They have thrown hundreds upon hundreds of passes this year, starting from organized team activities and through three preseason games.
And maybe, just maybe, their battle to be the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 quarterback will be decided on Thursday night against Kansas City.
“It’s very close,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said on Monday. “I think they’ve both done an outstanding job through camp, through the OTAs. Both are doing everything you ask of them. Both run the system very well. It’s been a tough competition and it’s a credit to both of those guys.”
Just like coach Mike McCarthy did following Friday night’s game against Oakland, offensive coordinator Tom Clements on Monday wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “winner takes all” against the Chiefs. Nonetheless, the competition is so close that McCarthy and Van Pelt are trying to figure out how to divvy up the game reps to give them an equal shot.
“It’s the last opportunity,” Clements said. “It’s not the only thing that you make the evaluation on. You make the evaluation based on everything – meetings, practice time and the entire preseason.”
If “everything” is part of the equation, then the winner should be Flynn.
Playing quarterback isn’t simply about statistics and arm talent. By that measure, Tolzien would be the winner in a landslide. In three preseason games, he’s completed 26-of-38 passes (68.4 percent) for 338 yards, with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 104.9. His 8.9 yards per pass attempt is sensational — it’s better than Aaron Rodgers’ 8.1 — and he’s produced 25 first downs in 11 true possessions (12 total series, though one was a take-a-knee to end last week’s game). Flynn, on the other hand, has completed only 11-of-23 passes (47.8 percent), with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 61.9. He’s averaging just 5.7 yards per pass attempt and produced 15 first downs in 12 possessions.
Playing quarterback is about putting points on the scoreboard. Flynn has guided the team to two touchdowns (with a two-point conversion) and two field goals — 21 points in 12 series. Tolzien has led the team to two touchdowns (both two-point conversions failed) and no field goals — 12 points in 11 full series. It’s important to note that a touchdown pass thrown by Tolzien was taken off the scoreboard due to an offensive penalty at St. Louis, with that drive ending in a fourth-and-goal incompletion. However you do the math, the scoring is pretty much a draw.
So, why should Flynn be the backup and Tolzien retained as the No. 3? Because last year means something.
“Your past experiences are part of every individual’s value,” McCarthy said on Tuesday when asked generically, not specifically about the quarterbacks. “I think it’s like anything in life (but) I don’t think that’s going to be a determining factor. I think every individual that’s competing for a roster spot is building his value. We have to weigh that. Sometimes you don’t pick the 53 most talented players or the 53 most productive players. You’re looking to chart a path to a Super Bowl and you’re looking for the group you think best gives you that chance. The group dynamics is a big part of it, too. All those things factor.”
Based on talent, there’s little doubt that Tolzien is better than Flynn. But that was true last year, too, when Tolzien averaged a gaudy 7.97 yards per attempt vs. Flynn’s 6.90. Coming off the bench against Philadelphia, Tolzien threw for 280 yards. In his first career start at the Giants, he threw for 339 yards. That gave him the fourth-best passing total in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two career games. And what did it mean? Back-to-back games of 13 points in two frustrating losses.
Flynn just knows how to play the game. In time, Tolzien might get to that level but, like McCarthy said, it’s about charting a path to the Super Bowl.
In one of the most absurd stats you could imagine, the Packers had never won a game under McCarthy when trailing by more than one score in the second half — a combined 0-30 with Brett Favre and Rodgers at quarterback. Flynn authored a tie off the bench against Minnesota and comeback wins over Atlanta and Dallas in back-to-back weeks. At the time of the Dallas game, according to FootballOutsiders.com’s Scott Kacsmar, home teams were 505-2 when leading by at least 23 points since 1999. Flynn led the biggest comeback in franchise history to shock the Cowboys 37-36. Flynn had the best fourth-quarter passer rating in the league (122.2) and had a better red zone touchdown rate (61.9 percent) than Rodgers (48.3 percent).
“I don’t know,” Flynn said when asked if his career body of work should impact the decision. “Every year, you’ve got to prove to the coaches that you deserve a spot and you’ve earned a spot. I don’t think they just give out spots or anything like that because of what you’ve done. But I feel really good about what I’ve done this camp. I think I’ve had one of, if not the, best camps that I’ve had since I’ve been a professional. That entails a lot of things besides just what’s going on out there. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have any regrets.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.