We know Jordan Love the first-round pick, but what about Jordan Love the paradox? In 2018, we saw the breakout version of Love, an efficient, dynamic, ultra-talented quarterback who boasted accuracy, timing, and absurd throwing ability. In 2019, the wheels came off and the ball placement fell off a cliff, as did his avoidance of turnovers. When it was over, Love led the FBS in interceptions. Which player is he?
The answer is both.
A closer look at those picks reveals mostly fixable problems and a playmaker’s mindset, to a fault. If the Green Bay Packers can dial him back a little when it comes to taking risks, they should have a hell of a player.
Forcing throws, not poor accuracy, was the problem
Of the 17 interceptions, only one came from ball placement. In other words, accuracy isn’t a driving factor in Love’s turnovers, which speaks to his arm talent. When he wants to put the ball somewhere, generally speaking Love can do it. But that leads to bigger questions because that leaves potentially more troubling explanations. Is it processing? Decision-making?
“I was just trying to force balls, trying to do too much, trying to make plays when plays [weren’t] needed,” Love said on a conference call with reporters.
“Forcing a lot of bad throws, bad decisions, and trying to force those balls into those tight windows when I could have been checking it down and living to fight another day.”
And that stands out on tape. Of the remaining 16 picks, at least five were truly forced in coverage. In other words, Love knew it was a tight window and tried to make a play anyway. There’s a sixth that probably belongs in this category, as it was a second-reaction play with wonky spacing and the cornerback makes a great play to come off his guy. It’s Love trying to make a play, so the intention fits.
A deflection turned into a pick-six for a seventh force in this category. This is easily the biggest cohort, with nearly half his picks coming on plays where he threw into traffic. If he knows that’s what it was and he felt like the risk was the only way to win games, that’s different than a Jay Cutler-esque apathy to risk.
“He played with nobody around him. This year he was just out there winging it trying to make plays to win games. Did he develop some bad habits? Yeah, of course he did,” a scout told The Athletic in the pre-draft process.
“But you can rein that in. It’s (easier) to get guys that like to play it safe and check down and be chain-movers. It’s hard to get those guys that push the ball down the field. He’s the only quarterback I ever scouted who will throw into bigger windows as a pro than he did in college.”
Love didn’t blame his supporting cast or his third offensive coordinator in four seasons. His head coach Gary Andersen, in an interview on Locked on Packers, pointed out unprompted Love lost four all-conference linemen, his top running back and tight end, along with roughly 75% of his receiver production.
“There [were] times when maybe Jordan did push, but why wouldn’t he?” Andersen asked rhetorically. “How couldn’t he when he was trying to make the plays that he needed to make for his team to be able to win?”
Still, when a quarterback leads the FBS in interceptions, that tends to become a sticking point for teams. This is why the “why” stands out. If he’s just trying to make plays, that could mean he’s a risk-taker but not necessarily a bad decision-maker, or worse, an ineffective reader of defenses.
“What I love about him is just the accountability he took for everything, whether it was a good play, bad play and I think that gives you a chance any time you have that kind of mindset,” LaFleur said after the draft.
“The talent is there. He’s a natural thrower, he’s fearless in the pocket, he’s athletic. It was one of those rare opportunities, you wouldn’t thought you’d be in a situation like you were.”
Shorter LaFleur: Love is coachable and we think his flaws are coachable.
Improving Love’s ‘feel’
NFL Films executive producer Greg Cossell agrees, saying before the draft he believed Loves flaws were fixable, pointing to his elite arm talent. Cosell suggested there was a case to be made Love was QB2 over Tua Tagovailoa, and clearly over Justin Herbert.
“I think he needs to develop a better feel for what throw is demanded for specific routes,” he said in an interview with the LA Times. “That’s also coachable. When you just look at the traits, the traits are there.”
At least three of Love’s picks from last year fell pray to this problem. All are quick game throws outside the hash. He has the arm to drive these throws, but he lollipops them. In the NFL, with closer hashes, he won’t have to make these kinds of plays, but failing to execute when he has the talent to make the throw, will have to be fixed.
These aren’t read-based problems. His receivers are open, or open enough, and if he fires a shot on time, he can get these balls in. There’s a case to be made the call makes more sense to the short side of the field, and a criticism I’d level against the offense in general about the predictability of these routes. Cornerbacks consistently sat on these routes and yet I saw very few double-moves to keep corners honest.
Boise State got Love for a pick-six on a zero-step screen. That can’t happen, but that’s a failure of playcalling disguise and field awareness from the coaches. Don’t ask Love to make a screen throw 30 yards to the wide side of the field.
That said, it’s on Love to make the plays he can make and he didn’t. Cosell thinks that’s coachable. Clearly the Packers agree.
But can he read a defense?
The good news for Green Bay and for Love, comes from what’s left: reading defenses. By my count, just one of the interceptions last year came when Love either got fooled or didn’t see a defender.
Here is the play. Love has his receiver coming across the field on crossing route. He stares him down and throws late to the middle of the field. That lack of vision is concerning, with enough white shirts to tell Love even he can’t fit this ball in. Here, risk becomes reckless.
Even if he had seen the lurking underneath defender (and he didn’t), this could have been picked by the dropping linebacker to that side. This is a bad read compounded by a bad decision. Love must learn how to manipulate defenders better with his eyes, creating openings for himself. From end zone angle, it’s easier to see Love does try to look off that underneath defender and there’s a window to throw in behind him. If this ball is out a little earlier, he may have had the room to fit it in behind.
Don’t hitch. Make the fake, hold the linebacker, and whistle the in-breaker in behind his ear pronto.
Later in the game, Love throws nearly an identical interception, only this time it comes from ball placement, not a poor read. This time Love sees the dropping linebacker, looks right at him, and tries to fit the ball over his head anyway. This is decision-making, but it’s specifically decision-making regarding ball trajectory.
Considering we don’t see more coverage ID mistakes from Love, it’s easier to point to this flaw in a case like this. It’s a trend with him, one that if he can eliminate, will vastly reduce the turnover worthy plays he makes.
We can also lump it into the force category. It would take a Herculean effort to fit this ball in. Love can do it, but is it wise to try?
This is not a consistent problem for Love, a sentiment echoed by Andersen who raves about Love’s intelligence, suggesting Love will thrive in the NFL with more control of checks, adjustments and progression reads as a result.
The last two picks came on plays that represent cost of living for quarterbacks: One off a blindside hit that forced a wobbly throw, and another absolutely ridiculous tipped interception by a defensive linemen off a screen. Great play, tip your cap. These happen and don’t reflect any troubling trends for Love.
From a coaching standpoint, Love has the physical traits that can’t be coached. The arm, the improvisation, the size and athleticism separate him. In terms of flaws that need fixing, the Packers will have to walk a fine line with Love, not wanting to take away the willing gunslinger mentality while trying to walk back his propensity to throw into coverage. Given the context — he didn’t have this problem in 2018 in a familiar system with proven players — this seems eminently reasonable.
From a processing standpoint, his turnovers don’t come from bad reads or slow identification. Guys like Cutler and Jameis Winston never found the balance of aggressiveness and prudence. There’s a case Rodgers has fallen too far onto the conservative side of things. If the Packers can get Love in that sweet spot, they have a quarterback who can both take care of the ball and make spectacular throws all over the yard.