Preseason finale provides valuable ‘teachable moments’ for Packers QB Jordan Love

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The best time to make mistakes as a young quarterback is during moments that don’t actually matter. Think practice or preseason games. Mistakes are such a great teaching tool, and the best football players make a mistake, learn from it and then rarely make it again.

Saturday’s preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills was a terrific example of why exhibition games can be so valuable for a player like Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love, who completed 12 passes for 148 yards and led three long drives against starters for the Bills but also had two bad decisions that coach Matt LaFleur called “teachable moments.”

Situational inexperience is a real thing. A young player gets put into a precarious situation in which he lacks functional experience, and the young player reacts poorly.

The only way to gain experience is to, well, experience the situation. And making a mistake within the experience can amplify the learning potential.

Take Love’s first teachable moment from Saturday. The play was a designed rollout off a play-action fake, a precise call that requires timing and the proper footwork from the quarterback. The problem? Love got tripped up in his dropback, immediately affecting the footwork of the play and causing him to momentarily lose his vision down the field.

With the pass-rush suddenly bearing down on him, Love tried to play with instincts and anticipate the route he knew was forming down the field. The only problem? He didn’t have the time or necessary vision to see safety Micah Hyde lurking. And so when he threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone while fading away from the pressure, Hyde – a Pro Bowl defensive back – had no problem ranging to his left to make the interception in front of receiver Malik Taylor.

Post-game, Love knew what he needed to do. Throw the ball away and live to fight another day. The idea here: don’t exacerbate a problem. When a play breaks down, don’t make it worse. A throwaway or a sack beats an interception, especially on first down in opponent’s territory. Sometimes a play is broken from the start and needs to be safely placed in the trash by the quarterback. The Packers will hope Love learns from the mistake, and the next time he doesn’t have the right vision or timing on a similar play, he’ll just throw the ball away instead of forcing it downfield.

It’s all about learning and not repeating mistakes.

Love threw a lot of interceptions at Utah State, especially as a junior as he attempted to force the ball down the field. Carefully taking some of the gambling mentality out of his game – without affecting his playmaking – will be part of the development process.

His second teachable moment was another exercise in situational inexperience.

Once again, the play broke down immediately. On third down in the red zone, left tackle Yosh Nijman got beat immediately with an inside move, giving the edge rusher a clear path to Love in the pocket. He did the right thing, feeling the pressure and escaping to his right to buy time. But then came the mistake. Instead of throwing the ball away or continuing to buy time, Love attempted an impossible throw on the run into traffic over the middle.

This was arguably a bigger mistake than his first. This was a quarterback with his timing affected, and trying to force a play that was never there. Receiver Amari Rodgers was flashing across the backline of the end zone, but there were 2-3 Bills defenders between Love and Rodgers. There was no throwing window. The ball was tipped and should have been intercepted. Nine times out of 10, a play like this will end in a turnover.

For the most part, Love looked terrific from clean pockets over two preseason games. He stood tall, made good decisions and threw accurately. It was when the protection broke down that Love showed his inexperience. And that’s perfectly reasonable for a young player that hadn’t played in a real-game environment for over 600 days. He’s not wearing a red uniform anymore. Feeling pressure in the pocket – with the real threat of getting hit – can be a harsh adjustment after so long away.

Love will either learn one of the golden rules of quarterbacking, or he’ll be a turnover machine at the NFL level. Always, always live to fight another day. Protecting the football is so important. Even when the breakdown of the play isn’t the quarterback’s fault, it’s the quarterback’s job to create a neutral outcome.

In this way, Saturday’s preseason game in Buffalo was a valuable learning experience for Love. Matt LaFleur and the Packers don’t need a hero when a play goes to hell. They need a guardian of the football. For quarterbacks, keeping a bad play from going completely off the rails is part of the job description.

On two plays against the Bills, Love was a problem-exasperator. He must learn to be a problem-solver. Enduring these moments – and learning from the experience – is the only way for a young quarterback like Love to make the jump.

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