Jordan Love’s start to the 2023 season has been good, but it has also been very weird. Just look at this graph. Look at it!
I’ve never once seen a dot in the upper left hand corner of this chart. Ever. Here’s what it looked like after week 2 last season.
RBSDM.com, where these come from, have data going back to 2012, and there is no season on record where anyone comes even remotely close to where Jordan Love currently sits: First in EPA/Play, last in CPOE. It’s almost impossible.
For those of you who may be new to EPA, or Expected Points Added, it’s a measure of how many points, on average a team was likely to score before a play given down, distance, and time in the game, versus how many points, on average, a team is likely to score after a play given those same factors. Subtract one from the other and you get an approximation of just how impactful that play was. EPA is in truth a team stat, not a QB stat, but the QB is so important on passing plays that it serves as a decent proxy for value added.
CPOE, or Completion Percentage Over Expected, tells us how many more (or fewer) passes a quarterback completes compared to what a quarterback throwing the same distance per pass would complete. If a QB throws a lot of short passes, their expected completion percentage is much higher than a QB who throws deep a lot. This metric helps to tell us whether or not a check-down artist is completing as many passes as a checkdown artist should, or whether a deep ball gunslinger is completing as many passes as your typical deep ball gunslinger.
It’s WEIRD to not have these numbers sync up, and upon first glance, it doesn’t seem great for Love’s prospects going forward. The obvious explanation would be that in the small sample of two games, Love has hit on a disproportionate number of high value throws, and that over the season, his incompletions will reach a more even distribution, and his efficiency will tank.
The obvious explanation is often correct, of course, but I do not believe that is the case here, for a few reasons. First of all, even if you take away some of the big plays that Love didn’t directly cause (such as a pair of defensive pass interference penalties), he has still been extremely efficient:
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
The other reason to be skeptical of a huge regression from Love takes a bit of scouting, with a dash of numbers added for flavor. Let’s start with the idea that Love is just a much better intermediate thrower than he is a short or deep thrower. That’s not ideal, but so far, it seems to be almost certainly true. He’s a feel thrower, at his best when he can let it rip. Short throws are more “footwork and mechanics” throws, and it’s still a weak spot for him. It’s also an area that can be improved on with practice. The deep ball is a different story, but with reps and chemistry, that will improve too.
Back to the short throws. The idea that Love’s mechanics on short throws have anything to do with his accuracy on longer throws is, I think, mistaken, but he’s also suffered some poor luck on his short throws. Of Love’s 23 incompletions on the season so far, 16 have been labeled as short in the official game book. Of those 16, 5 involved targets to Jayden Reed, and many of those throws were fine. In the Bears game, there were two that stood out as throws that were not drops by Reed and were not perfect throws by Love, but which could have — and I would argue should have — been caught. Reed has been a dynamic, outstanding presence in the slot so far, but his catch radius was an issue in college and it’s still an issue at the moment. He’s averaging 14.2 yards per catch, but he has only caught 46.2% of his targets, and that is absolutely not all on Love. The good news is that Reed is clearly a dangerous weapon, and that catch% number is almost sure to go up.
In addition, Malik Heath has two short incompletions on what were essentially busted plays, and the backs have combined for 4 short incompletions. If you’re looking for some regression, the general Packer catch% on short passes is a good place to start, and such a regression would drive Love’s CPOE up, while leaving the EPA intact.
Much of this has been without Christian Watson and Aaron Jones, and both players are likely to drive Love’s numbers higher, not lower, upon their return. The schedule of defenses will get more difficult starting this week against a very good Saints team, but more than anything I think it’s worth remembering that our sample is extremely small, and in small samples, little things make big differences. The little thing here seems to be some poor luck on short passes, and NOT some overinflated EPA drivers. That’s great news for the Packers going forward, and I suspect anyone waiting for Love to crash and burn will be waiting for quite some time.