Matt Flynn, be it in practice or in preseason action, has shown a much livelier arm than most of last season, when elbow issues seemed to affect his throws.
Scott Tolzien put together a full offseason and training camp in the Packers’ system and showed a much better command of the offense than when he was thrown into the fire a season ago.
That had the race for Aaron Rodgers’ backup spot tight the entire way this camp. Perhaps Packers fans have read a story or two about a slight edge for Flynn because of experience or Tolzien because of skills. Here at Packer Report this week, we laid out Flynn’s advantage on the scoreboard vs. Tolzien’s advantage in numbers during the preseason.
But really, for what this opinion is worth, it comes down to one significant factor — the ability to stretch opposing defenses.
So much of the Packers’ offense, with running back Eddie Lacy becoming a factor last season, will be determined by how opposing defenses attack it. Two high safeties or just one? Bring an extra guy in the box to help stack the line vs. Lacy? Blitz or drop into coverage?
With the backup quarterback, if the Packers want to run anything resembling the offense Rodgers runs, Tolzien gives them the best shot. He gives them a chance to run what they want to run vs. what they have to run. In other words, an aggressive approach vs. a safe one. Keeping defenses guessing instead of dictating.
This certainly is not to disparage Flynn, who has three comebacks in his Packers’ career — the 2011 season finale vs. Detroit and 2013 games vs. Minnesota and at Dallas — that no one can touch, not even Rodgers. His knowledge of the offense runs deeper than Tolzien’s but, after this past offseason, that gap has closed considerably since Tolzien was able to spend a full year in Green Bay.
In that case, it comes down to skills and the ability to throw downfield to keep defenses from squatting and the Packers from being too predictable. In that regard, there is no competition.
Through last night’s preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tolzien was a Rodgers-like 17-of-23 on passes of 10 or more yards. Flynn was just 5-of-15
With Rodgers wearing a headset and holding the call sheet last night, the Packers gave Flynn chances to go deep right from the start. Flynn failed to connect downfield for a big gainer with Jarrett Boykin on the first possession and, save a 22-yard dart to Davante Adams for a touchdown, he missed all his big shots. That includes a long one to Jeff Janis that drew a 39-yard pass interference penalty when Janis had to come back to make a play on the ball.
Tolzien, on the other hand, did not have his best night throwing deep but did connect on a 33-yard touchdown (28 yards through the air) with Janis on a fourth-and-3 play in the second quarter. It was the type of play that opened coach Mike McCarthy’s eyes a season ago when a playbook-limited Tolzien hit all of his deep shots in his first start at New York. McCarthy said he had never seen that before from any of his quarterbacks. Tolzien had been with the Packers for just 10 weeks at the time and, in relief the week prior vs. Philadelphia, he was running plays he had never practiced.
Fortunately, that no longer is the case for Tolzien. In the process he distanced himself in the preseason from Flynn in completion percentage (67.9 percent to 47.4 percen), yards per attempt (8.5 to 6.1), passer rating (112 to 82.3) and interceptions (zero to one). If mistakes were the reason Tolzien lost his starting job to Flynn in 2013 (five interceptions in two games), he corrected that this preseason.
Of course, numbers are just numbers. And the preseason is far from the regular season. But the past is also the past. And the Packers have to be careful in getting too caught up in Flynn’s remarkable comebacks and how he helped salvaged a 2013 season maybe not meant for the playoffs.
Instead, they need to live in the present and realize that if the worst happens, and Rodgers goes down again for an extended period of time, Tolzien is their man and their arm.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com