Game Line 1: 18-of-33, 157 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions, 39.6 passer rating, 4 sacks
Game Line 2: 12-of-25, 87 yards, no TDs, 1 interception, 39.9 passer rating, 1 sack
It’s pretty easy to recognize these stats. The first is Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley’s stat line in his the 7/8ths of a game against the Minnesota Vikings. The second is Hundley’s line in his full game against the New Orleans Saints. Now let’s explore these performances in more depth.
In the first game, Hundley came in cold off the bench. He’d been practicing for weeks as the quarterback of the next opponent. In that second game, Green Bay’s coaching staff had a week to adapt to the loss of Aaron Rodgers, to intensively prepare Hundley for the contest and to install plays best suited to his talents.
In the first game, Hundley was throwing to the starting receivers, not the reserves who he generally throws to in practice. For the second game, he had an entire week to practice throwing to Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett.
In that first game, there were no plays on coach Mike McCarthy’s play sheet designed for the talents of Hundley. The play sheet for the second game was custom-made for Hundley.
That first game was played on enemy territory: U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It was played before a raucous crowd of Vikings fans. That second game was played in the familiar confines of Lambeau Field and before a loyal crowd of Packers fans.
The first game was played against one of the toughest pass defenses in the league. That second game was played against a Saints defense that came in ranked 18th against the pass.
The first game featured a fearsome pass rush – Minnesota is ranked sixth in sacks, with 24. That second game was against New Orleans, which ranks 12th in sacks, with 19.
The Packers were beset with injuries in that first game: Morgan Burnett, Ty Montgomery, Davon House, and several others didn’t play or were quickly injured. The Packers were forced by injuries to play all eight offensive linemen on the roster. In the second game, the Packers, with David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga and Ty Montgomery back, were considerably healthier.
In the first game, the Packers did not have a strong running game: 24 carries for 72 yards, and the longest run being only nine yards. In the second game, the Packers had an excellent running game to complement the passing attack: 181 yards in the same number of carries.
All of the above factors argue in favor of the Packers having a considerably more effective passing game against the Saints than a week earlier, when Rodgers was lost without warning.
What went wrong?
I can think of only a couple plausible explanations for the 87-yard passing performance against the Saints.
The first is that Hundley choked. He couldn’t handle the pressure or he really isn’t good at all. I replayed the game film and I simply see no evidence that Hundley was tight, erratic, made ill-advised throws or is simply not a pro-level quarterback.
That leaves me with only one theory: the preparation and game planning for Hundley’s first NFL start was all wrong.
Consider these first quarter plays:
- No simple throws for Hundley to start the game, resulting in no pass completions in the entire first quarter. What a way to get the backup QB into a groove.
- There were three third downs with one or two yards to go on the first three drives. On a 3rd-and-2, the play call was a quick pitch to Aaron Jones going wide left. Even though it was well defended, Jones gained six yards, with the drive ending in a touchdown. Good call – it was the same call Rodgers used on a 4th-and-1 against Dallas, except he overhanded the lateral to Jones, who went for 10 yards.
- On the second drive, they dialed up a quick pass to Davante Adams – with rookie Marshon Lattimore playing right on the line opposite him. The defender charged across the line and into Adams, easily knocking the ball away. Hundley should have audibled to another play.
- On 3rd-and-short on the third drive, Hundley handed off to Ty Montgomery, who was smothered by multiple tacklers three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
- On these three critical downs, the Saints totally committed to the belief that Mike McCarthy would resort to a conservative short or slow-developing play. They were right two out of three times.
For the first half, the Packers longest pass play was a 14-yarder to Geronimo Allison. The Packers’ other biggest plays: (1) a 25-yard pass interference penalty on a throw to Martellus Bennett; (2) a 22-yard unplanned run by Hundley; (3) a 15-yard horse collar penalty; and (4) a 14-yard unplanned scramble by Hundley. Think of how little offense was generated out of McCarthy’s play calls.
So, after only 55 yards of passing in the first half, the Packers’ coaching staff had an opportunity to make adjustments at halftime. The result: 32 passing yards in the second half.
Jordy Nelson, the Packers’ best receiver, caught his first pass early in the third quarter. It was his only catch in four targets.
The inescapable conclusion of the comparison is that Hundley performed better without any preparation by the coaches. He performed worse in the Saints game than in the Vikings game – despite all factors favoring him having a much better passing game against the Saints.
The preparation Hundley received all week hindered, rather than helped him. As I predicted, the coaches stifled the young quarterback. The Saints defense readily anticipated McCarthy’s play calls. They might as well have been invited into the Packers’ huddle.
Unless Big Mike and his other coaches learn from this disaster, all fans can hope for is that Hundley is forced to break off from as many planned plays as possible and improvise. Maybe he’ll be able to scramble and run for more yards than he gets through the air. Maybe he’ll connect up with receivers on broken plays.
Despite the embarrassing affair, Big Mike gave the team a week off from practice – kind of a reverse incentive program I guess. And the coach has made it crystal clear that Hundley is the guy to lead the team in Rodgers’ absence.
All right. If the Packers’ passing game doesn’t greatly rebound against the Lions – who rank eighth worst in passing yards allowed – that should be convincing evidence that the Packers have had a decade of success mostly due to Rodgers – and mostly in spite of McCarthy’s coaching.
This Lions game is as much a test for McCarthy as it is for Hundley.