GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur wanted to get Jordan Love a lot of work this preseason.
Mission accomplished. As a rookie in 2020, COVID canceled the preseason. In 2021, a shoulder injury sidelined him for one game and had him limited for another. In 2022, Love has thrown 17 more passes than any other quarterback. He leads the NFL with 41 completions and 437 yards but, of 35 quarterbacks with at least 28 attempts, Love ranks 30th in completion percentage (55.4), 27th in yards per attempt (5.91), 35th in interceptions (four), 31st in interception percentage (5.4) and 31st in passer rating (63.8).
Of course, all those numbers – from being first in yards to near the bottom in passer rating – tell an incomplete story. As LaFleur likes to say, a quarterback gets too much credit in victory and too much blame in defeat. Love didn’t play a single rep with anything resembling the No. 1 offense. Good luck playing quarterback behind second- and third-stringers on the offensive line.
“I feel definitely a lot better than I have in the past two years,” Love said after completing 16-of-26 passes for 148 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception in the 17-10 loss at the Chiefs. “I just feel more confident, more comfortable back there. It’s my third year in the offense, second year getting game reps, so I definitely just feel a lot more comfortable. I think it just comes from getting those reps, getting those plays and just getting more confidence in myself and everybody around me and then in the offense.”
Love forced a ball into coverage during the two-minute drill interception. He was a woeful 1-of-4 for 1 yard when pressured, according to Pro Football Focus, and he was 0-for-6 on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.
But when there was a play to be made, Love generally made it. He was a much better quarterback on Thursday night than he was in last year’s loss at Kansas City.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable being decisive and being able to let it rip,” Love said, “and not waiting and being hesitant for a play to open up.”
Here are five positive performances from Thursday.
Receiver Samori Toure
Seventh-round pick Samori Toure caught 6-of-8 passes for 83 yards. One of those incompletions came on fourth down in the waning moments and sure looked like pass interference. He made one catch in traffic and broke a couple tackles, too.
“It’s just about playing fast and playing detailed, being detailed with your routes,” Toure said afterward. “It just comes from reps in practice. I feel like the game’s been slowing down a little bit. I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Offensive tackle Rasheed Walker
The Packers didn’t need another offensive lineman when they were on the clock with the 249th overall selection. But general manager Brian Gutekunst thought Rasheed Walker, a three-year starting left tackle at Penn State, was too good to pass up.
However, it’s been a mostly miserable training camp. A foot injury kept him out of the first two preseason games. When he was on the practice field, he had to take a lot of hard coaching from offensive line coach Luke Butkus. He entered Thursday’s game looking like he had no chance to make the 53. And maybe he will get cut, but Walker was fantastic vs. the Chiefs. He didn’t allow any pressures aside from the sack on a screen, though he’ll probably be absolved from blame on that play. And he snow-plowed his man down the line on an explosive third-and-1 run by Patrick Taylor.
Just like that, Walker looks like a pretty good developmental prospect.
Defensive tackles Jack Heflin and Chris Slayton
With Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, T.J. Slaton and first round pick Devonte Wyatt, the Packers probably don’t need to keep a sixth defensive linemen. After all, they’ll line up with only two on the field for most snaps.
But if the idea is to keep the best 53 players, it would be impossible to not include Jack Heflin. Heflin was a great story last year, going from unrecruited to undrafted to making the 53. The signing of Reed in free agency and the drafting of Wyatt put Heflin behind the eight-ball. Or so it seemed. He has raised his level of play to meet the level of competition. His splash play, the fourth-down tackle for loss, came because the Chiefs didn’t block him. However, the forced fumble could have swung the game had the ball bounced the right way. With leverage and country-strength, he is hard to block.
At this point, if it’s fourth-and-1, wouldn’t you rather have Heflin on the field than Wyatt?
If Heflin seemed like a long shot at the start of training camp, what about Chris Slayton? He was our 90th-ranked player at the start of camp. A seventh-round pick in 2019, he has never played in a regular-season game and served stints on five practice squads. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery seemingly has resurrected Slayton’s career. He’s got a good feel for pass rush and never quits on a play.
Inside linebacker Quay Walker
Linebacker Quay Walker, the team’s first draft pick, was the only defensive starter on the field in any of the three preseason games. Games 1 and 2 were quiet; Game 3 was not. Playing only a few series, Walker piled up five tackles. That third-down tackle on a swing pass to veteran running back Jerick McKinnon is exactly what the Packers envisioned. McKinnon was open but Walker covers so much ground that McKinnon didn’t gain a single yard after the catch and the Chiefs were forced to punt.
“I love watching him run,” coach Matt LaFleur said as part of the associated video. “He’s a big guy that can move, run sideline-to-sideline. It’s going to be fun to watch him paired up next to another ‘creature’ and have two 6-foot-3-plus linebackers in there that can really run and are very good players.”
Safety Tariq Carpenter
The Packers used a seventh-round pick on Tariq Carpenter based on his elite combination of size and athleticism. For all the talk at the time of Carpenter emerging as a hybrid safety/linebacker, Campbell has been only a bottom-of-the-depth-chart safety.
But Carpenter could be an elite open-field tackler. He showed that against the 49ers in the first preseason game and again against the Chiefs, with one stop on a kick return and another on a pass.
If you’re not a starter, how do you make the team? Special teams. What is special teams – at least the coverage phases? Tackling. With his physical traits, he could emerge as a weapon for Rich Bisaccia.