As Packer fans rightfully celebrate winning the NFC’s North Division for the third straight year, there is much to be talked about concerning the Pack’s razor-thin victory over the Ravens. As a prologue, I’d say that NFL games very often turn out to be a contest of individual matchups, and this one was no exception.
In Defense of Savage
Safety Darnell Savage had a rough outing against Ravens’ tight end Mark Andrews, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was thrilled to see the contest end with Savage the one who saved the game for the Packers, when Baltimore’s Coach Harbaugh elected to attempt a two-point conversion. That in itself is a very rarely made choice.
Andrews has gained entry into the league’s top tier of tight ends, alongside Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Kelce and Andrews were third-round draft picks, while Kittle languished until the fifth round. Here’s the stats on the season for this elite threesome: Kelce is at 83 catches (122 targets) for 1,066 yards (12.8 ypc) and 7 TDs; Andrews is at 85 (also 122 targets) for 1,062 (12.5 ypc) and 8 TDs; Kittle, in only 11 games, has 63 catches, in 82 targets, for 850 yards (13.5 ypc) and 6 TDs.
Andrews is still playing under his rookie contract, whereas Kelce is in his ninth season with the Chiefs and Kittle is in his fifth year with the 49ers. All three are large, tall, and strong. As to dash speeds (at Combine time), Kittle wins easily at 4.52 seconds; Kelce, getting to be an old man at age 32, comes in at 4.61, while Andrews recorded a time of 4.67.
It comes as a bit of a surprise to see Savage consistently trailing Andrews by a step in coverage though his dash time was a superb 4.36. On the other hand, only one person at a time can occupy the same space, and Andrews special talent is using his big body to shield himself from pesky defensive backs. Andrews also has a big advantage in height – he’s 6’5”, compared to Savage being just under 5’11”. I’d add that film of Andrews’ touchdown against Savage in the back of the end zone shows Andrews pushing off of Savage with both arms extended a second before the catch was made – so there was nothing Savage could do about that completion.
On the game’s key play, Andrews had Eric Stokes completely screened out, but to Stokes’ credit he refrained from drawing a pass interference penalty. To the rescue came Savage, who launched himself into the air and got a couple of fingertips on the ball, deflecting it from the grasp of Andrews. That’s redemption, NFL-style! There’s a great photo out there of Stokes with his hands up to assure a flag wouldn’t be thrown, Andrews on his haunches with his head down, and Savage lying out of bounds in a happy heap: the agony and the ecstasy.
Who is this guy? Well, he’s a second-year man, who went undrafted out of Utah – despite being named to the first-team all PAC 12 in his final year there. He signed with the Ravens on April 30, 2020 and was placed back on their practice squad shortly after being waived on September 5. After having only three pass completions in 2020, he’s gone on to start three games this season when Lamar Jackson has been injured.
Huntley got his first pro start in Week 11, when Jackson missed the Bears game due to illness. In that game he threw for 219 yards and rushed for 40 more, on his way to leading his team to the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left to play. He next started in Week 14 against the Browns, completing 27 of 38 throws for 270 yards, along with six rushes for 45 yards, in a 24-22 loss.
Against the Packers, Tyler completed 20 of 40 passes for 215 yards and two TDs, along with 13 rushes for 73 yards and two more TDs. His passer ratings for the three games were: 76.0, 99.7, and 99.5 on Sunday. He’s only thrown one interception as a pro.
The Packers were obviously well aware of Huntley’s running ability, though they were mostly unable to contain him anyway – that’s nothing new for Packers when facing a double-threat QB. Not only did Huntley flash speed when breaking out of the pocket, he also showed Russell Wilson-type elusiveness in evading or breaking free from wound-be sackers. As for his passing, despite completing only 50 percent of his throws, he made good decisions, and a number of picture-perfect throws, throughout the game. When throwing to Andrews, I suspect he compiled a perfect passer rating.
As I stated before, I think the most difficult team to defend (and prepare for) is one with a dual-threat quarterback. PF4L would skewer me if I tried to elevate Huntley to the top tier of the NFL’s double-threat QBs, so I’ll stick to Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray for now. However, he certainly demonstrates the attributes needed to someday join the group, as (perhaps) does Chicago’s Justin Fields. The Bills’ Josh Allen, a different body type, certainly deserves a mention too, as he’s rushed 380 times in four years, for 2,117 yards (5.4 ave.) and 29 TDs. Unlike these other four, Allen stands 6’5” and weighs 237. Fields on the year has 65 rushes for 385 yards (5.9 ave.) and two TDs. Another dual threat QB is the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, who has rushed 122 time for 695 yards so far this season.
Several general managers who have picked inferior quarterbacks among the first ten draft choices over the last five years or so must be very envious of the Ravens. Based on his play against the Packers, Huntley won’t last long as a relief man for Lamar Jackson – in a year or two he should get a shot somewhere else as a starting QB – I only hope it’s with an AFC team, so Green Bay only has to face him once every four years.
I can’t help but wonder what GM Brian Gutekunst must have been thinking as he watched Huntley frustrate Packer pass rushers on Sunday. While Gutey was over in Logan Utah, and homing in on Utah State’s Jordan Love prior to the 2019 draft, Huntley was 80 miles to the south in Salt Lake City being ignore by the entire league. Wouldn’t Gutey be thrilled to see Jordan have a game as fine as Huntley just did against the Packers? And while Jordan has some ability to compile some rushing yards, he lacks Huntley’s potential to become a star NFL double-threat quarterback.
And by the way, in a mythical 40-yard dash race among the above-mentioned QBs, here is the mythical outcome: Lamar Jackson wins at 4.34 seconds, followed closely by Kyler Murray at 4.38 (as reported by the Oklahoman at a time when he wasn’t 100% healthy). Fields comes in next at 5.46, with Wilson (4.55), Huntley (4.56), and Jalen Hurts (4.59) closely behind him. Bringing up the rear are Love, at 4.74, and Josh Allen, at 4.75.
As Christmas approaches, we should all be of good cheer. Green Bay has weathered its endless injury storms with remarkable resilience. Sunday also proved how difficult it is to win at the rate Matt LaFleur has. When the day started three NFL teams were tied with 10-3 records. By mid-afternoon, the Cardinals had been demolished by lowly Detroit, by a 30-12 score. Then by nightfall, the Buccaneers put up a listless fight, as they were held scoreless by the 7-7 Saints.
In the loss to the Saints, The Bucs’ Tom Brady managed to finish with a passer rating below that of Taysom Hill, 57.1 to 66.0. This is of special interest because the media has been declaring Brady to be the likely MVP winner, with Rodgers a distant second. After Sunday, however, Rodgers has raised his passer rating to a league’s best 110.4, while Brady has seen his rating fall to 100.4 – good for only a tie for ninth best.
The winner of the NFL MVP award is based on the votes of 50 Associated Press sportswriters. The vote is taken at the end of the regular season; inexplicably though, the winner isn’t announced until February 12, the day before the Super Bowl. I recall a comment last week, by a pundit whose name I’ve forgotten, who feels there is no way Rodgers will be voted MVP by Big Media. This of course would be due to Rodgers’ mostly off-field controversies, statements, and ensuing loss of popularity. The question becomes: will the MVP vote be based on merit or politics?