For the Packers’ offense, this year is about preparing for next year.

Rodgers stepped into the Green Bay Packers’ starting lineup with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings as stud receivers.

Driver was coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and his second consecutive Pro Bowl. Jennings was coming off a second season of 920 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 13 games.

Jordan Love stepped into the starting lineup this year with nothing but potential and projection. On the depth chart to start training camp, the Packers had as many receivers who’d caught passes in a regular-season game (three) as rookie draft picks. Combined, Romeo Doubs (42 catches), Christian Watson (41) and Samori Toure (five) had caught 88 passes. Jennings had 98 in his first two seasons. Driver had 92 by himself in 2006.

Replacing Rodgers and all the expectations that come with it are challenging enough. Doing it with a receiver corps plucked from the football equivalent of KinderCare has made the transition even more difficult.

“I would say it’s not just whether the young quarterback is ready to play; is the team ready for the young quarterback?”

That was a line uttered several times by former Packers coach Mike McCarthy whenever his team was getting ready to play a rookie passer.

“It’s true, though,” Gannon replied. “Where are we at health-wise? Where are we running the football? When you go to evaluate the quarterback position, so much of it is impacted by what’s going on around them.

How well do we run the ball? How well do we protect? How well are we playing at the tight end and wide receiver position? How good have we been defensively? Do we take the ball away, create field position, kick? All that stuff, it factors in.”

The decision to go incredibly young at receiver and tight end was made by general manager Brian Gutekunst. Smart minds can agree to disagree on whether that was the right choice, but there definitely was logic in the decision.

A young Packers offense has run hot and cold with Jordan Love.Photo by Dan Powers/USA Today Sports Images

A young Packers offense has run hot and cold with Jordan Love.Photo by Dan Powers/USA Today Sports Images Photo by Dan Powers/USA Today Sports Images“Obviously, we’re very excited about that group and how they’re going to grow together with Jordan and the whole offense,” Gutekunst said before the first practice of training camp. “The players we have right now in that group need to play. They need the reps.”

Of course, there were other components at play. Overall, it was a lousy group of receivers in free agency, and the cap-poor Packers couldn’t really afford to sign a good one, anyway. Indeed, no receiver in free agency signed a contract for more years (four), more money ($44 million) and more guaranteed money ($22.0 million) than Allen Lazard received from the Jets.

For lesser money, Darius Slayton, D.J. Chark, Parris Campbell and Mecole Hardman were in the $5 million range. Randall Cobb joined Aaron Rodgers and the Jets on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

Who would you rather have on the field, Lazard or Chark or Dontayvion Wicks? Cobb or Hardman or Jayden Reed?

The answer depends on the goal. Is the goal to win games this year? Or is the goal to build a solid future with Love gaining experience and building chemistry and rapport with all the young receivers added over the past two draft cycles?

As Gutekunst said after the draft, “I think it’s important for those guys to grow together.”

Of course, the drawback is the predictable growing pains Love is enduring are even more painful. It’s hard for a young quarterback to adjust to the speed of the NFL game. The players are fast. The disguises are good. The defensive coordinators are smart. The on-the-fly adjustments have to be made in the blink of an eye.

Now, consider Love has to trust a bunch of young receivers who don’t have Lazard’s schematic mastery or Cobb’s savvy. Just like Love, those young receivers have to adjust to the speed of the game, the savvy of the defensive backs and the chaos created by those defensive coordinators.

Not that it all exonerates Love from his league-worst completion percentage and a passer rating that has plunged from first to 28th over the last three games, but is it any wonder that a quarterback who might not be entirely comfortable is struggling to connect with receivers who may or may not be in the right place at the right time because they’re not entirely comfortable?

The combination of young quarterback throwing to young receivers has led to a predictably inconsistent passing attack. Love threw six touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first two games, led a stunning comeback vs. New Orleans in his third game but delivered dismal performances in back-to-back losses to Detroit and Las Vegas.

Would the presence of a Lazard or Cobb have eased the transition for Love? Probably. Having that reliable receiver on third-and-4 might have spelled the difference in the losses to Atlanta and Las Vegas.

But this year isn’t about this year. I know that might be a strange sentence to read, but it’s obviously true based on how this team was built. Gutekunst didn’t give Love a veteran receiver. Heck, he didn’t even re-sign tight end Marcedes Lewis, who wouldn’t have taken any passing-game reps away from Luke Musgrave but would have provided mentorship and leadership to the youngest perimeter group in the league.

This year is about next year and the following years. Again, open-minded people can agree or disagree with the logic, but Gutekunst, after going all-in to win with Rodgers, has gone all-in on building for the future.

What’s more important? Having a veteran to move the chains and serve as a mentor? Or letting all those young players learn as they go?

Yes, it’s painful to watch a passing game in which Reed fails to run his route even close to the goal line on third-and-goal or Tucker Kraft whiffs on Maxx Crosby. Too often, the passing attack seems like one step forward and two steps back, with injuries to the offensive line and running back Aaron Jones compounding the issues.

No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. In Gutekunst’s view, so long as all those young players grow alongside Love and it becomes two or two-and-a-half steps forward for every step back, this season will be a success.

No matter what the standings suggest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *