Tolzien must turn yards into points, wins

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
7:25
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Backup quarterbacks can throw for 300 yards or more.

The Green Bay Packers saw that first hand on Sunday, when Scott Tolzien, in his first NFL start, threw for 339 yards and completed 24-of-34 passes against the New York Giants.

But they also can win games.

The Packers have yet to experience that.

Their backups, first Seneca Wallace and then Tolzien, have gone 0-2 since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, backup quarterbacks -- defined as not being a Week 1 starter -- have a combined record of 17-30 (a .362 winning percentage) when thrust into starting roles. That figure does not include any relief appearances such as Wallace’s against the Bears on "Monday Night Football," when he played all but the game’s opening series.

By comparison, Week 1 starters have a 144-131 record (.524 winning percentage).

With Tolzien to make his second straight start on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Packers coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements must figure out how to turn Tolzien’s production into points -- and ultimately into a victory.

No doubt, that starts with curtailing Tolzien’s interceptions. He has thrown five in the past two games – two in relief of Wallace against the Philadelphia Eagles and three against the Giants, including the one he gift-wrapped to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for a 24-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter.

Clements categorized just one of Tolzien’s three interceptions against the Giants as a poor decision. That was the final one, when Tolzien broke one of the basic rules of playing quarterback – never throw late down the middle of the field.

“I think if you ask him, the biggest thing is we need to protect the football,” Clements said Monday. “As I’ve indicated, some of the interceptions were good plays by the defense. Over the last two weeks, [on] some he has to take care of the ball better. He’s been productive. We’ve gotten a lot of yards. But if you turn the ball over in the NFL, it’s going to come back to haunt you. That’s the thing that has to get corrected.”

As we noted earlier on Monday, Tolzien was remarkably accurate on deep balls, completing all six of his throws that traveled 15 yards or more in the air. Perhaps more than anything, that has left McCarthy convinced that he can win with Tolzien.

“I have never seen a quarterback hit all his big throws like that in a game,” McCarthy said Monday. “That was the most impressive big-play, big-pass play production from a quarterback.

“I was talking to Scott and going through his grading session this morning, and I can’t think of another time in my career that I’ve had someone hit every one. Every big shot we called yesterday, we hit them.”

If McCarthy’s praise of Tolzien seems over the top for a quarterback who managed just two touchdowns in 21 drives over the past two games, perhaps that was his way of instilling confidence before what could be considered a must-win game on Sunday against the Vikings. At 5-5 and losers of three straight, the Packers’ playoff hopes may be in danger.

“He’s a good football player; he’s got a lot to work with,” McCarthy said. “We need to focus on winning games right now, but there’s a lot there for a young quarterback.

“He has a lot of good football ahead of him. But the reality is, and he knows this better than anybody, he has to take care of the football.”

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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