There's a lot of hope out there right now about our backup quarterback position. Some of it is out of pure joy that there's actually a guy that looks like he can throw it upfield with a little zip. Some if it is out of self-convincing desperation that things aren't as bad as they looked on Sunday against an NFL-worst Philadelphia Eagle defense.
But with Scott Tolzein named the starter for next Sunday's game against the Giants, coupled with former fan favorite Matt Flynn returning from his coast-to-coast tour of duty, has some fans thinking that the Packers aren't as bad off while waiting for Aaron Rodgers to return from a dinged-up collarbone.
In fact, “The Tolzein Era” has some fans positively excited, and there's some reason to have some high hopes. If nothing else, Tolzein certainly has shown he has more vertical ability to press the ball into coverage than the other five quarterbacks who have been brought in this season to try and back up Rodgers.
But, always the realist, I'm going to offer a piece of advice: temper your highest of expectations for Tolzein, at least in the short run. I simply don't like building up a guy to be more than he is, then rip him apart when he doesn't fulfill those expectations. He seems like a great kid, and he has a lot of potential to be a lot more than any of the other backups we've auditioned this season, and possibly could surpass Flynn in pure ability to command a huddle when needed.
But for right now? Tolzein is going to go through the same growing pains that every other NFL quarterback goes through early in their career. That struggle to slow the game down and make the wise decisions were on high display in the early 1990's as Brett Favre frustrated Mike Holmgren's efforts to rein him in. Even Rodgers was nowhere near ready for prime time in his first few seasons. Luckily, he spent those seasons mastering his craft so that he was able to hit the ground running in 2008.
While watching him live at the game on Sunday, Tolzein at first played within the gameplan that appeared to have been set up around Seneca Wallace and the talent he brought to the table. A short passing game, avoiding throws longer than ten yards, and keeping them on a beeline to receivers running mostly out patterns, curls, and hooks. Easy stuff for a second-stringer. No timing patterns, no long passes, and an avoidance of throws that required leading the receiver too far.
But as the game progressed, Tolzein became more confident, putting balls in traffic...and completing them. Sure, some of them were a bit high, but the receivers—and Jarrett Boykin in particular—went up and got them. He has an arm, and as those balls went zinging up the field, you can guess that the shaky Eagle secondary wasn't quite expecting it after preparing for Wallace all week.
But that's the point: the Eagles were not only the leagues 32nd-ranked pass defense in the league going into the game, they had no idea that Tolzein was going to fire it right at them, daring them to pick it off. And the league's worst defense didn't have a whole lot they could have done about it if they had prepared for it.
While the Packers are facing two highly struggling teams over the next two games (from which Rodgers has effectively been nixed from returning to play), the Giants secondary is going to be a step up, however slightly, from what Tolzein faced in his first playing time. Furthermore, the G-Men has some tape to watch and a better idea of his tendencies.
In other words, the Giants will look to capitalize on what the Eagles couldn't do, whether out of lack of preparation or lack of talent. The Giants secondary, beat up but improving this season, now sits at 10th overall in the league in Defensive Passer Rating at ColdHardFoobtallFacts. Those two interceptions Tolzein threw on Sunday weren't bad throws, they were bad decisions. Look for the Giants to rattle Tolzein early and bait him into more bad decisions, as well as putting themselves in position to get in the way of the passes he tries to force into coverage.
That stated, Tolzein has a bright future, thanks to his strong arm and work ethic. But he's got some growing pains to get through. Perhaps he will shine and have a fantastic game, and no one will be happier than me if he does. Certainly, having the Vikings on the schedule the week after bodes well for a great game for anyone under center for the Packers.
But before we anoint him as the clearly superior option to Matt Flynn, let's see how he does. And let's give him some room to grow. The payoff in the long run could well be worth it, but he's going to need patience. I'd hate to see people knocking him as a one-game wonder if he doesn't deliver to their expectations this Sunday.
He has the potential to be so much more.