Any fair and honest evaluation of Seneca Wallace as the Green Bay Packers new starting quarterback will need to extend at least another week, but any trust in the backup to replace Aaron Rodgers may only stretch that long if Wallace doesn't improve greatly over his debut against the Chicago Bears.
A 33-year-old journeyman with only eight weeks inside the Packers offense, Wallace understandably struggled when thrown into the fire following Rodgers' collarbone injury Monday night. He completed only 11 passes and was intercepted once, and Green Bay gained just 89 net passing yards over 11 Wallace-led drives.
Given a week of preparation with the first-team offense, the Packers are internally confident that Wallace will be night-and-day better when he starts against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday.
“He’s played in a lot of games, been in the league a long time. I look for him to improve with a week of preparation,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said during his Tuesday press conference. “I have all the confidence in the world in Seneca.”
Early indications are that the Packers will be without Rodgers, who confirmed a broken left collarbone on his weekly radio with Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee, for multiple weeks. Green Bay has not been vocal about a set timeline for his return, but even the most optimistic of projections would have Rodgers missing the next three games.
At least for now, it will be Wallace's show while Rodgers heals.
That show could be an ugly one if Wallace doesn't show necessary improvement over his opening act against the Bears. The Packers need to see vast progression in a number of areas.
The raw accuracy numbers weren't all that bad for Wallace Monday night. He completed 11 of 19 attempts, or 58 percent. Among his incompletions were one throw away and two batted pass (including the interception), so credit Wallace for hitting on 11 of 16 unaffected throws (69 percent).
The Packers called mostly easy passes for Wallace, especially early on. But the veteran understood that just a few missed opportunities later in the game cost the offense.
"We missed a couple things," Wallace said Monday night. "If I make some better throws on a couple deals, I feel like we could have gotten a few things going."
A few examples stood out among those Wallace missed on.
In the third quarter, Wallace threw well behind a wide open Jordy Nelson on first down:
This is a throw that all quarterbacks should make. Timing is an obvious issue for a backup quarterback, but Nelson was open enough that any lack of chemistry between thrower and receiver shouldn't have mattered.
The end result was a quick, three-and-out possession. After an Eddie Lacy run and another incompletion, the Packers were lining to punt the football away.
Earlier in the third quarter, the Packers were presented with an opportunity to cap off a recovered onside kick with a touchdown. Facing 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Wallace looked the way of his tight end, Andrew Quarless.
Quarless appears to have separation from Bears safety Chris Conte, who is peeking into the backfield after an unsuccessful jam. While Quarless appears to want the football over his shoulder, Wallace goes to the back shoulder. The pass falls incomplete, and the Packers had to kick a short field goal.
Wallace took the blame, citing a "bad decision" for the missed opportunity.
Among Wallace's other noteworthy misfires were a skipper to James Jones in the first half and an outside throw that really should have been intercepted by linebacker James Anderson. Another, to Quarless underneath, was forced into a tight window between two defenders.
Accuracy can be a difficult term to define with just raw statistics. While Wallace was mostly fine distributing the football, he came up short in a number of big situations. A week working with the first stringers should help, both in terms of play-calling and timing.
With Rodgers under center, defensive coordinators routinely found themselves in a difficult dilemma. Either keep two safeties in a deep shell to protect against the vertical passing game and risk being outnumbered in the run game, or creep one safety in and open up the backend for attack. It was a game of cat-and-mouse that the Packers were starting to consistently win with Lacy and the running game heating up.
The game for opposing coordinators suddenly becomes much easier with Wallace at quarterback, especially if he shows the same unwillingness to go downfield as he did Monday night.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wallace completed just three passes traveling over 10 yards in the air, and he failed to attempt a single pass over 20. The Bears responded to his lack of deep shots by making a rather easy adjustment.
In the pre-snap look, Chicago would decoy a two-deep shell with safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte. But at the snap, one of the two would break toward the line of scrimmage, both to stop the run and disrupt the short passing game.
This same look can be expected by the Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia would be crazy not to challenge the running the game with an extra player and force Wallace to win with vertical passes.
Arm strength might be one factor why Wallace was hesitant to pull the deep trigger. On a number of occasions, he appeared unable to get the velocity needed to be a serious threat down the field.
In all honesty, the Packers did Wallace no favors by continually dropping him back as a pocket passer. On Monday night, Green Bay called six deep drops and another 17 from the shotgun.
At 5'11", Wallace is among the shortest quarterbacks in the NFL. To adjust sight lines and find passing lanes, Wallace needs to be moved outside the pocket at times, via rollouts or designed sprint plays.
That said, Wallace was poor Monday night in feeling pressure and creating space for himself, whether it was inside or outside the pocket.
The Packers offensive line is vastly improved this season, both in blocking for the run and protecting the passer. Still, Rodgers has become a master at subtle movements inside the pocket that re-establish protection, create throwing lanes and frustrate pressure. For every sack Rodgers takes for holding the ball too long, he dodges three or four more.
Wallace, during his first NFL snaps since 2011, clearly has some rust to shake off in terms of the feel inside the pocket.
Expect the Packers to be more committed to giving Wallace the kind of rollouts and pocket-moving plays he needs to maximize his skill set. Any good quarterback is required to make plays from the pocket, but Wallace is still one who needs a different type of game plan.
Think of the way the Seattle Seahawks use Russell Wilson. He's given opportunities to escape the confines of the pocket and make plays on the edge. McCarthy, given a week to formulate a game plan for Wallace, will likely attempt to do the same.
Giving up on Wallace as a legitimate replacement for Aaron Rodgers after 11 series is silly, especially given the circumstances. While Wallace took mostly scout team reps leading up to Monday night, McCarthy also generated a game plan that was tailored around his elite quarterback.
This week, Wallace will receive the live reps with the No. 1 offense, and McCarthy will construct an offense that fits his new quarterback's strengths and weaknesses.
In his typical "don't blink" style, McCarthy, the play-caller, remained committed to how his team will operate with the football.
"We will play offense like we've always played offense," McCarthy said. "We will go out Sunday afternoon full expecting to score points, like we're supposed to score points."
Wallace was just as confident as his head coach, insisting that he's well versed in the playbook. Only the necessary preparation was needed.
"I've learned a lot. Now it's about timing and getting the reps in practice," Wallace said. "It'll get better."
The Packers need it to be better. If Wallace isn't noticeably improved Sunday against the Eagles, practice squad quarterback Scott Tolzien and even free agent Matt Flynn—who played in Green Bay for four years—become legitimate options.
For now, Wallace will get his shot to cover the absence of Rodgers. He knows what needs to be done to keep Green Bay's trust.
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