The Green Bay Packers' decision to sit Aaron Rodgers during Saturday night's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans provided a chance for the club to take a long look at its backup quarterback competition.
One quarterback took advantage of the opportunity; one did not.
Scott Tolzien threw for 124 yards on just 12 attempts for a passer rating of 100.7, while veteran Matt Flynn struggled mightily over almost a full half of action as the Titans eventually beat the Packers, 20-16.
Flynn—who returned to Green Bay and all but saved the Packers' sinking season a year ago—remains as the team's most likely backup quarterback. He's proven he can take over in a pinch and engineer a winning performance during the regular season. But his underwhelming night in a driving rain at LP Field might just leave the door open for Tolzien, who looked like the better quarterback against the Titans.
"I thought Scott did a real nice job in the no huddle," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said in his post-game interview with Larry McCarren of 620-WTMJ. "We'll all definitely have something to learn from."
Flynn was mostly erratic with his accuracy. He completed five of 10 passes for 49 yards and no turnovers, but his play was probably worse than the box score numbers suggest.
Two of his completions and 34 of his yards came off quick hitters to tight ends in the flat (10 to Richard Rodgers, 24 to Brandon Bostick). Another pair of his completions went to DuJuan Harris, for gains of six and zero yards, respectively.
His best throw and only completion to a receiver came on his final drive, when he hit rookie Davante Adams on a short comeback route for nine yards.
In between, Flynn struggled driving the ball downfield, which has been a problem for him in the past. His ball placement was also poor, as he threw behind a handful of receivers. The conditions were far from ideal, and there were times when the communication between quarterback and receiver was clearly off, but the Packers likely expected more out of a veteran of the position.
Tolzien, a two-game starter last season, made several big throws against the Titans.
After scrambling for 13 yards on his first snap, Tolzien lofted a perfect ball down the left seam to tight end Andrew Quarless, who couldn't hang on. If caught, the play likely would have netted 25 or more yards.
McCarthy on Tolzien: "I thought he did a lot of good things. I thought the no-huddle really flourished in his two series."— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) August 10, 2014
Unfazed, Tolzien came back with completions to Myles White for 12 yards and Adams for another 13 as he attempted to get the Green Bay offense into field-goal range in the two-minute drill. He simply ran out of time after marching the Packers to the Tennessee 49-yard line.
Tolzien stayed hot after the break. His first attempt in the second half burned zone coverage across the middle for 17 yards to Chris Harper. After the football slipped out of his hand a play later, Tolzien found Harper wide open for 38 yards on 2nd-and-21. Two players later, the Packers were in the end zone via Rajion Neal's 12-yard touchdown run.
Overall, the Packers scored a touchdown each with both Flynn and Tolzien under center. But Flynn's five drives netted 114 yards, including two three-and-outs and four punts, while Tolzien gained 149 on just three total drives. One from Harper ended Tolzien's final drive on fourth down and another took points off the board on an attempted two-point conversion in the second half.
Grade the Packers' QBs vs. the Titans in the team's preseason opener Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Flynn was helped by a dominant effort from James Starks, who rushed six times for 49 yards and a 20-yard touchdown on the opening scoring drive. He started in place of Eddie Lacy, who like Rodgers and Jordy Nelson was given the night off. The Packers went 64 yards in eight plays but attempted just two throws on that opening drive.
Tolzien, who averaged 8.0 yards per attempt over 90 passes last season, burned up Tennessee's second unit for 10.3 yards per attempt Saturday night. His arm was clearly much better suited to cut through the unrelenting precipitation.
Still, the end result of one preseason game is not likely to change the team's depth chart. McCarthy and the Packers are confident and comfortable in what Flynn brings to the table. However, Tolzien's effort Saturday night will—at the very least—give more weight to the idea that Green Bay will keep three quarterbacks on the opening 53-man roster for the first time since 2008, Rodgers' first year as a starter.
The quarterback competition behind Rodgers is much tighter tonight than it was before Green Bay's preseason opener.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.