Rookie Josh Myers shows in return why he's a better choice at center than Lucas Patrick in the playoffs
GREEN BAY - The big news coming out of the Green Bay Packers’ regular-season finale at Detroit was that David Bakhtiari will very likely be back starting at left tackle after looking pretty good in his return from ACL surgery.
But the Packers had another offensive lineman return from an injury Sunday, Josh Myers, and based on his play the Packers’ coaching staff should be just as happy about his return as Bakhtiari’s. Though Myers, like Bakhtiari, isn’t yet in game shape, he looks ready to go and shapes up as the Packers’ best option at center for the playoffs.
That doesn’t mean Lucas Patrick, who’d been the center in Myers’ absence, shouldn’t be in the starting lineup. In fact, coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that Patrick will be a starter. But Myers should be at center and Patrick at right guard, which is the way the team opened the game Sunday.
After the game and even on Monday LaFleur didn’t commit to Myers as the starter. But watching the game tape, it was evident Myers brings a combination of stoutness and athleticism to the center position that Patrick doesn’t have.
Myers had one bad play early, on a second-and-2 from the Lions’ 17 on the game’s first possession. It was an inside run to AJ Dillon, and Myers looked kind of lost as he ran upfield, past defensive tackle Alim McNeill, searching in vain for someone to block. McNeill stuffed Dillon for no gain.
But overall Myers looked athletic on combo blocks and getting out on linebackers in the run game. Just two plays after Myers blocked no one, Dillon got another handoff and ran right behind him. Myers led the way and walled off linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin on Dillon’s 8-yard run through the middle of the Lions’ defense.
And Myers’ ability to anchor as a pass protector helped keep the pocket clean for Aaron Rodgers. There were several plays like the first down from the Lions’ 24 on that first drive where Rodgers had all day to throw with no penetration from the inside rush.
At some point in the playoffs the Packers will need that stouter presence in the middle of the line. Rodgers has been helping his depleted line by getting the ball out fast most of this season, but there still will be plays where he needs time for routes to develop, either on third-and-long or when there’s a chance for a downfield throw.
Among the teams the Packers could face in the playoffs are Tampa Bay, which has two powerful inside rushers in Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, and the Los Angeles Rams, who have the game’s premier interior defensive lineman in Aaron Donald.
Patrick probably is the better choice over Royce Newman at right guard. Though the rookie Newman is more physically talented, he’s still prone to assignment mistakes on blitzes and fake blitzes. The more seasoned Patrick is assignment-sure and more likely to keep Rodgers upright.
And the second-round pick Myers is the better option at center despite missing 10 games’ worth of valuable snaps in his rookie season.
Jordan Love has the physical makeup and tools of an NFL quarterback. Whether he’ll become a keeper is another question and likely to come down to improved mechanics and the ability to make quick decisions while avoiding high-risk throws.
Love has good size (6-3¾, 224 pounds), a strong arm and a nice, loose throwing motion. He likes to play from the pocket, which is a must in the NFL, and is also a decent athlete. He had his moments in extended playing time against the Lions while leading two touchdown drives in the second half and going 10-for-17 for 134 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Love also had a couple of inaccurate throws and looked uncomfortable in the pocket at times. He failed both times he had a chance to get a comeback win in the final two minutes, including a bad interception when he threw high and behind Equanimeous St. Brown over the middle in the game’s final 30 seconds.
That second interception is the kind of throw he simply can’t make if he’s going to become a winning quarterback in the league. Yes, he had a rusher in his face. But few quarterbacks can be like Rodgers and throw off their back foot with zip and accuracy. Love tried to on that play, and the ball floated well off target for the easy interception. He either needs to step into that throw and take the full hit, throw the ball away or slide in the pocket to buy extra time to throw.
Whether he can develop that kind of awareness and other intangibles to go with his skill set won’t be evident until he plays more and shows whether those mistakes are chronic.
* It might not have jumped out at you while watching the game, but despite giving backups extensive playing time, the Packers were not penaltzed Sunday. How rare is that? Well, the last time they were unpenalized was last season against Tennessee, so that’s twice in LaFleur’s three-year tenure as coach. But according to Pro Football Reference it was only the sixth time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the Packers weren’t penalized in a game.
* Second-year receiver Juwann Winfree had a bad and costly fumble in the third quarter that set up a Lions touchdown. But credit him with not letting it crush him. He came back to catch two more passes, and his three catches for the day were two more than third-round draft pick Amari Rodgers. Winfree, who made the team after spending most of last season on the Packers’ practice squad, played 44 snaps to Amari Rodgers’ 31.