GREEN BAY – Marquez Valdes-Scantling was supposed to block. On a second-and-6 early in Sunday’s first quarter, Matt LaFleur sent a run play into the huddle. The Green Bay Packers were just trying to move the chains.
Bradley Chubb changed that plan.
The Denver Broncos outside linebacker jumped offside, another victim to Aaron Rodgers’ hard count. Valdes-Scantling, knowing the ball would be snapped on two, turned his head inside to search for any overeager pass rushers. He saw his former college teammate standing one yard past the line of scrimmage, left tackle David Bakhtiari pointing to make sure everyone noticed.
So MVS did what he does best.
“Run fast,” he said.
Instead of blocking, Valdes-Scantling sprinted past Broncos cornerback Kareem Jackson. Rodgers, standing perfectly atop the capital, block-lettered G at midfield, launched the football with enough loft for his speedy receiver to run under it. When MVS caught Rodgers’ pass at the goal line, he didn’t just open scoring in the Packers’ 27-16 win, improving their record to 3-0 under new head coach Matt LaFleur.
Valdes-Scantling continued building what’s becoming his brand as a young receiver.
“He’s dynamic,” Rodgers said, “with his ability to get down the field.”
Valdes-Scantling’s 40-yard touchdown was his second catch of at least 40 yards this season, following his 47-yard reception that set up the Packers’ lone touchdown in their Week 1 win at Chicago. It was the sixth time in 18 career games he’s had a catch of at least 40 yards. That doesn’t include his 38-yard catch against the Buffalo Bills last September.
It’s an impressive ratio, walking away from exactly one-third of his career games with a 40-yard reception. Considering how opposing defenses play the Packers, constantly rolling coverages in an attempt to remove top receiver Davante Adams, it’s also an important trend MVS has carried into his second season.
If the Packers are going to develop a secondary weapon in their pass game, someone to complement the All-Pro production they get from Adams, MVS appears to be their best hope.
“He’s legit 4.3 speed,” Rodgers said. “That is what it is. Now he’s playing to his timed speed. He’s playing a little more free.”
Still, that legit 4.3 speed is more potential than polish. So far, Valdes-Scantling has mostly shown his talent in flashes. The ability to run away from a cornerback here. His catch radius while high pointing a pass there. He has both 6-4 height and raw, straight-line speed, a tantalizing combination, but only provides glimpses of what he might give the Packers offense if ever he becomes a finished product.
Valdes-Scantling, whose development remains very unfinished, was far from perfect Sunday. Of his 10 targets, two were incompletions on third down. He dropped one just beyond the first-down marker, failing to secure Rodgers’ pass before cornerback De’Vante Bausby knocked it out of his hands. Rodgers couldn’t connect with him on a goal-line fade. MVS also dropped a pass that hit him in the hands on an out route.
“I think he’ll look back,” Rodgers said, “and realize there were some opportunities. One, I got a little pressure, maybe should have stood in there and hit him on a post. He dropped a couple. We hold ourselves to a high standard. I’m going to hold him to a high standard.”
That’s because the Packers need MVS to reach his potential. To do that, the former fifth-round pick still has plenty to develop.
On Sunday, he showed he could be more than a deep threat, more than a receiver with the speed to burn defenses for busted coverage.
There was his 28-yard catch on third-and-15, moving the Packers into Denver territory. A 10-yard catch on third-and-12, setting up a 41-yard Mason Crosby field goal that settled the final score. To MVS, those plays meant almost as much as the touchdown.
“You can’t just be a deep-threat guy,” he said. “You’ve got to be an all-around guy. A third-down guy, a first-down guy, a second-down guy, free-play guy. Anything that you can do, you’ve got to go out and do it.”
On Sunday, MVS did it. The question: can he become more consistent?
After providing the biggest offensive play in the Packers’ opener, MVS stumbled last week against the Minnesota Vikings, catching just three passes for 19 yards. “He didn’t really have the film that he wanted,” Adams said. The veteran spoke with his younger teammate this week, setting a tone much like former Packers receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb set with him early in his career.
“We can’t waste games,” Adams told him. “We come out, and we want to apply pressure every time we step out there.”
MVS listened to the veteran. Then he stepped out onto Lambeau Field and had his best game of the season. With six catches for 99 yards, the Packers’ leading receiver was three feet shy of his third career 100-yard game. After it was over, he stuffed a Broncos No. 55 jersey in a black bag, a gift and perhaps sign of respect from Chubb.
If he figures out how to play like that each week, defenses will have no choice but to adjust.
“It frees me up a lot,” Adams said. “They’re still playing their coverages, and they’re going to double and triple or do whatever they do. You can’t really stop that. That’s how defensive coordinators play today’s game, but when they’re doing that, you’ve got to respect that (speed from MVS). You can’t just let a guy with 4.3 speed run down the middle of the field, and he’s been able to do that.
“The more he does it, the more it’ll free up the running game and myself and the rest of the receivers.”