to react to the Saints’ offensive formation, based on film of the Los Angeles Rams from last season, when Barry was their linebackers coach.
“We saw a little adjustment they made with a formation and we kind of gave them the same formation. This was a year ago off of a Rams film,” Payton said. “We got a similar look and we just (saw) a really good opportunity for us to throw a screen over to Juwan.”
The second play came after quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ second interception of the game. Facing third-and-8 from the Green Bay 10-yard line, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston hit an open Chris Hogan for the touchdown. After the catch, Packers nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan can be seen throwing his arms up in exasperation as if there was a miscommunication on the coverage.
And the third play came on the Saints’ ensuing possession after Savage’s end-zone interception was nullified by a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on edge rusher Za’Darius Smith for his seemingly legal hit on Winston. On the next play, on second-and-goal from the 8, Sullivan was matched up with Johnson in the slot and Kevin King was covering receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey split out at the left numbers.
At the snap, Humphrey ran straight ahead and into King, who in turn crashed into Sullivan. The chain reaction left Johnson wide open for a touchdown, and while Humphrey may have committed pass interference on the rub route he ran, LaFleur said King and Sullivan should have played it better — as Amos and Jaire Alexander had earlier in the game on a similar play the Packers defended properly.
“I personally think we have to play it better,” LaFleur said. “I think anytime you have two DBs on the same level, then you’ve got an opportunity to get picked. So, we’ve got to get those guys on different levels. They ran the same play on the other side with Jaire and Adrian, and they were able to switch it off, no problem. I just think between Kevin and Sully in that situation, we’ve got to get them off on different levels.”
Whether the Packers’ defensive communication will improve against the Lions remains to be seen, but Barnes said Barry emphasized its importance during film sessions on Tuesday.
“There’s little things that we’ve got to correct as a defense, as players, that we watched (on tape),” Barnes said. “I think there’s a lot of things that we’re still learning. There’s always growing pains in everything that you do.”
And now, it’s on LaFleur and Barry — even if they didn’t originate that catchphrase — to get the communication issues ironed out.
“Maybe you might not make the right adjustment, but if everybody is on the same page in terms of what we’re doing, you can still go out there and execute whatever that may be,” LaFleur said. “Communication is something that we talk about each and every day, and just making sure that everybody is communicating with one another.
“Because, it’s the ultimate team sport, and all it takes is one guy not doing his job on the defensive side of the ball and you might give up a big-time play. That’s one of the things we’re always trying to limit is those big, explosive plays. And I think it all starts with the communication.”