After a nice start to the season, things have turned incredibly sour for the Green Bay Packers passing game. The signs were there early, but the thing about early signs is that there is oh so much noise. And while Packers fans want to believe, oh they really want to, being a harsh grader on Jordan Love is better for the franchise going forward.
If he is not the answer at quarterback, it is important that both the fanbase, but more importantly the organization, do not pretend that he is. Of course, it has still only been five weeks. Love isn’t going to get benched this season, nor should he be. He has twelve more games to put together something better than what he has done so far, but we can only grade what is in front of us. So what exactly is in front of us?
From a quantitative perspective, Love’s first few weeks were a mixed bag. The overall efficiency looked strong, with Love posting the best EPA-per-dropback in the league through two games. Warning signs were already present, however. Only Justin Fields had a worse CPOE through those two games. While Love had a total of 28.68 EPA through those two games, there was a lot of air in that, but even with that air taken out, things still looked promising!
Was messing with the numbers and if you removed both DPI calls vs Atlanta, the Aaron Jones TD reception, and the Reed touch-pass touchdown, Jordan Love would fall from 1st in EPA/dropback all the way to... third. Remove the Jones throwback screen and he falls to... seventh.— rcon14 (@rcon14) September 21, 2023
If you told me right then and there that Love would finish seventh in EPA-per-dropback this season, I would be overjoyed. Stellar! Fantastic! But over the past three weeks, Love’s play has been atrocious. Only three starters have played worse in that timeframe: Mac Jones, Daniel Jones, and Zach Wilson. Love’s -0.158 EPA-per-dropback is even worse than Desmond Ridder and Bryce Young. Even in Love’s better game of the three, against New Orleans when he finished with +0.11 EPA-per-play, that is a bit of mirage. 3.9 of his total 6 EPA were on defensive pass interference penalties (something he has gotten pretty good at, even though it’s almost entirely the product of his really poor deep ball accuracy). Another 2.5 was the result of the zone-read touchdown. Take those plays out and he’s at -0.4 EPA. It’s only three weeks, but it’s a really really bad three weeks. The past three games have dropped Love down to 19th in EPA-per-dropback, which isn’t good, but it’s not that bad for a guy in his first five starts. The concerning parts are actually everything else.
Ben Baldwin’s CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected) model has Love second-worst in the league at -7.1%, ahead of only Anthony Richardson. Next Gen Stats ranks him dead last in CPOE at -6.9%. While drops harm every quarterback, it’s not like Love has been abnormally harmed by them. His 8.2% drop-rate is higher than league average, but nowhere near enough for that to account for his league-worst CPOE. PFF actually adjusts for drops, and still has Love’s adjusted-completion percentage as the worst in the NFL by over two full points!
To make matters worse, Love’s accuracy issues show up at all levels of the field. He has the worst adjusted completion percentage in the league on throws behind the line-of-scrimmage. If you want to give him a little bit of grace here and blame that on the Packers completely inept screen game, I will allow that, but also, the quarterback may be part of that problem! On throws within ten yards, Love ranks 31st in adjusted completion percentage. On intermediate throws he ranks 30th. On deep throws he ranks 30th. There is nowhere on the field where he has been accurate. Nowhere!
Some may say that this could improve with experience. Look at Josh Allen, for example! The problem with that argument is that Josh Allen is arguably the biggest outlier in the 21st century. 99.9% of the time when guys have accuracy problems, they don’t dramatically improve. Love has been throwing footballs for 15+ years. This is who he was in college, and it is who he still is today.
The big counterargument is that the offensive line has not held up their end of the bargain, particularly in the past couple of weeks, which just so happens to coincide with Love’s significant drop in play. I think against Detroit this was true, as he was pressured on twenty of his 42 dropbacks. I think this is materially less the case against Las Vegas or New Orleans, though. He was only pressured on 11 of 34 dropbacks against Las Vegas and just 11 of his 50 dropbacks against New Orleans. That’s a pressure rate of 47.6% against Detroit compared to just 32.4% against Las Vegas and 22% against New Orleans. For the season, Love has been pressured on 54 of his 183 dropbacks, just under 30%. Love has the fourth-lowest pressured rate in the league. The Detroit game was a mess, but aside from that, the offensive line has been good! Both PFF grading and the ESPN win-rate metrics agree that the offensive line has been, in fact, very good!
Even if you think it has been worse than this, it’s difficult to argue the line has not done at least an above average job at keeping the quarterback upright.
The offensive line has struggled mightily in the run game (in addition to the tight ends displaying some of the worst run blocking I have ever seen; we tried to tell folks that Luke Musgrave was a glorified wide receiver). This has led to a disappointing running game, but definitely not the worst in the league. They rank 16th in both EPA-per-rush and rushing success rate. This is a far cry from what we are used to seeing in the LaFleur era, but there are teams that have it much worse. Green Bay’s 3.5 yards-per-carry is quite porous, but somehow only ranks 25th. Again, it’s bad, but not apocalyptically bad. At some point, if you’re a quarterback that matters, you have to overcome this. The return of Aaron Jones will help, but the team cannot be that reliant on a nearly-thirty year old running back.
Probably the best case in defense of Love is that his receiving corps are almost literal children. Green Bay has a WR1 and WR2 that are second year guys (and their WR1 has barely played). WR3 and WR4 are rookies. TE1 is a rookie. And boy oh boy do mistakes abound. More time together will almost certainly help as the receiving corps better learns the offense, but again, it cannot fully account for the high levels of inaccuracy Love has displayed so far. The interception at the end of the Lions game was on Doubs, as an example, but the turnovers aren’t even my prime concern, as Love’s turnover-worthy-play rate is exactly league average at 3.1%. It’s the accuracy, or lack thereof.
The final thing to check is the quality of opponent. The Packers opponents so far rank 6th, 10th, 21st, 23rd, and 31st in EPA-allowed-per-dropback. At this point in the season, defense is still very noisy, but it would be incorrect to look at this and see a tough run of defenses. If anything, this is probably a below-average slate of defenses faced, especially if you remove the games against Green Bay. Through the first four weeks, the Raiders were 30th in EPA-allowed-per-dropback. In weeks 2 through 5, the Bears rank 29th. Excluding the Packers games from each, New Orleans would rank second (with an extremely soft defensive schedule), Atlanta would rank 18th, and Detroit would rank 14th. It’s just not that difficult of a pass defense schedule.
We should not be treating Jordan Love like a rookie. Unlike a rookie, Love is not learning a new offense. This is his fourth season in the NFL. He has received NFL coaching for three seasons, and all under the same head coach. The offense, at this point, should be as familiar as the back of his hand. Yes, there is a difference between knowing it on the chalkboard and on the practice field and when Maxx Crosby is flying at you, but we shouldn’t be giving Love the same level of grace we give rookies. He still has twelve games to show improvement, but if your base-case was that Love was an inaccurate quarterback who was not good enough to be a franchise guy (my base-case when he was drafted), nothing we have seen so far should dissuade you from that.
Of course, you can always just put on green tinted glasses and temporarily convince yourself of whatever you’d like. That decision is up to you.