Analysis: Packers can do worse than sticking with Brett Hundley

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley (7) signals at the line of scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at Lambeau Field.

Mike McCarthy is sticking with Brett Hundley as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback.

It’s the right call.

If Taysom Hill still were around, things might be different. The Packers coach might've had to give him a shot.

But Hill’s not available. General manager Ted Thompson cut him and Joe Callahan at the end of training camp, and when the New Orleans Saints claimed Hill on waivers, Callahan was the fallback for their practice squad. Put that one on the GM. He miscalculated that Hill would get through waivers.

But given the choice between Hundley and Callahan, sticking with Hundley is the way to go.

No, the picture isn’t pretty. Hundley is 1-3 as the starter, has a 63.3 passer rating and is coming off a disastrous four-turnover shutout loss to Baltimore on Sunday. So of course the possibility of benching him is on the table. It has to be.

But McCarthy is justified in giving him a little more time to grow.

If you’re asking, why not try Callahan, it can’t get any worse? Well, it can. Just look at the NFL on Sunday. Buffalo rookie Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half of his first NFL start, and yet Bills coach Sean McDermott says he’s considering starting him again this week.

So while there’s much to admire about Callahan’s pluck and moxie, he also has physical limitations that have to give pause before he could replace Hundley. Callahan (75.9 preseason passer rating) reportedly measured 6-feet-1 1/8 at his campus pro day in 2016, which is below the 6-2 minimum NFL teams prefer. Anything under that makes it tough to play in the pocket, so then you need exceptional compensating traits.

Yet, for an undersized quarterback, Callahan also ran a surprisingly slow 40 time of 4.98 seconds. Over the last two preseasons, he has shown good short-area quickness and has made his living outside the pocket. But outrunning backups and camp bodies is one thing; outrunning starting NFL rushers is quite another.

Hill, on the other hand, while only a half-inch taller than Callahan at 6-1 5/8, has exceptional speed (4.46) and a much better throwing arm. He’s just a bigger (230 pounds to Callahan’s 216), stronger, faster guy. That gives him a better shot.

Maybe Callahan’s time will come later this year. If Hundley plays again like he did against Baltimore, it could come soon. But not this week, especially against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that’s as good as anyone in the NFL.

So McCarthy is right to give Hundley a little more time to figure it out. But McCarthy has to do a better job of giving Hundley a chance to succeed than he did Sunday. Go back to playing small ball, like against Chicago the week before.

Hundley also has to get a better feel for the pocket. His first instinct is to go backward. That’s not working. When he sees a defensive jersey from the left edge, he has to know he has David Bakhtiari blocking there. Bakhtiari is going to push the guy past. So there will be room to step up and to the left.

Hundley’s first of six sacks Sunday was a perfect example of not trusting what he sees. Though Hundley had a huge alley up the middle, when he felt pressure from his front side his inclination was to go backward, and he backpedaled into a 12-yard loss. He could have avoided at least one and probably two other sacks by moving forward rather than holding his spot or going laterally.

There’s also the question of whether Hundley should run more, whether it be read option like he did in college or encouraging him to tuck it and take off on a pass call.

McCarthy probably has been reluctant to do that — especially the designed runs — because of the injury risk. He doesn’t want to be forced to his No. 3. But it’s looking like running has to be a significant part of Hundley’s game, because without it he’s not getting it done.

If the Packers are going to transform into a running team, the read option is a valuable weapon. So McCarthy probably just has to emphasize to Hundley to protect himself and take his chances there.

Second chance

Devante Mays might have made history Sunday by fumbling on his first two carries in the NFL. That’s not the kind of history you want to make.

But the Packers have to stick it out with the seventh-round draft pick. They were his first two snaps at running back in the league and came on a cold day when the ball is slick. That’s not an excuse, because ball security is paramount, and it’s mind-boggling that he fumbled his first two touches. But those factors are reasons to not banish him.

He showed enough in preseason to get the chance to prove this was an aberration. He’s a big (230 pounds) guy. Jamal Williams, the starter with Aaron Jones out, is a physical runner but not a battering ram. Mays could be a battering ram, if he can take care of the ball. And the two could take a toll on a defense by the second half.

McCarthy might not have a lot of choice anyway. With Jones (knee) out for multiple weeks and Ty Montgomery (ribs) possibly unavailable again this week, Williams and Mays might be the Packers’ only halfbacks at Pittsburgh.

Extra points

Considering the circumstances, Davante Adams is playing some good football. Even without Aaron Rodgers to get him the ball, he’s producing like no one else on the offense — eight catches for 126 yards against the Ravens.

Adams is finding holes in zones and has mastered the sideline catch that used to be Jordy Nelson’s domain. He’s also catching the ball in traffic and turning slants into nice gains. He’s still helping himself in a contract year.

» Kenny Clark’s injury Sunday is a big one for a defense that can’t afford to lose one of its best players, and it means Quinton Dial has to take on a bigger role. The news on Clark actually looks good — he reportedly sprained his ankle, and didn’t break it. But he still figures to miss a game or, more likely, games.

Clark has been as good as anybody on the Packers’ defense, especially against the run. Dial doesn’t have Clark’s quickness to disrupt in the middle and range to pursue plays to the flat. But he’s a huge man (6-5, 318), and the next-best thing would be for Dial to manhandle blockers and win at the line of scrimmage that way.

Grade card

Quarterback: Brett Hundley threw three interceptions, lost a fumble, had no touchdowns and showed no pocket presence. The shutout said it all. Grade: F

Running back: Rookie Devante Mays fumbled on his first two carries, and Jamaal Williams had a quiet day (18 carries for 57 yards) against a stout Baltimore defense. Williams at least was good picking up the blitz. Grade: D

Offensive line: David Bakhtiari gave up a sack to Terrell Suggs but otherwise is in fine form and had a good game. Justin McCray at least was serviceable at right tackle until getting knocked out of the game by a knee injury. Grade: C-

Tight ends: Richard Rodgers and Lance Kendricks blocked OK. Grade: C

Wide receivers: Davante Adams made several plays, but the biggest problem is they don’t have a quarterback to get him the ball. Grade: B-

Defensive line: Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry and Quinton Dial shut down the inside run (the Ravens averaged only 2.2 yards on 26 carries), which allowed linebackers Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan (15 tackles combined) to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Martinez (eight tackles) and Ryan (seven) were good in the run game. Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell  got his first sack of the year. Grade: C+

Cornerbacks: They didn’t get torched, allowed no big plays, and even the Ravens' 21-yard touchdown pass came on an excellent throw by Joe Flacco and catch by Mike Wallace against Damarious Randall’s tight coverage. Grade: B-

Safeties: Josh Jones (seven tackles) had a solid game in place of injured Morgan Burnett. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made one interception but dropped another. Grade:  B-

Special teams: Didn’t give up any plays, but didn’t make any either. Grade: C

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