Matt LaFleur has no mixed opinions on Marquez Valdes-Scantling or his role in the Green Bay Packers‘ offense, even after the third-year wide receiver went two weeks without making a single catch.
Valdes-Scantling earned some attention for his six-catch, 85-yard performance in the Packers’ 31-24 win over the Detroit Lions, one that saw him haul in a 14-yard touchdown that may have been the finest catch of his young career. Prior to Sunday, he hadn’t tallied a reception since his costly overtime fumble in Week 11’s loss in Indianapolis.
Naturally, LaFleur was more than willing to heap praise on MVS’ success in the aftermath, but the Packers head coach was less interested in the comeback aspect of his game and instead talked up his young receiver for the things he does outside of the stat sheets.
“He is a guy who has probably improved as much as anybody on our offense over the course of two years,” LaFleur said in Sunday’s postgame. “The stress that he can put on a defense in terms of his ability to stretch the field, there’s a lot of players where you guys might not see it, but he’s the assist man and he’ll get guys wide open because people are scared of his speed. And then there’s a lot of plays where he’s digging out, making the touchdown block on a run. It happened a couple of weeks ago in Chicago where he was able to dig out the safety and Jamaal Williams scored. He’s done so much for this football team, and he’s just one of many guys that own their role and take pride in their role, whether the ball’s coming to them or not.”
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LaFleur Singled Out ‘Perfect’ TD Catch
Any amount of pass-catching production in Week 14 would have been a breath of fresh air for Valdes-Scantling after his recent dry spell. Despite playing on 75% of offensive snaps in each of his two previous performances, he had received just two total targets with both of them coming in the win over Philadelphia.
Six catches for 85 yards alone makes a difference for the Packers, especially when it frees up Davante Adams to become all the more dangerous. It was MVS’ touchdown catch — and the manner in which he caught it— that really turned some heads, though.
While many of Valdes-Scantling’s touchdowns have come on deep-ball throws from Aaron Rodgers that cater to his speed, the 26-year-old Packers receiver made use of his excellent hands and improved technique to secure the ball against tight coverage from Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye.
MVS has a high high ceiling. What a catch pic.twitter.com/7WsUiAH4uL
— IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) December 13, 2020
“That is a perfect illustration of strong hands, of catching the ball away from your body with a defender trying to play through it but keeping that ball out in front of you and attacking it with your hands,” LaFleur said Sunday. “Just really, really proud of his effort. I think he’s done a great job of bringing a lot of energy and excitement to practice and really straining and digging to try and get better each and every day. And it shows through in the game situations.”
Will MVS Keep Momentum Going into Playoffs?
The Packers (10-3) are now guaranteed a spot in the playoffs after wrapping up the NFC North divisional title in Week 14, but there is still plenty of time before the end of the regular season for Valdes-Scantling to keep building momentum … or lose it.
To be clear, this is not the same MVS who disappeared within the Packers’ depth chart while battling an injury midway through the 2019 season. He has already reached a new career high for receiving yardage (603) with three games left to play and, as LaFleur mentioned, is making his impact felt on plays where he isn’t getting the ball. His 19.5 yards per reception also leads the NFL ahead of DJ Moore (18.5) and DK Metcalf (17.1).
The Packers offense also isn’t one that necessarily needs big-yardage games from MVS whenever they hit the field. Adams is the clear No. 1 target and seems to reinforce his status every week with a new big play. Allen Lazard is still trying to regain his step after coming back from core-muscle surgery four games ago, but he has received no fewer than three targets in each game and remains a regular option. There is also the arrival of Tavon Austin, who caught his first passes (two for eight yards) as a Packer on Sunday.
For MVS, the telling sign could simply be how clean he plays if the Packers keep him regularly involved in the passing game. Yes, there are meaningful reps he can take without catching the ball, but he needs to make sure the strong hands he displayed on Week 14’s touchdown grab don’t fail him when called upon. That means eliminating his on-and-off problem with dropped passes and avoiding any more costly turnovers — though, to be fair, it was the first time he fumbled in either the NFL or college.