Silverstein: Brett Hundley's performance sparks many tough questions for Packers
GREEN BAY – There are only two conclusions you can make after the Green Bay Packers’ abysmal failure to launch a passing attack Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Either coach Mike McCarthy and his assistants failed completely in training backup Brett Hundley to play quarterback in their offense. Or general manager Ted Thompson has wasted a year by putting his chips on someone who can’t win throwing from the pocket.
In the same venue where Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers combined for 383 regular-season passing touchdowns over a 25-year span, the Packers didn't score a point. They suffered their first home shutout loss since a 35-0 pasting at the hands of the New England Patriots 11 years ago to the day.
What the Baltimore Ravens did to the Packers offense in a 23-0 shellacking wasn’t nearly as crippling as what Hundley did to it with turnovers, bad decisions and not a clue how to reach the talented group of receivers around him.
He became the first Packers quarterback to throw at least three interceptions in a Lambeau Field game since Favre threw three against Detroit on Dec. 17, 2006. At least the Packers beat the Lions that day, 17-9.
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A week after Hundley finished the victory at Chicago going 4 for 4 for 87 yards and a touchdown, he went 21 of 36 for 239 yards with three interceptions, a fumble and six sacks. The Packers crossed into the red zone on their very first possession and then never got further than the Baltimore 41 the rest of the game.
Asked after the game if he was back to square one with Hundley, whose record as a starter sits at 1-3, McCarthy said absolutely not.
“Anytime anything happens with the quarterback position, I take that extremely personal,” he said. “I have to do a better job.”
If McCarthy and his coaches haven’t been hammering into Hundley since the day he arrived in Green Bay 2 ½ years ago that he has to buy time inside the pocket more often than outside of it, they are not as good as their reputations.
If they didn’t look at the Bears game and point out all the plays where Hundley needed to trust his offensive line and find the safe zones inside the pocket instead of bailing to the sideline, they failed him. If they didn’t force him to stay in the pocket during practice last week, then they have gotten fat and happy watching Aaron Rodgers maneuver around all these years.
Hundley just could not get himself to sidestep the rush or step up against outside penetration even though it’s clearly the secret to success. He ran himself into incompletions and sacks over and over again.
Asked whether when he comes to the sideline and sees on the overhead shots if there were plays where if he maneuvered a step one way or the other he could have given his receivers time to get open, Hundley gave a clue as to what’s going on in his head.
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“There’s opportunities, (but) it’s sort of hard to say there is, there isn’t, because in the game when you see flashes of colors it’s all instincts and reactionary,” Hundley said. “So, if you see something, you’ve just got to make the move and try to make the most of it.
“That’s one thing we have talked about is scrambling within the pocket. That’s something I’ve learned from Aaron. As we go forward, I’ll be better from experience, learning from this.”
There is a possibility that learning from this won’t be enough. It’s possible that all the things that scouts said about Hundley when he came out of a spread offense at UCLA were true.
He’ll never be a pocket passer, they said. He doesn’t have the pocket awareness necessary to play in the NFL. He has never played in a pro-style offense and is at his best when a receiver’s route is pre-determined rather than dependent on the coverage.
Thompson probably thought he was getting a steal when he drafted a guy as talented as Hundley in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. This was going to be his T.J. Lang or Josh Sitton mid-round vision of what everyone else was missing.
Only apart from Rodgers, Thompson has been horrible evaluating quarterbacks. He hasn’t even tried that hard to obtain them, unlike his mentor, Ron Wolf, who drafted seven quarterbacks in 10 years despite having Favre the entire time.
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Four of Wolf’s drafted backups – Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks – went on to become starters with other teams.
Since drafting Rodgers, Thompson has selected Ingle Martin (’06), Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn (’07), B.J. Coleman (’12) and Hundley. Other than Flynn, who managed to go 2-2-1 the one time he had to take over the starting job for more than one game, it’s a terrible record. When you combine it with the ridiculous failures of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, Graham Harrell and Vince Young, to name a few, it’s downright embarrassing.
Thompson, more than anyone, should have been able to judge whether Hundley can play the pro game based on a hard drive full of practice and exhibition game tape available to him. If Hundley is a bust, Thompson has wasted a year in which Rodgers might have been able to salvage a playoff berth.
Thompson decided 27-year-old rookie free agent Taysom Hill wasn’t worth keeping over cornerback Lenzy Pipkins and won’t ever know if he could have developed faster than Hundley because he’s the No. 3 quarterback with the New Orleans Saints.
He has passed on Colin Kaepernick, who has NFL experience.
BOX SCORE: Ravens 23, Packers 0
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And the No. 3 guy the Packers have can’t even get a sniff of action because McCarthy refused to put him in the game against the Ravens. It’s likely Joe Callahan couldn’t have saved this loss, but are they going to wait like they did with Hundley, only to find out he can’t play in this offense?
Why then is he on the team?
“I felt we still had a chance to get into the game there,” McCarthy said of not playing Callahan. “It was 13-0, obviously 6-0 at halftime. We were in the no-huddle offense, kind of a 2-minute mode. That was something that Brett has done very well the past couple of games.”
McCarthy continues to stand behind Hundley because he believes he can be successful in the NFL. If that’s the case, he and the coaches failed to drill into his head that he can’t win playing outside the pocket and lost a winnable game.
But it very well could be that Hundley just isn’t the quarterback the Packers thought he was.