Why Jordan Love's production has taken flight for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even-keeled and poised. That's what you heard from the Green Bay Packers when it came to describing Jordan Love.

They considered those enviable traits for a first-time starting quarterback.

While Love wouldn't be easily rattled or show up his teammates if they didn't do the job just right, the traits didn't translate to much else in terms of production and -- more importantly -- game results.

And then receivers coach Jason Vrable noticed something different one day.

"He did yell at our guys once or twice, which I was actually excited about, to see him start to come into his own and, when they mess up, to get on them," Vrable said this week. "But, at the same time, Jordan's been an exceptional leader for them, and I think Jordan's confidence in them and what they say in the meeting room when he's like, 'Hey, keep doing that. That's what we need. The ball's going to come your way.'"

Not that Love has gone all Aaron Rodgers and shown his disgust when a young player makes a mistake, but it was a sign to everyone Love has become more comfortable in the job.

Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements remembered one specific time when Love got after a player who ran the wrong route.

"A guy ran a different route -- not what was called in the huddle," Clements said without identifying the player or game. "He heard something different. That happens at times. You try to eliminate it. But it was at an important point in the game. Jordan got upset and got on him. After that, the player understood, and it's just one of those things that happens during the course of the game. You've got to listen. If it doesn't work out right, you've got to correct it. And he corrected it, and we moved forward."

And the results have followed.

Over the past four games, Love's completion percentage shot up to 65% and the Packers went 3-1. With a 5-6 record, the Packers have put themselves back in the playoff picture heading into Sunday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). Over the first seven games, Love completed a league-low 58% of his passes and averaged 213.1 passing yards per game compared to 276.8 over the past four. In that same stretch, he has thrown eight touchdown passes and two interceptions compared to 11 and eight in the first seven games.

"The last month, there's been a lot of good," said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who spent 12 years as a quarterback in the NFL. "You hear the terms floors and ceilings, I would say his floor has been elevated the last month or so."

Orlovsky, who studies quarterback film closely, said he noticed two major differences in the Packers and Love over the past month: coach Matt LaFleur's use of play-action as a means to protect Love, and Love's ability to (despite some mechanical issues that Orlovsky said can be fixed) complete more of the basic throws.

"Do I think he is where he needs to be mechanically with his feet right now?" Orlovsky asked. "No. But I think that they've realized that if he's clean or protected, they can get to the mechanics and his feet in the offseason a little bit with his balance and base. They're really doing a good job trying to keep him clean in that regard."

Indeed, Love thrived off play-action in last Thursday's upset win at Detroit. He went 9-of-11 for 151 yards and a touchdown off play-action, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the most play-action passing yards in a game of his career. In all, he has completed 70% of his play-action attempts this season.

"The second thing, from Week 3 to about Week 8 or 9, the glaring thing for me outside of -- I've talked about his feet and the hoppy-ness -- he would either have a '9' throw or a '2' throw, meaning if you were grading the throw 1-10, he'd have three, four, five a game that were 9s, and then he'd have three, four, five a game that were 2s," Orlovsky said. "He didn't have many 6s. On the box score, it might even be a completion. But instead of it being an 11-yard gain, it was a 4-yard gain because it was low or he stopped the receiver or something like that. A lot of great throws, not enough good throws."

In some ways, all of this should have been expected. General manager Brian Gutekunst built the skill-position groups with young players he hoped would grow together with Love.

The growing pains might finally be turning into gains. Rookie receivers Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks have begun to show a knack for big plays, while second-year receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson -- the veterans among the group -- have become more consistent.

Watson recorded season highs with five catches and 94 yards with a touchdown against the Lions on seven targets. He came into the game catching just 43% of his targets, which was the worst of any player with 30 or more targets this season. He scored a touchdown in each of the past two games after having none in the previous five.

While the Packers lost tight end Luke Musgrave to a lacerated kidney last week, fellow rookie Tucker Kraft has stepped up with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown the last two games.

"He's clicking," Watson said of Love. "We're seeing exactly what we knew he was capable of. As a team and as an offense, specifically, we've just got to keep on stacking these games. I think he's done a great job of stacking these weeks and stacking these reps and continuing to get better and better. He's shown us exactly what we've seen out of him all along."

Combine that with an offensive line that might have a star in right tackle Zach Tom, who helped keep Love from getting sacked against the Lions, and the Packers have an offense that, over the past four weeks, ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per game (391), sixth in passing yards per game (263) and fifth in passing yards per attempt (8.0).

The latter number might be most important. In that stretch, Love has started to connect on more throws down the field. He hit just 35% of his throws with 15-plus air yards in the first seven games but has been at a 65% clip in the past four.

If the main objective of this season was to find out whether Love could be the Packers' next franchise quarterback, the last month has put them closer to an answer.

"I don't know if he's Aaron [in terms of] arm talent, arm arrogance, arm middle finger," Orlovsky said. "He's not a technician either. That's not who he is athletically. But if the poor mechanics are forcing you to miss throws that you and every other quarterback should and are capable of making, then you have to address them. And I do think there's still stuff there [to address], but you absolutely can get him there.

"The hard part is trying to go win games and develop habits. There are things that absolutely can be improved on. And I think if he continues to play this way, then obviously next year there's no question about him."