As the season shifts toward long-term evaluation rather than short-term results, the opening drive in the Green Bay Packers’ 23-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers stands out as a bright spot that can be considered progress over recent weeks. In using a full complement of weapons and executing some picture-perfect throws, Jordan Love had a handful of moments to start this past Sunday’s game that should leave fans encouraged about the progress of the first-year starter.
Keisean Nixon picked up a halfway-decent field position for Green Bay’s opening drive, but Love took the field after the Packers defense got gashed by the Steelers offense on the opening drive. The Pittsburgh crowd was fired up after the Steelers took the lead early, but Love came out composed and ready to execute the scripted plays in Matt LaFleur’s offense.
After a completion to Christian Watson and a negative run by Aaron Jones, Love had one of the best throws of the season on third-and-three. He delivered a bullet over the middle of the field that could not have been placed any better into Watson’s midsection. Love got the pocket he needed, saw Watson with a half-step of separation and the safety closing in, and showed off that tantalizing arm strength for a 14-yard gain into Steelers territory. It was an important play in that it prevented a three-and-out. However, it also helped create some confidence for Love and the offense in the early going.
A short first-down run by A.J. Dillon set up another pass play where Dontayvion Wicks did an excellent job of finding a soft spot in the defense as Love started to move through the pocket. Wicks has begun to emerge as more of a threat, showing awesome value for a fifth-round pick, with four targets in each of the last three games, tallying nine catches total. The recognition from the rookie that the play has started to break down is encouraging. Wicks knows he needs to work backward toward the quarterback to give Love a valid option on the play. A catch, a tumble, and a roll added up to a 23-yard gain, putting the Packers in prime position to pick up points on the drive.
The final play of the drive, a touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs on third-and-seven from the eight-yard line, was a thing of beauty in both the throw and catch. Green Bay chugged through a couple of short runs and ended up with a play that the offense needed to execute perfectly, and Love stepped up with another tremendous throw. He’s shown a growing rapport with Doubs in the end zone, and Love appeared dialed in on his target from the snap. With a bounce in his dropback and a bit of an Aaron Rodgers-esque back-foot throw, Love dropped the pass into the bucket over three Steelers defenders. Doubs did the rest, toe-tapping in the end zone for the game-tying score.
All three throws are very different: a bullet pass to Watson, an on-the-move throw to Wicks, and a back-of-the-end-zone dime to Doubs. Considering they all came on the same drive, it should be a reason to be encouraged. Their first-half struggles have been well-publicized lately, and to see the offense respond right away on Sunday was certainly a step in the right direction. Putting all four quarters together remains an issue. However, in a rebuilding and retooling season, finding spots like this brings a sense of optimism that the cohesion and chemistry is developing. Love still ended up with two picks, and the offense tallied just 19 points, but he has to feel like things are getting back on track after a disappointing stretch in October.