Jordan Love showed he’s ‘light years ahead’ of last season in Packers’ win over Saints

GREEN BAY, Wis. — First play Friday night, Jordan Love hit the back of his three-step drop and had nowhere to throw.

The New Orleans Saints had only rushed four defenders, dropping seven in coverage. Love glanced to his right. He scanned back to the middle. Then the Green Bay Packers quarterback did something he almost certainly wouldn’t have tried in the last two years.

After Love’s solid preseason debut last week in San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers said he still wanted to see his backup get more comfortable when it came time to commit to a game. That internal clock, the one that screams for a quarterback to get out of Dodge, is a hard thing to master. So when Love didn’t stay inside the pocket, pushing to pick up 11 yards up the middle, it was exactly the decision the Packers expected their young quarterback to make.

“He’s been determined,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, “and I think that’s the big thing from him. I see a much more determined player out there, and I think that’s going to lead to a much more effective player.”

Love showed more accuracy in the Packers’ 20-10 win against the Saints than at any other point during the previous two training camps. Like last week, it was another game where his final numbers betrayed the film.

“I thought there was a lot of good,” LaFleur said. “I know the numbers don’t necessarily reflect how I feel.”

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Love finished 12-of-24 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown, but the way he handled the second preseason game of 2022 was far more effective.

This wasn’t Rodgers using Jedi magic to warp a defense. That’s not a fair standard for Love, or almost any quarterback in the NFL, and it’s not what the Packers need this fall from their 2020 first-round pick. Love is the backup quarterback this season. It’s the backup’s job to carry the starter water if necessary for a week or two during the long 17-game season.

Love has shown during this camp that he is much more capable of it than he has been the last two years. If he’s not ready to be a full-time starter, Love is showing he can manage a team with a loaded defense and a flashy running game – the type of general manager Brian Gutekunst built. The restlessness with which Love played last season, the deer-in-the-headlights look he had against constant pressure in his NFL debut last year in Kansas City, has been absent since the start of camp.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) passes the ball against the New Orleans Saints during their football game Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.  Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) passes the ball against the New Orleans Saints during their football game Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Jordan Love ‘one of the most improved guys’

“I don’t know how you look at it,” LaFleur said, “but the way I look at it – and I look at it on a daily basis – I think it’s light years ahead of where it was a year ago. I think if you ask our guys in that locker room, every single one of them would tell you that they have a lot of confidence in him, and I think we would all agree in that locker room that he’s one of the most improved guys in the last year.

“I think a couple of weeks ago, we started seeing him get a couple of practices and that consistency. He started showing up more and more.”

Love wasn’t perfect Friday night. He missed a handful of throws, most of which appeared to be a shallow route to Josiah Deguara inside the 10-yard line. It’s a part of his game the Packers want to see Love polish after missing a handful of easy throws last week.

It’s the shots Love has taken, the dimes he’s missed this preseason that he didn’t last year, that highlight his development. Love laid on a deep corner route to receiver Juwann Winfree between a Saints linebacker and a defensive back for 21 yards in the first half. “A great throw,” Rodgers told the Packers television network. He made the right read on a 17-yard sail route downfield to Romeo Doubs, positioning his pass toward the sideline so Doubs could be shielded by double coverage.

Love said it was the best throw of the night.

“It was one of those things where I had pressure on my face,” Love said, “and I just kind of trusted where it was going to be. At the last second, I saw the DB go down and I was upset about it. as I let the ball go and I couldn’t I didn’t even see what happened. I just heard the crowd going crazy and I knew he had a good game there.”

After his opening drive of 11 yards, Love’s first possession ended with a deep end on third-and-three. He put a pass down the right side on a fade route to Doubs, who turned right inside for the football. The play called for Doubs to fade his route to the sideline, away from coverage. Instead, Doubs turned sharply on his outside shoulder on Love’s pass in the air and was unable to catch the football.

The duo combined for Love’s lone touchdown of the night. In the second quarter, Love took a high pass to the left side of the end zone, timing it so Doubs could catch the ball over 6-3 defensive back Brian Allen for a 4-yard score.

“I think we had a really good relationship,” Love said. “I think since he got here in OTAs, he’s a guy who makes plays out there. It’s easy to want to throw him the ball and get it to him, even when it’s a 50-50 ball. He’s going to go up there and he’s going to make a play on it – like he did on the fade in the end zone right there.

“I think, obviously, we have a new connection. It’s just his first year throwing and Aaron, too, but I think he’s making a lot of really good plays. I’m excited for what he’s doing this season.”

Packers need love to be a maintainable backup QB

Whether Love will play with Doubs beyond this season remains uncertain. For now, the Packers aren’t looking beyond this fall. They need Love to be a backup and nothing more.

LaFleur doesn’t doubt that his young quarterback is developing into one. He particularly thought Love’s 50% completion clip through a driving rain in the second half was tough. Love made several plays that didn’t show up in the score, including a 17-yarder to Doubs in the first half that was canceled due to a penalty. He threw another ball over Saints linebacker Nephi Sewell for what would have been an 18-yarder to Amari Rodgers on third-and-5, but the sophomore couldn’t complete the catch when he hit the ground.

Love had a perfect deep ball down the left sideline while coming that way from the pocket after getting the Saints defense to bite to the right on an action fake, but rookie Samori Toure threw it away.

“I thought he made some nice plays,” Aaron Rodgers said. “The rain doesn’t help. It obviously makes things a little bit looser. I think we had four or five drops tonight. So we had some opportunities for sure. We had a couple of pitches that we hit, a couple that we had a chance to hit and we didn’t hit, but I thought he made some really nice shots.

“He’s doing some really good things. He’s just picking up where he left off (last week). He should feel good about how he’s playing, and it just comes down to the basics.”

When Love has played with solid fundamentals, Rodgers said he’s been impressed with his backup. The four-time MVP credited quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, whom the Packers rehired this offseason, for guiding Love’s development. Clements was Rodgers’ first quarterbacks coach in Green Bay.

Even if Love never becomes a regular starter for the Packers, his improvement is a significant development for a team that is primed for contention this fall. This is a Packers team designed to withstand a short absence from Rodgers, who missed one game last season after testing positive for COVID-19. All he needs to prevent a collapse behind his defense and a headline game from Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon is solid quarterback play.

Love got more pressure Friday night than last week, including a sack against Saints defensive end Taco Charlton. He never flinched, taking care of football all night. The Packers’ lone turnover was a fumble by Tyler Davis, who also dropped a pass last week that turned into an interception.

If Love’s progress continues, the Packers could have their best quarterback depth in a long time.

“I definitely feel a lot better than I have the last couple of years,” Love said. “I feel more confident, more comfortable back there. It’s my third year on offense, my second year getting reps in games. I definitely feel more comfortable. I think it comes with getting those reps and getting those plays and just to gain more confidence myself and everyone around me in the attack.”

This article originally appeared in Packers News: Green Bay Packers QB Jordan Love ‘light years ahead’ of last year

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