Since the start of training camp in August, the Green Bay Packers have run through five different backup quarterback options.
Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman were the developmental holdovers from 2012. Each disappointed and was released. Vince Young received a legitimate chance to back up Aaron Rodgers and failed. With no better option, the Packers scooped up veteran Seneca Wallace after final cutdowns.
Scott Tolzien, who was activated to Green Bay's active roster from the practice squad on Monday and then played all but one series against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, has already proven to be the best backup of those five.
After taking over for Wallace early on in the first quarter, Tolzien completed 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The 2011 undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin made mistakes—including a bad decision in the end zone that cost the Packers points—but he rarely looked rattled.
More importantly, Tolzien's performance was a far cry from Wallace's last Monday night, when the veteran backup took over for Rodgers and finished with just 114 passing yards over 11 drives against the Bears. The Packers were at least competitive on offense with Tolzien under center.
Still, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy could have been faced with a decision at quarterback if Wallace's groin healed in time for next week. Instead of waiting, McCarthy made the correct decision immediately after Sunday's 27-13 loss.
"I thought Scott did a hell of a job," McCarthy said after the game, via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We’re running plays he hasn’t even practiced yet. It’s a totally different language from where he’s been in his two stops. He’s worked diligently on our language transferring plays he’s had in the past to how we do things.
"For the most part he was seamless in the huddle. I thought his game management, especially for the amount of preparation he had going into this game was outstanding."
Coaches never like when players lose a job due to injury, but McCarthy is more than justified in the move, even if Wallace is healthy.
In his NFL debut, Tolzien helped the Packers record 396 yards of total offense, 23 first downs and four trips into the red zone. He took just one sack and converted on seven different third- or fourth-down opportunities.
In comparison, the Wallace-led offense failed on seven of eight third downs against the Chicago Bears, and the Packers received just 89 net passing yards after Rodgers left the game. Green Bay scored on three different drives with Wallace in the game, but each came after big plays in the running game.
|Scott Tolzien Sunday vs. Seneca Wallace Monday|
|Wallace vs. Bears||11/19||114||0/1||53.4|
|Tolzien vs. Eagles||24/39||280||1/2||70.5|
There will be edges to sharpen during a full week of practice, but Tolzien showed Sunday that he has the tools necessary to be a long-term candidate to back up Rodgers.
While Wallace appeared confined to easy throws and simple route concepts, Tolzien fearlessly attacked downfield. He stood tall in the pocket and never appeared hesitant to make a difficult throw. Six days after Wallace completed just six passes to wide receivers, Tolzien hit on 17.
On Brandon Bostick's 22-yard touchdown in the second half, Tolzien used his eyes and shoulders to manipulate the safety before firing a frozen rope to the Packers tight end for six points. Later, Tolzien delivered a good ball for Jordy Nelson on fourth down, but the officiating crew ruled the pass incomplete. McCarthy's ensuing challenge was unsuccessful. While it appeared Nelson had a hand underneath the football, Mike Carey ruled that Nelson did not have possession when the ball made contact with the ground.
A touchdown in that situation would have made the game 27-20. Instead, the Packers gave the ball back to the Eagles and lost by two scores.
Green Bay's offense consistently moved the football with Tolzien under center. After a three-and-out on Tolzien's very first series, the Packers didn't again have a drive that lasted fewer than four plays, and Tolzien's nine total drives averaged almost 44 yards per. Wallace had four three-and-outs against the Bears.
The Packers will now ride Tolzien into a big game against the Giants on Sunday.
Once 5-2 and leading the NFC North, Green Bay has lost two games in a row. Rodgers may not be back until Thanksgiving, at the earliest. Suddenly 5-4, the Packers are struggling to keep their head above water without their MVP quarterback.
A bigger part of the problem is a defense that has struggled to embrace the moment with Rodgers out. But quarterback play will always be the focal point, especially considering the Packers went 0-for-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone Sunday.
Tolzien was far from perfect. His interception in the first half was a bad throw into the end zone, and his later pick was the result of a batted pass. Turnovers are the biggest enemy of good quarterbacking.
There isn't a sure-fire backup option in Green Bay currently, and in reality, the Packers probably haven't had one throughout 2013. But Tolzien still appears to be the lesser of two evils, as he likely gives Green Bay the best chance to move the football and remain competitive on offense without Rodgers available.
Tolzien made the most of his opportunity to play Sunday. Wallace did not last Monday. McCarthy's decision to start Tolzien is the right one.