The Overhang: Hope you didn't sell your Jordan Love stock, because Packers might have a franchise QB after all

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The NFC wild-card race is heating up, and Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers, who now have won three of four, are right in the thick of it. They have a big game this weekend vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field on "Sunday Night Football" too, so where better to focus this week's Overhang?

Jordan Love is flashing his potential as Packers have grown around him

Love entered 2023 with the unenviable position of replacing a future Hall of Fame quarterback, who himself once was in the unenviable position of replacing a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Love, a player considered to be more a bundle of tools than anything close to a finished product, has been putting together more and more promising performances with each passing week, getting a turbo boost after a Week 6 bye that many young players (and teams) greatly benefit from.

He’s not the first, or only, player to benefit from a deep breath in the middle of the chaotic football season, but Love’s results are starting to carry more weight.

Amid a rough 2-5 start on Nov. 1, Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst declared the final 10 games "very important" for Love. Since the Packers' bye, Love currently ranks sixth in EPA per dropback (behind only Dak Prescott, Brock Purdy, C.J. Stroud, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow), seventh in first downs per pass attempt, ninth in quarterback rating, and, perhaps most importantly, sits in the top half of the league in interception (1.9%, T-12th) and sack rates (5.4%, 11th).

This stretch of improved play hit a crescendo with a touchdown turkey on turkey day against the Detroit Lions, with Love finishing with 268 passing yards and three touchdowns, along with several “wow” throws.

Love had several flash throws early in the season and even in his stretch of extended play against the Philadelphia Eagles last season when Aaron Rodgers got hurt. He just turned 25, five months younger than Kenny Pickett and only six months older than 2023 second-round draft pick Will Levis. So despite being a quarterback who can now be classified in the now-seldom seen “veteran that’s a first-time starter,” he still is at an age where development and inconsistencies are understandable while the player is exposed to more actual live-game situations (and those ups and downs are worthwhile if you believe in the talent).

The Packers are also incredibly young as a team, with Love being the constant of this offense while the parts have been constantly shifting around him because of injuries and personnel preference. Running back Aaron Jones has played only seven games so far and is averaging the fewest touches and yards per touch since his rookie year. David Bakhtiari, the longest-tenured Packer and a key cog in this group of young cheeseheads, played only one game this season before undergoing knee surgery. The wide receivers room consists of three rookies and three second-year players, the tight ends room is three rookies, and that’s it.

Love is playing within the confines of the offense, running the play as required and delivering the ball promptly to his teammate. But he is also creating and lifting the play when the defense clamps down or there is a mistake from one of his young teammates, like an RPO play where none of the wide receivers run a route or another dropped pass (Love currently ranks fifth in the rate of pass attempts that were dropped):

But since that bye week, the Packers have also started to understand their young personnel and get (some) health luck in regard to their players, at least outside of the infirmary-like running backs room. A young team is always going to have inconsistencies. But while youth is wasted on the young, the snaps have not been wasted for the Packers.

Christian Watson is starting to come down with the ball, Jayden Reed’s flashes are becoming the burn of an ascending player and Luke Musgrave was starting to learn to harness his incredible speed before suffering an injury to his kidney against the Los Angeles Chargers. (Don’t worry, fellow rookie tight end Tucker Kraft has also been stringing together some impressive performances lately.)

Green Bay's offensive line has started to build some cohesion and chemistry together. The Packers rotate their left tackles Rasheed Walker and Yosh Nijman on a series-by-series basis — yes, really, and both are playing well right now! — and Elgton Jenkins is back looking like ELGTON JENKINS after a knee injury:

And Love’s ever-tantalizing flashes have become more sustainable. The eyes are becoming calmer from the pocket, the trick shots have a purpose, and the Packers are moving the ball and scoring because of how Love is operating the offense. He is the driver and not just a passenger along for the ride. But he can take this offense for a joy ride when he needs to:

Love is playing with a confidence and rhythm that oozes off the screen when you watch the Packers. It can lead to sidearm slings, flipped balls, throws from platforms angles that seem like they’re being scored for “Street Best Trick” at the X Games:

That throw in the embedded tweet above is one of those purposeful throws with flair. Love sidesteps left around interior pressure:

He throws right as his receiver is breaking on the route, giving himself as much room for error as possible, while also changing his arm slot to create a throwing lane and helping his receiver uncover with the throw:

That’s creating a throw, even if it’s from the pocket and technically within the structure of the offense. Love doesn’t look to tuck the ball in a muddy pocket or re-settle himself to deliver the throw, which would take an extra count or two and give the defender that much time to recover and react.

Some of the throws that Love makes might seem like unnecessary pizzazz, like a professional wrestler who puts that extra rotation on their flip because it does more damage kayfabe-wise, but it helps Love operate on time. Perhaps to the beat of his own drum, but still on time. It allows him to play free, play loose, and keep the momentum physically but also psychologically to deliver throws all over the yard, only within the confines of the offense.

Even for throws that don’t require bouncy pocket movement or from angles that would make Pete Maravich proud, Love is showing off an advanced understanding of what’s being asked from him. Especially when the Packers drop straight back and open the menu for Love.

Love’s eyes and calm processing on this third-down play makes his recent play feel so sustainable and something to get excited about. It’s a simple throw to a short over route, but how quickly he gets there is notable.

This play features a quick game concept called "stick" that features two short out routes to Love’s left with an over and dig route working into his progression from the field:

Love’s eyes quickly work from the two-man stick concept on his left, where he first keys his outside route to No. 87 Romeo Doubs, before then shifting his eyes to Kraft (No. 85), when he sees Lions linebacker No. 34 Alex Anzalone squeezing on Kraft:

Watch the clip again and how Love pushes backward in the pocket, creating more cushion for him to progress across the field while also staying on time with the rhythm of the play. The play is shifting from a quick-game concept to a longer dropback, and Love’s tidy footwork and proper progression allows the play to succeed. As soon as that backfoot resets, Love plants and delivers the throw to Reed for a first down.

Love is learning the art of playing quarterback

Just like a person learning to dance, swing a golf club or really any type of skill, there is a balance of learning the fundamentals but also making it your own. The art of playing quarterback is making it work for you. Taking the easy gains that a good offensive play designer (which head coach Matt LaFleur is) creates, but also knowing when to push the envelope when needed. Love's aggressiveness is an asset that he has started to harness, with fantastic results.

Love has been consistently finding the correct answer, and at times the best answer, on any given play. (There can be multiple “correct” throws on a play; the best quarterbacks work to turn those designed singles into doubles and triples, though.) When the Packers simplify things, like on an RPO or on play-action concepts which can limit the amount of players running routes (and thus reads the quarterback has to make), Love is pushing the right buttons. He's aggressive when needed, like the bomb he threw to Watson on the first play against the Lions — which LaFleur said Love told him to keep in the opening script — and also the first play in the tweet embedded below, or checking the ball down and creating positive plays when defenses are flooding passing lanes. All while both showing off his arm talent, ability to avoid sacks and keep the offense ahead of the chains:

A total of 47.6% of Love’s throws have traveled 5 or fewer air yards, compared to Aaron Rodgers’ 54.9% rate in 2022. This offense has become more vertical, or at least more intermediate, with Love. There are still things like flats, bubbles and sweeps, but Love also attacks the middle of the field more often than Rodgers did in his last year with the Packers, testing the hardest area of the field to throw more often. It's a bit of youthful ignorance but also something that can create juicy explosive plays more easily.

Love’s size and athleticism also give the Packers one more tool at their disposal: the quarterback run game, which they can pull out in high-leverage moments like in short yardage or near the goal line. Here's something the Packers dialed up on a critical third down on Thanksgiving:

The Packers are right in the thick of it in the NFC wild-card race, with their offense and defense playing better as identities have started to form on both sides of the ball. The Packers' run game has started to evolve, with the health of their offensive line of course contributing but also adding concepts that have been paying dividends for them. (It seems LaFleur hit up his brother Mike with the Rams and asked about some runs they were using. But that discussion on the Duo run is for another time.)

Love’s play has also been a big reason for their improved team success. Even with the changes happening around him in his first year starting, those flashes of high-end arm talent have become lifted by more down-to-down realness. Executing what is planned and lifting the unplanned, Love looks like a real deal franchise quarterback the Packers can start becoming more confident about as part of their future.

Another franchise quarterback in Wisconsin? They can’t keep getting away with this, can they?

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