"I have never seen a quarterback hit all his big throws like that in a game. That was the most impressive big-pass-play production from a quarterback," said McCarthy on Nov. 18, a day after the Packers fell 27-13 to the New York Giants. "I was talking to Scott going through his grading session this morning and I can't think of another time in my career that I've had someone hit on every one. Every big shot we called yesterday, we hit them. Excellent protection, took a couple hits on the throws, but the ball placement was extraordinary."
Despite the low point total for the Packers, the Tolzien-led offense hit on eight passing plays of 15 yards or more with the Giants' defense focused on stopping the run. Tolzien, throwing for 339 yards, the most by a Packers quarterback in his first start, was 4-of-4 on his deep throws (20 yards or more) for 151 yards.
"He's a good football player. He's got a lot to work with," McCarthy said later in his Nov. 18 press conference. "We need to focus on winning games right now, but there's a lot there for a young quarterback."
As Packers fans know, the Tolzien story in 2013 did not have a happy ending. A week later, at home against the Minnesota Vikings, he was benched for ineffectiveness in the second half in favor of Matt Flynn, who had signed with the Packers just 12 days earlier. Flynn started the next four games before Aaron Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone in the regular season finale.
Still, for Tolzien in 2014, there is plenty of hope. With Flynn and Seneca Wallace remaining as unrestricted free agents and the NFL Draft looming next month, Tolzien is the only backup quarterback on the roster. The Packers have indicated they would like Flynn back after he put up some heroic performances in 2013, but even so, Tolzien displayed an edge last season that sets him apart.
Much more the slinger than Flynn, Tolzien exhibited skills in the downfield passing game that were only overshadowed by his mistakes (five interceptions in about nine quarters of play during the regular season). But no other quarterback in the NFL, based on Pro Football Focus' deep passing statistics, was as accurate as Tolzien when throwing long.
On pass attempts of 20 yards or more downfield (57 quarterbacks had at least one attempt), Tolzien hit on 6-of-9 for 217 yards with one dropped pass. That 77.8 percent accuracy clip was better even than Rodgers, who was one of the league's best at 52.8 percent (18-of-36 with one drop). Flynn, by comparison, was just 28.6 percent (4-of-14) not counting his brief stint with the Oakland Raiders.
On targeted passes of 10 to 19 yards, the difference between Flynn and Tolzien, however, was negligible. Flynn was 16-of-33 (48.5 percent) with one touchdown and one interception and Tolzien was 10-of-20 (50 percent) with one touchdown and three interceptions. Rodgers, by comparison was 34-of-53 (64.2 percent) with nine touchdowns and one interception.
Based on individual dropbacks, Rodgers threw "deep" 12.4 percent of the time, Tolzien 10.0 percent, and Flynn 8.4 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. Wallace, who played over three quarters in relief of Rodgers vs. the Chicago Bears on Nov. 4 and just one series the next Sunday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles before injuring his groin, did not throw a single deep pass in 28 dropbacks.
Tolzien was signed to the Packers' practice squad just days after the final roster reduction in the preseason. He was elevated to the active roster on Nov. 6, two days after Rodgers was injured. After going undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2011, he spent an offseason and preseason with the San Diego Chargers and then two regular seasons as the third-string quarterback in San Francisco learning a multifaceted offense under coach Jim Harbaugh.
"The guy who really struggled, or had the biggest challenge, was Scott," McCarthy said as part of an answer regarding his backup quarterbacks at the NFL owners meetings last week. "He came from a totally different language change from his first two opportunities. Still, you're talking about a young man who was on his third football team, so he has experience. There's value to that."
Packers Backup QBs in 2013
Completion percentage – Wallace 66.7 percent, Flynn 61.4 percent, Tolzien 61.1 percent
Passing yards per game – Tolzien 239, Flynn 229.2, Wallace 69.5
Passing yards per attempt – Tolzien 7.97, Flynn 6.90, Wallace 5.79
Touchdown percentage – Flynn 4.2 percent, Tolzien 1.1 percent, Wallace 0 percent
Interception percentage – Flynn 2.4 percent, Wallace 4.2 percent, Tolzien 5.6 percent
Passer rating – Flynn 86.1, Tolzien 66.8, Wallace 64.4
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org