Packers Will Be “Fine” With Current Backup Quarterbacks All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Graham Harrell
Will the Packers be "fine" with Graham Harrell as the backup quarterback?

I’ve had about enough. After reading Football Outsider’s NFC North installment of their “Four Downs” series, it’s finally time to make known this humble blogger’s opinion regarding the backup quarterback situation in Green Bay. In a word, they’ll be “fine.”

For some reason, though, there are a good number of writers out there sounding the alarm. Perhaps they haven’t seen enough of Graham Harrell to put a lot of faith in him. (Of course, no one outside of the coaching staff really has.) Or perhaps they’re still clinging to the annual call for a veteran backup.

Whatever the case, it just needs to stop.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ve read some of the comments at Football Outsiders and our fellow Packers blog CheeseheadTV, and there seem to be a good number of people who all share the same opinion I do.

Look, I get it. Harrell, despite being in his third year with the team, is unproven. He’s never played a down outside of the preseason, and last year’s lockout kept him from developing in Mike McCarthy’s annual quarterback school. Now with the release of Nick Hill, seventh-round draft pick B.J. Coleman remains as the only other backup.

It’s not unreasonable to be dubious of a two-year practice squad player and a rookie. But it’s just crying wolf to say the Packers’ season might be in jeopardy without a more competent backup.

The truth of the matter is that if Aaron Rodgers goes down for the season, it’s probably over anyway. Even if you were to bring in a veteran quarterback, there’s not going to be anyone who will be able to pick up and run the Packer’s offensive system adequately. And spending a higher draft pick for someone other than B.J. Coleman is no more of a guarantee. Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm are proof enough of that.

There is little chance that anyone could carry the offense through the playoffs and to the Super Bowl other than Rodgers himself. When we get right down to it, isn’t that all that matters?

“But wait!” you might say. “What if having a backup in causes them to miss the playoffs, even if Rodgers returns from an injury?”

Well, if that’s the case, then they probably shouldn’t have been in the running to begin with. To prove my point, here’s a list of the last seven seasons’ backup quarterbacks. With each year, I’ve included any games where the backup saw significant playing time or playing time due to injury. After that, you’ll see how the Packers fared in the playoffs that year. Take a look:

2011: Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell
– Week 17 vs. Lions, W 45-41
* Record: 15-1, Lost in Divisional Round

2010: Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell
– Week 14 vs. Lions, L 3-7
– Week 15 vs. Patriots, L 27-31
* Record: 10-6, Won Super Bowl

2009: Matt Flynn, Chris Pizzotti
– No significant time
* Record: 11-5, Lost in Wild Card Round

2008: Matt Flynn, Brian Brohm
– Week 4 vs. Buccaneers, L 21-30
* Record: 6-10, No Playoffs

2007: Aaron Rodgers, Craig Nall
– Week 13 vs. Cowboys, L 27-37
* Record, 13-3, Lost NFC Championship Game

2006: Aaron Rodgers (Todd Bouman), Ingle Martin
– Week 11 vs. Patriots, L 0-35
* Record: 8-8, No Playoffs

2005: Aaron Rodgers, Craig Nall
– Week 15 vs. Ravens, L 3-48
* Record: 4-12, No Playoffs

So firs thing’s first. The only time a backup quarterback won a game for the Packers in the past seven years was last season when Matt Flynn beat the Lions in Week 17, giving Rodgers a rest for the playoff run. While it was an amazing performance by Flynn, it had zero bearing on the Packers’ playoff seed.

As for the losses, none of them really seemed to matter. Sure, Flynn might have improved the Packers’ seeding in 2010 with wins against the Lions and Patriots, but they still went on to win the Super Bowl, and neither loss cost them their playoff berth (however close it might have been).

Similarly, Aaron Rodger’s inability to rally the Packers against the Cowboys in 2007 had nothing to do with that year’s playoff run or their loss in the NFC Championship game.

In fact, the Green Bay Packers never really had a “veteran” quarterback as a backup since Rodgers was drafted. They’ve all been developed from within.

That’s not to say that something won’t go wrong this year. This list is definitely not exhaustive, and strange things happen. But if we’re going to let the threat of a long-term injury dictate roster moves, then managing the team becomes a real challenge.

Besides, Harrell and/or Coleman might just surprise us.

Backup quarterbacks are meant to close out the occasional blowout games and fill in for temporary injuries. The expectation of having them lead a team to a Super Bowl victory is a bit much, if you ask me. As I said before, if you have to bank on a backup winning a couple games to make the playoffs, then what was the team doing the rest of the season?

Yes, it’s a tough league, and one or two games can make all the difference. Still, the “draft and develop” philosophy has served Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy well. If they feel confident in their backup quarterbacks, then I’m not going to be worrying about it.

If you ask me, everything will be just “fine.”


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


21 thoughts on “Packers Will Be “Fine” With Current Backup Quarterbacks

  1. I agree, Chad. How many available veteran QB’s are worth a damn anyway? Even if you could find one, you’d have to pay handsomely for him, at the cost of upcoming contract deals for your core & coveted players. What if you had to lose an OL or an OLB starter to free agency because you don’t have the cap room to show him the money? All for a veteran QB that might or might not be any mode effective than a guy like G. Harrell. Yeah, I’m with you on this, Chad.

  2. Thank you Chad!

    I was sitting here pounding my head on the table wondering why TT hasn’t raced to McNabbs door with pen in hand because our season and SB hopes rests in his hands as a back-up.

  3. Thank you, Chad.

    To make a related point, the pundits and bloggerati said exactly the same thing when the Packers had new, unknown, untested backup Qbs named Craig Nall, Aaron Books, Matt Hasselbeck, Craig Pederson, Ty Detmer, and Mark Brunell as well as Matt Flynn. All of those guys were adequate backups from day one (because they **won** the job in camp), all but one wound up getting a chance to prove themselves as NFL starters and 2 went on to have fairly successful careers (Brooks threw his away by getting a swelled head after McCarthy left New Orleans).

    All that hiring a vet like AJ Feely (for one example) will do is interfere with the development of Harrell (for this year) and Coleman (projected as the backup in 2014.) If it does turn out that your starter goes out for multiple games and you need to add a veteran backup later, there are always guys with a little something left available in mid-season — Feely or whoever will still be there.

    Everybody points to last year’s Be*rs as the prime example of a team whose playoff chances were ruined by an inexperienced QB. But at the time Cutler went down, they had their choice of veterans to hire, they just didn’t want to go crawling and apologize to Orton or McNabb. I don’t expect TT to have any problem of that sort, and more important I don’t expect McCarthy to mistake Caleb Hanie for an NFL quality QB — If M3 says Harrell or Coleman can do the job I’ll trust him on that about a million times as much as I’d trust Lovie Smith.

    1. Ed, are Craig Pederson and Doug Pederson the same guy? I don’t remember Craig.

  4. Point well made Chad! Why tie up Cap $$$$ in an “expienced backup” when history shows the position is not used much at all.

    However, look no further than the NFC North for the counter arguement. What happened when Stafford and Cutler went down? That shows there is risk in not having experience at the QB position. A risk worth taking? I think, yes.

    1. Ron, just who could you bring in that could possibly know (and run) the system as well as a guy who’s been on the practice squad for 2 years?

      1. I guess the difference would be game experience. Can practice skills equate to game mgmnt? Not always! So, regardless it is a risk either way. Save the cap space and take your chances that AR is going to be the beneficary of the new rules.

  5. Co-signed.

    I’ll add that I trust MM and Clements know more about quarterbacking than anyone in the press/blogosphere/fandom.

    If they think that we’re ok with Harrell as a backup, so do I.

  6. The thing with Harrell is he’s a big unknown. However, let’s face-it, Flynn was a big unknown too. I know he has played in a few games, but although mostly good, his sample size is still too small to declare him a top half of the league QB. We’ll get a much better idea this year with Seattle. The point being, most Packer fans were content with Flynn as the backup, even though his resume was very limited.

    With an experienced back-up you have a history to analyze(although as they say; past performance is no guarantee of future results). So for all we know Harrell could be better than any veteran backup or a complete disaster. Anyway, I agree with the posters who state it’s unlikely GB would win the SB with either Harrell or an experienced backup. They might get you a win or two but I don’t believe they would be able to survive the 3 or 4 game playoff gauntlet even if they got in.

    Not just the Pack but all teams must gamble anyway when constructing their rosters. Maybe you’re light in one position because you wish to keep the better players at other positions. It’s a gamble. So if the Pack are unlikely to win the SB with either a veteran or the unknown Harrell, I agree to saving the cap-space and going with Harrell(unless when we finally do get to see him in action he really sucks).

    1. The teams that have a competent veteran backup have starting QBs who have problems staying healthy. Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia…

      That’s not the case in GB.

  7. I could give a hoot about “making the playoffs.” I want the Pack to win the Super Bowl or to make a serious run at it, and without Rodgers, they’re not going to do that. And if they’re not going to do that, then I have no problem with losing a bunch of games and improving their draft position.

  8. The term “Experienced backup” says it all. It means, “I have been in the league for quite a few years and I’ve never been good enough to be your regular QB.”

    In other words, “I’m ordinary at best.”

    Guys like that just don’t make much difference. They never have.

  9. In 2010, the week before Flynn nearly beat the Pats he looked very ordinary in losing to the Lions. His next game with substantial playing time, also against the Lions, he was awesome! Stick with Harrell, he’ll be fine!

  10. First and foremost, Chad, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for the article, agree 100%, people need to stop with the worry about back up QB. It’s always been questioned, every year, since Doug Pederson left. (He really was a great back up QB). Everyone was up in arms when the Packers continued to go into seasons without a Vet QB to back up Favre. “It’s crazy to go into the seasons with the unproven Rodgers. It’s catastrophe waiting to happen”. Lol, hindsight, right?

    Two nit picks, however, on statements in your piece:

    1) “Similarly, Aaron Rodger’s inability to rally the Packers against the Cowboys in 2007”

    Aaron Rodgers may have failed to chalk up the “W” vs. the Cowboys in 2007, but he certainly was successful at rallying the Packers against them.. Favre was atrocious that game, and the Packers were dead in the water with Favre under center. When Rodgers stepped in, the Packers stepped up and came to life. That’s also the game where it was discovered Aaron played most of the second half on a broken foot, if I’m not mistaken. They didn’t come home with the win, but they certainly rallied around Rodgers, it was his big “coming out” party, and while it was not impactful on the season (which I know is the point of your article), it was certainly a watershed moment for the Packers- it was a performance that confirmed what MM and the entire organization had been seeing in practice for the previous two years- and had to have given the Packers confidence to move on with the dongslinger in the months to come.
    2) “As for the losses (in 2010), none of them really seemed to matter.”

    I think that Matt Flynn’s loss to the Patriots mattered immensely, in positive fashion. I genuinely and fully believe Flynn’s incredibly inspired and gutsy performance vs. the juggernaught Pats @ Gillette was the sparkplug that instilled unbridled confidence and propelled the Packers through the Giants, the play offs, and the Superbowl. Not bad for an unproven backup.

    Again, I understand these are not issues that were being addressed by the focus of your article, but I just had to get that out! 🙂

  11. As a Chattanooga fan, and seeing BJ Coleman play in every home game he ever played in- you guys have a good back up. He’s smart, respectful, eager to learn, and I have no doubt will polsh his skills this year under a great QB like Rogers and great coaching like McCarthy. I was VERY happy Green Bay took Coleman, vs. other franchises like Oakland or Dallas. I think he will be happy in Green Bay, and I think you – the fans – will be happy with him as well. Good luck in 2012!

    1. I thought he was the perfect choice for Green Bay as well, so I’m glad to hear the same from someone ultimately much more familiar with him. Thanks for commenting!

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