Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Battle of the Backup Quarterbacks

Photo credit: Mike Roemer/Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers finished their preseason campaign with a 34-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The fourth preseason game is not only meaningless in the win/loss column, it also does not feature any starters seeing any significant playing time. It’s simply a game that gives the coaching staff one last chance to finalize the depth chart and evaluate players who may have a shot to make the roster.

Since the fourth preseason game is base vanilla for strictly evaluative purposes, rather than breaking down the specific Xs and Os of plays, I thought we’d evaluate the pretty hot competition for the backup quarterback between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.

In the box score, Tolzien slightly outperformed Flynn by going 12/18 for 139 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a rating of 126.9; Flynn’s numbers were 7/15 for 102 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a rating of 108.9.

Both sets of stats were impressive, but one quarterback looks much better on film, and the film never lies. In fact, in my opinion, the quarterback competition isn’t as close as many may want to believe.

Between them, they thew 33 passes that officially counted in the box score. Below, I’ll look at eight that really stuck out in my mind when I watched the game.

It’s no secret that Flynn has an average arm at best. He has accuracy in the short passing game, and typical routes in the Flynn play calling package involve the stop/comeback/curl tree. These are high percentage throws and don’t require a cannon arm.

In the GIF below, you can see Flynn complete a comeback route for about 12 yards. That route is one of his favorites because it doesn’t require him to zip and squeeze the ball into a tight space.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

Flynn can complete the ball over the middle, but it lacks some velocity, which could be problem if the defensive coverage is tight. Even though the pass in the GIF below results in a touchdown, the throw to the slot receiver on the post route wasn’t overly authoritative and was possible because the wide receiver was left uncovered.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

In contrast, Scott Tolzien has a much livelier arm and can squeeze the ball quickly into tighter coverage. See the GIF below and notice the increased velocity to the slot receiver, who was also running a post route. The ball was driven to the receiver before the safety, who was in good position, could drive downhill to break up the pass.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

In the GIF below, Tolzien squeezes the ball into tight coverage on a skinny post for a touchdown. That window wasn’t open very long, and Tolzien let it rip and threaded the needle. I believe that Flynn lacks both the arm strength and the confidence that Tolzien has to sling the ball in there. Also, notice how quickly Tolzien is able to release the ball. His ability to set his feet and fire the ball is noticeably quicker than Flynn.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

Even though the Packers run a “west coast” offense, it has really evolved over the years, taking advantage of the strong arms of both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to drive the ball deep down field.

The deep ball, especially outside of the numbers, is one of Flynn’s greatest weaknesses. In the GIF below, he severely underthrows the receiver on a go route. While the underthrow did result in a pass interference call, the play should have resulted in a touchdown if the ball was thrown deeper with more velocity.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

The GIF below shows a similar situation. Flynn struggles to deliver the ball outside the numbers in intermediate to deep routes. He was pressured, but still had time to set his feet. If the pass rusher did influence the throw, it’s only because Flynn has a slower release than Tolzien. Here, he threw a very poor ball.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

In the next two GIFs below, Flynn and Tolzien are throwing to receivers running similar deep go routes. In the first play, Flynn fails to give his receiver an accurate ball with enough space on the sideline to haul it in.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

In contrast, Tolzien was much accurate with his go route. He hit his receiver in stride with plenty of space on the sideline for him to run under the ball.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

As of this posting, the Packers kept both Flynn and Tolzien on the 53-man roster, signifying the first time since 2008 that they’ve carried three quarterbacks on the roster.

It’s no surprise, really, considering the disaster the backup quarterbacks position was at times last season. Both are competent players and can be counted upon to win games if needed (let’s hope it’s never needed). Last year, Flynn went 2-2-1 as Aaron Rodgers’ replacement. So, he can win games.

However, Tolzien is the better player. He has the stronger arm, is more accurate, and has more confidence in his throws when compared to Flynn.

Every quarterback in the NFL can complete the short ball. The good ones can squeeze it into tight coverage and also complete the deep ball.

Tolzien has the higher upside, whereas Flynn has leveled off and is a known commodity by now. If I was in charge of the Packers roster, Tolzien would be my #2.

I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


17 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Battle of the Backup Quarterbacks

  1. Excellent. I like the GIF format for this type of analysis.

    And I like that the Packers were able to get Tolzien last year.

  2. Good stuff!

    I also agree with the analysis. I was a Flynn advocate at the end of last season and beginning of TC. After seeing the Oakland game along with videos of Flynn and Tolzien before today, I believe Tolzien should be the #2.

    I understand MM likes Flynn’s knowledge of the offense but Tolzien closed that gap. This is one of MM’s weaknesses…his loyalty to players whose time has come and gone.

    1. I agree!! Tolzien blew him away in my opinion. Why MM still didn’t pull the trigger and put Tolzien as the no. 2 is a slap in the face to Tolzien. He earned that no. 2 fair and square. Flynn should not be saddened by being the no. 3 since his bank account is pretty stacked I am sure.

  3. I agree that Tolzien has the better arm and is the better prospect. I am not sure we are looking at the film the same way the coaches do.

    Overall, Flynn looks to be throwing stronger balls than he did last season. On at least 2 of the outside routes it looks like his ‘failure’ was more the result of the defender’s position against the receiver (one of those was the interference penalty). In both cases Flynn did his job by putting the ball where there was no chance of an INT.

    I am not sure Tolzien has that kind of ‘brainpower’ on the field yet –emphasis on the ‘yet,’ but that is why the coaches may think he needs another year of seasoning. Tolzien has made a great deal of progress gaining command of the offense. If Tolzien continues that there is no way Flynn makes this team in 2015 unless the trade Scott (at a substantial profit in draft position — I don’t think they would take just a late round pick.) But for this season, right now, I can see why the coaches still think Flynn is the top backup

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. When I chose those throws, I did anticipate a comment similar to yours.

      While it is true that many incompletions are the the results of the quarterback throwing that ball into a safe spot where it will it the ground, I don’t think any of the throws Flynn made in the GIFs above fit that category, even though you are right in that none of them were intercepted.

      In the underthrown go route that drew the interference call (5th GIF from top), the underthrow is the worst possible place for it, because the underthrow is what generates interceptions. If Flynn was trying to safely turf the ball, he should have thrown it 5 yards out of bounds or 10 yards over the receiver. In this case, it was a horrible ball and increased the chance of being intercepted. If the defensive back simply turned around and saw the ball, rather than running through the receiver, it would have been picked off.

      Also, on the out route that fluttered (6th GIF from top), that wasn’t Flynn turfing the ball, either. If he was, it would have sailed out of bounds by at least 5 yards. It was just a poor throw. The coverage was good, but a bigger arm would have had no problem connecting. He was open as far as NFL standards go. It was in-phase trail coverage, and Flynn could have put the ball over the outside shoulder.

      On the other go route that Flynn overthrew (7th GIF from top), I think he was trying to complete the ball rather than turf it. If he was trying to turf it, the safest option is to underthrow the route by at least 5 yards and complete it to the bench out of bounds.

  4. Jay -I like the analysis. I agree that Tolzien has the better arm and more upside. But NFL coaches and players (for that matter) place a high value on real game experience. Flynn not only has the experience but he has won NFL games. Also he knows MMs offense really well. Tolzien is still learning the offense and does not yet have the experience that Flynn has. I think that for this season MM has more confidence in bringing Flynn into a game and still be able to move the team. By the end of this season I think that Tolzien will be ready for the #2 and Flynn will not be resigned. Then you will see the Packers draft a QB to develop on the PS as their #3. This would probably be more in line with how the Packers would prefer to approach their QB group. For now they are in a good place with Flynn and Tolzien as backups. Time to focus on Seattle. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I understand what the coaching staff is doing by going with Flynn as the #2 this year. It’s the “safer” bet, but it will only get them to 0.500 at best, because that’s what Flynn offers. Even though Scoots is still learning the whole playbook, his arm leaves more of the playbook still in the game plan. The Packers love the 4 verticals, and Flynn just doesn’t have it there.

      Also, by letting Scoots run the scout team all season, he’s not getting the necessary #2 reps to develop this season. I keep hearing that Scoots will the #2 by season’s end, and that may be true. But sticking him on the scout team isn’t going to accelerate that.

      But, like I said, I understand the coach’s decision and agree with what you said, even if I don’t agree with the decision. I guess that’s why I’m here and the coaches are there.

      1. Jay, what is your opinion on similarity how Scott looks like, throws, moves to Brett Favre? Thanks…

        1. Any time you compare a current player to Favre it’s a risky proposition because Favre was truly a once-in-a-generation talent. Tolzien has a strong arm and a quick release, but he doesn’t approach Favre territory. If he did, he would have been drafted in an early round and would never have seen the waiver wire and a practice squad.

          It’s natural for many of us, including myself, to overvalue our own players, and it’s also natural, including myself, to try to minimize Favre in an attempt to move on after the ugly divorce.

          Favre was truly something special from a physical talent standpoint. Tolzien may one day be a salvageable NFL starter.

          1. Thank you for the answer. I’m from small country in Europe, so my point of view regarding football is little bit different and with less knowledge of many small (but important) details. This is not that I would like toi say that Scott is No 2 Brett, but just, to me, they are physically prety similar. And I will agree with you that Brett was something special in football as Aaron is, and that is very dangerous to compare top players with younger and less “succesful” players…

            1. That’s awesome you love the Packers and live in Europe. Thanks for reading our website. Hope to see you around here and contributing regularly.

              1. I’m reading your site regularly, just do not comment much… I learned a lot form places like… And still learning 🙂

  5. Tolzien outplayed Flynn and it wasn’t close. You can count me as one who wasn’t that impressed at how Flynn did when he stepped in. He played against some awful teams and had periods where he was really not good interspersed with times when he moved the ball well. His problem is that defenses need not respect his deep throw, so they move safeties closer to the line of scrimmage or have just one deep. Tolzien requires more because his arm is better.

    McCarthy seems to have trouble believing in the improvements Tolzien has had since last year. I want Tolzien to be the one coming in, if Rodgers is injured. If you are going to let players compete for a higher spot at your position group, then abide by the results, if you cannot do that, then the system is flawed, or even broken.

    1. There have been situations in the past where MM has said “The right thing” in terms of protecting a veteran’s ego, or stated that an injured player who has been outperformed by his backup replacement can’t lose his job to injury. However, MM’s decisions and actions in respect to those situations have been at times quite different from what he says.

      I get the feeling that MM is saying all the right, respectful things about Matt Flynn- a guy who has a history with the Packers and has done everything they’ve ever asked him to do- so as to not bruise Flynn’s ego, and more importantly (to MM and Flynn, anyways), to prevent damage to Flynn’s reputation around the league.

      The Packers as an organization under TT and MM have always gone out of their way to say the right things about players on their roster that may not be with the team- either due to being cut, traded, waived, or lost to FA. They seem to honor the hard work and loyalty of players by attempting to help set them up for future career success elsewhere when they can. MM and TT also have shown this attitude with coaching and front office personnel as well.

      My feeling is that if the unthinkable happens, Flynn will be given the opportunity to play and lead the team, but at the first sign of trouble, we’ll see tolzien placed under center, and a PR job that attempts to put the burden on a coaching decision or game planning will be instituted to attempt to take the heat off of Flynn’s performance (or Tolzien’s superiority). Ideally, MM and TT would probably hope to continue to state Flynn is the unquestioned #2, while secretly hoping that they never face a situation where they have to actually prove that loyalty, because behind closed doors, they know Tolzien is who they’d rather lean on.

      Just my (lengthy) $0.02.

      1. I very much agree with the last few paragraphs in your response. I think MM believes that his offensive machine isn’t yet grasped by Tolzien, but it will be in time. He knows Tolzien has better skills, not sure how he couldn’t at this point.

        I would say TT/MM are bringing Flynn back for the same reasons DD was brought back, but I think the fact that this is being done at the quarterback position makes the situation quite different. The leash is sort and their is no better way to develop Tolzien’s experience than to place him in game action at the appropriate times. He’s gotta learn to better pilot this offensive machine.

        Hopefully there is a lot of opportunity for Tolzien to play mop-up duty this year.

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