This week we’re going to take a closer look at Green Bay’s young backup quarterback, Scott Tolzien, and try and get a better idea of what the Packers have in the former Wisconsin Badger star.
Of all the positions on the field, the most difficult position to try and break down would easily be the quarterback. There are so many aspects to the game that a competent quarterback has to juggle constantly that even when a simple fan recognizes that they are watching an elite quarterback (a la Aaron Rodgers), it’s almost impossible for them to truly understand the amount of information and snap decisions that happen before, during, and after the play.
In order to try and simplify this topic at least a little bit, we have to find something concrete to measure. One of the strengths that all great quarterbacks possess, and that is a requirement to survive in the NFL, is accuracy. Quarterbacks that have great foot speed, cannon arms, or tall stature, may survive and even thrive for a few years, but if they lack consistent accuracy, they will sooner or later (usually sooner) be benched for someone who can get the ball into the receiver’s hands.
For that reason, I decided to take a look at Scott Tolzien’s accuracy during his play in 2013, to try and get an idea of how accurate he was overall, which throws were his most or least accurate, and how he ranked compared to other quarterbacks in the NFL.
Scott Tolzien's Raw Completion Numbers
First up, to get Tolzien’s raw numbers, I looked at the three games he played in last year - Week 10 vs. Philadelphia, Week 11 vs. New York, and Week 12 vs. Minnesota. I took each of his throws and charted them out by where the ball was caught (not including Yards-After-Catch) - Short (0 up to 6 yards), Medium (6 up to 15 yards), and Long (15 yards and beyond). I then also divided them up by whether they were to the offensive Left or Right, or down the Middle (inside the numbers on the field). Note that I only counted plays where the ball actually left Tolzien’s hand, so the completion percentages may be off compared to other systems that include sacks in their passing stats. Also, if there was a play I felt was an obvious drop, (hitting the receiver square in the hands, for instance), or a defensive pass interference call, I gave the benefit of the doubt to the QB for .75 of a completion, following the lead of David Maziasz of www.nfldraftblogger.com.
|2013 Wk 10 vs. PHI||Left||Middle||Right|
|Long (15+)||1-2, 50%||0-2, 0%||2.75-4, 69%|
|Medium (6-15)||0-3, 0%||2-4, 50%||4-7, 57%|
|Short (0-6)||6.75-8, 84%||----||9-11, 82%|
Going game by game, against Philadelphia, Scott Tolzien entered the game after the first series and had a two TD day, but also had a bad throw in the endzone that killed a drive and any realistic hope Green Bay had at holding off the Eagles. As could be expected of an inexperienced right-handed QB, over half of Tolzien’s throws went exclusively to the right, and of the throws that went anywhere else, nearly half of those were short throws to the left. I’m sure the coaching staff quickly dialed up the safest plays they could think of, and for the most part Tolzien responded well. While you’d like to see a better completion rate on the long throws, obviously that’s where the lack of timing between quarterback and receiver becomes more pronounced.
|2013 Wk 11 vs. NYG||Left||Middle||Right|
|Long (15+)||----||4-5, 80%||2-2, 100%|
|Medium (6-15)||1-1, 100%||1-5, 20%||2-2, 100%|
|Short (0-6)||3-4, 75%||5-6, 86%||5.75-6, 96%|
The Week 11 game versus the New York Giants is the game that got fans excited about Scott Tolzien’s potential. There were obvious problems in his game (zero touchdowns and 3 interceptions is not a recipe for a win), but this was probably one of the best games any NFL quarterback has had with that stat-line. Tolzien’s arm strength was on display and his timing and accuracy improved dramatically from his first game. The only real hole in his game was the medium throws down the middle, where the heart of the defense was waiting to disrupt his passes. Otherwise, he was nearly perfect throwing to the outside, and his short and long throws down the middle ended up finding their mark at an above-average rate. This performance led to some optimism for Green Bay’s chances headed into the next game against Minnesota.
|2013 Wk 12 vs. MIN||Left||Middle||Right|
|Long (15+)||----||1-1, 100%||0-2, 0%|
|Medium (6-15)||----||1-3, 33%||0-1, 0%|
|Short (0-6)||2-3, 67%||2-4, 50%||2-3, 67%|
Unfortunately, as dramatic as the improvement from Scott Tolzien’s first game to his second game was, his regression against Minnesota was just as dramatic, to the point that the coaching staff pulled him shortly after the start of the 2nd half. The only positive fans really had from Tolzien that day was an (admittedly impressive) scramble for a touchdown - otherwise his accuracy suffered greatly. Obviously some of the problem can be attributed to the well-known struggles that young quarterbacks exhibit against good defenses once there is tape of the new QB in action. However, watching the game again, there just seemed to be a listlessness to the offense that I’m sure the coaching staff noticed, and hence the move to Matt Flynn, who did just enough to salvage a tie and keep the Packers in the playoff hunt.
So what did we learn from revisiting Scott Tolzien’s performance in 2013? He does have the potential to be accurate enough to play quarterback in the league, obviously, but he needs more experience with his receivers and the playbook, which he should get during the offseason programs. Will it be enough to unseat Flynn as Aaron Rodger’s backup? While Tolzien has arguably the better physical upside, I’m inclined to think that the coaching staff will stick with the proven commodity that is Matt Flynn, who has proven himself (to Green Bay staff and fans, at least) as a player who can keep the team at about a .500 record until the starter returns, which is really all you can ask. Eventually, though, I would anticipate that Tolzien would supplant Flynn as the primary backup, but maybe not until he has yet another season with the Packers under his belt.