Jordan Love, again, shows signs of mastering Packers' offense despite pedestrian numbers
This was his house of horrors. The stadium Jordan Love made his NFL debut in almost 10 months ago, a game the Green Bay Packers quarterback would like to forget.
Love returned to meet the Kansas City Chiefs defense Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium in the finale of his third preseason. He wasn’t armed with his best. Coach Matt LaFleur chose to rest his starters for a third straight week, leaving Love surrounded by backups.
“A lot of guys,” Aaron Rodgers told the Packers television broadcast, “who might not make the squad.”
Love’s final numbers in the Packers' 17-10 loss to the Chiefs didn’t look all that different from the box score last season. The 2020 first-round pick completed only 16 of 26 passes for 148 yards and his worst interception of the preseason, a poor decision on a deep ball in double coverage late in the first half.
BOX SCORE:Chiefs 17, Packers 10
His 61.1 rating was actually worse than the 69.5 clip he posted Week 9 last fall.
Love’s preseason hasn’t been defined by the numbers, however. He had three interceptions in his opener at San Francisco two weeks ago, two on dropped passes and a third on a bad route. Love’s development has been better tracked on film.
“I thought there was a lot of good things out there,” LaFleur said. “I always look at the numbers at the end of it and go, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ I thought he did a lot of good things. We’ll take a look at the tape. I’m sure there’s always something you can clean up.”
If he wants to find the glaring mistake, LaFleur can fast forward to the end of the first half. Less than a minute left, the Packers were driving near midfield. On third-and-5 from the Chiefs’ 49-yard line, they still had a timeout and 19 seconds left when Love chucked a pass deep over the middle into double coverage.
The Chiefs were playing cover-2 defense, rolling safety Bryan Cook over Packers tight end Alize Mack. Love didn’t see the deep safety, overthrowing Mack for an interception that ended any chance of a score before halftime. Love was equally critical of his throw and decision after the game.
“It’s a coverage I’ve seen, Tampa 2,” Love said. “They were rolling to it. we had a route going right down the middle. I just tried to hit him over the top. Took a chance on it. Looking back on it, wish I would have thrown a back-shoulder ball to him, because I don’t think he was winning over the top.
“Looking back on it, maybe take the shorter throw right there and just try to keep moving the sticks. We had some timeouts right there. So just a situation I can learn from, a great two-minute situation right there. But, yeah, just trying to take a shot right there, and forced the ball a little bit.”
It’s the type of decision a young quarterback must learn to avoid. Love, a self-proclaimed gunslinger, will need to learn when not to take a shot. He memorably threw two interceptions late in the Packers finale at the Detroit Lions last season, his only other significant playing time.
LaFleur said he didn’t have a problem with the interception immediately after the game, but added he’ll go back and check it on film.
“When I watched it live, I was not unhappy with the decision at all," LaFleur said. "I’ve got to go see how the safety was playing, but I was looking at the same place he was, and I thought Alize had a step on his man. Unfortunately, the strong safety was able to come across Alize and make the pick.”
The interception was so glaring because it’s the type of play that used to be more common for him, but has noticeably been rarer this preseason. Love’s development in all phases has been stark over the past month. “I think he’s definitely become a master of the offense,” Rodgers said. Love showed that mastery on a pair of long scoring drives in the second quarter.
The Packers got on the scoreboard with an 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown run from Tyler Goodson. Love was an efficient 5-for-6 for 35 yards on the possession.
One possession later, Love led the offense on a 13-play, 84-yard drive that ended inside the 10-yard line, setting up a 23-yard field goal from Ramiz Ahmed. The drive included three offensive penalties inside the 10-yard line, preventing a touchdown.
It was the highlight of what was another game when things didn’t always go right around Love. LaFleur said he was pleased with how his young quarterback weathered the adversity, something he was unable to against the Chiefs last season.
“I think early on there wasn’t really a lot open for him,” LaFleur said, “and he was under some duress. The one thing I loved about it is, when the game doesn’t start out how you want it to, how do you respond? I thought he showed a lot of resiliency, and I think that just shows the maturation process that he’s done over the last couple years.”
Love returns to his role in Rodgers’ shadow now, showing this preseason he’s more capable of producing in a backup role than last year. The deer-in-the-headlights look he showed at Kansas City last October was missing Thursday night. Everyone around Love has spoken of his increased confidence, a young quarterback better able to handle the position.
Even if the numbers don’t always reflect it.
“I’m always harping on the little things,” Rodgers said. “The reads and stuff, just understanding the offense, I think he’s definitely become a master of the offense. But it’s just the little things that are really going to help him level up, and a lot of it is footwork and little things like arm angles on run action, his keeper fakes, his hard-action fakes, his run solutions and RPO game, helping to marry up with the running game. That’s what I like seeing.”