Jordan Love showing he's 'light years ahead' of last season in Packers' 20-10 victory over Saints
GREEN BAY — First play Friday night, Jordan Love hit the back of his three-step drop, and he had nowhere to throw.
The New Orleans Saints had rushed only four defenders, dropping seven in coverage. Love glanced to his right. He scanned back to the middle. Then the Green Bay Packers quarterback did something he almost certainly would not have tried the past couple of years.
After Love's solid preseason debut last week in San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers said he still wanted to see his backup be more comfortable when it’s time to bail on a play. That internal clock, the one that screams for a quarterback to get out of Dodge, is a tricky thing to master. So when Love didn’t linger inside the pocket, tucking to pick up 11 yards up the middle, it was exactly the type of decision the Packers have waited for their young quarterback to make.
“He was decisive,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, “and I think that’s the big thing from him. I see a much more decisive player out there, and I think that’s going to lead to a much more effective player.”
Love showed more precision in the Packers’ 20-10 win against the Saints than at any point during the past two training camps. Like last week, it was another game where his final numbers betrayed the film.
“I thought there was a lot of good,” LaFleur said. “I know the numbers don’t necessarily reflect how I feel.” Love finished 12-of-24 passing for 113 yards and one touchdown, but the way he managed his second preseason game of 2022 was much more efficient.
This wasn’t Rodgers using Jedi magic to mind warp a defense. That isn’t a fair standard for Love, or almost any quarterback in the NFL, and it isn’t what the Packers need this fall from their 2020 first-round pick. Love is the backup quarterback this season. It’s the backup’s job to carry the starter’s water if necessary for a week or two during the long, 17-game season.
Love has shown during this camp he’s much more capable of that than his past two years. If he isn’t ready to be a full-time starter, Love is showing he can manage a team with a loaded defense and vaunted run game – the type of squad general manager Brian Gutekunst constructed. The uneasiness Love played with last season, the deer-in-the-headlights look he had against constant pressure in his NFL debut last year at Kansas City, has been absent since the start of camp.
Jordan Love 'one of the most improved guys'
“I don’t know how you guys see it,” LaFleur said, “but the way I see it – and see it on a daily basis – I think he’s light years ahead of where he was a year ago. I think if you ask our guys in that locker room, every one of them would tell you they’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and I think we would all agree in that locker room that he’s one of the most improved guys over the last year.
“I think a couple weeks ago, we started seeing him string a couple practices and that consistency. He started to show up more and more.”
Love wasn’t perfect Friday night. He missed a handful of throws, most glaring a shallow out route to wide-open tight end Josiah Deguara inside the 10-yard line. It’s part of his game the Packers want to see Love polish after missing a handful of easy throws last week.
It’s the throws Love has made, dimes he’s dropped this preseason that he didn’t last year, that highlight his development. Love layered a deep corner route to receiver Juwann Winfree between a Saints linebacker and defensive back for 21 yards in the first half. “A great throw,” Rodgers told the Packers television network. He made the right read on a 17-yard sail route downfield to Romeo Doubs, locating his pass toward the sideline so Doubs could shield himself against double coverage.
Love said it was his best throw of the night.
“It was one of those ones where I had pressure in my face,” Love said, “and I kind of just trusted where he was going to be. At the last second, I saw the DB falling off and got nervous about that right as I let the ball go, and I couldn’t even see what happened. I just heard the crowd going crazy, and I knew he made a good play over there.”
After his initial 11-yard run, Love’s first possession ended with a deep incompletion on third-and-3. He floated a pass toward the right sideline on a fade route to Doubs, who correctly turned inside for the football. The play called for Doubs to fade his route toward the sideline, away from coverage. Instead, Doubs abruptly turned to his outside shoulder with Love’s pass in midair and was unable to catch the football.
The duo recovered for Love’s lone touchdown of the night. In the second quarter, Love lofted a high pass in the left side of the end zone, timing it so Doubs could catch the ball over 6-3 defensive back Brian Allen for a 4-yard score.
“I think we had a really good connection,” Love said. “I think since he got here in OTAs, he’s been a guy who’s just been making plays out there. It’s easy to want to throw him the ball and get it up to him, and even when it’s kind of a 50-50 ball, he’s going to go up there and make a play on it – like he did on the fade in the end zone right there.
“I think, obviously, we have a new connection. It’s only in the first year throwing to him, and Aaron as well throwing to him, but I think he’s been making a lot of really good plays. I’m excited for what he does this season.”
Packers need Love to be a serviceable backup QB
Whether Love gets to play with Doubs beyond this season remains uncertain. For now, the Packers aren’t looking beyond this fall. They need Love to be a serviceable backup and nothing more.
LaFleur doesn’t question his young quarterback is developing into one. He especially thought Love’s 50% completion clip through a driving second-half rain was harsh. Love made several plays that didn’t show up in the box score, including a 17-yard completion to Doubs in the first half that was erased because of a holding penalty. He layered another ball over Saints linebacker Nephi Sewell for what would have been an 18-yard completion to Amari Rodgers on third-and-5, but the second-year receiver couldn’t finish the catch when he hit the ground.
Love had a perfect deep ball down the left sideline while rolling that direction out of the pocket, after getting the Saints defense to bite to the right on an action fake, but rookie Samori Toure dropped it.
"I thought he made some nice plays,” Aaron Rodgers said. “The rain doesn't help. It obviously makes things a little slicker. I think we had four or five drops tonight. So we had some opportunities for sure. We had some throws down the field that we've hit, a couple that we've had a chance to hit and didn't hit. But I thought he made some really nice throws.
"He's doing some really good things. He's just picking up where he left off (last week). He should feel good about how he's playing, and it just comes down to fundamentals.”
When Love has played with solid fundamentals, Rodgers said he’s been impressed with his backup. The four-time MVP credited quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, who the Packers rehired this offseason, for guiding Love’s development. Clements was Rodgers’ first quarterbacks coach in Green Bay.
Even if Love never becomes the Packers full-time starter, his improvement is an important development for a team built for contention this fall. This is a Packers team designed to withstand a brief absence from Rodgers, who missed one game last season after testing positive for COVID-19. All it needs to prevent a collapse behind its defense and a run game headlined by Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon is steady quarterback play.
Love was pressured more Friday night than last week, including one sack against Saints defensive end Taco Charlton. He never flinched, taking care of the football all night. The Packers lone turnover was a fumble from tight end Tyler Davis, who also dropped a pass last week that turned into an interception.
If Love's progress continues, the Packers could have their best quarterback depth in a long time.
“I feel definitely a lot better than I have in the past two years,” Love said. “I feel more confident, more comfortable back there. It’s my third year in the offense, my second year getting game reps. I definitely feel more comfortable. I think it comes with getting those reps and getting those plays and just getting more confidence in myself and everybody around me in the offense.”