Here’s your football strategy lesson for the day.
Yesterday, I noted that the Packers had cut Vince Young, and were going with BJ Coleman as their backup. Turns out, that was premature, as the Packers let Coleman go Monday morning, leaving Aaron Rodgers as the only quarterback on the Packers active roster … at least for a couple hours.
News came down the wire that the Packers had signed Seneca Wallace as their new backup – interesting, as Wallace had led 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to believe he was retiring. Wallace does have a connection to the Packers – GM Ted Thompson was VP of football operations for the Seahawks in 2003, when Seattle drafted Wallace in the fourth round.
The interesting part of this story isn’t the churning of the Packers quarterback depth – though it’s certainly odd that an NFL team, six days before the start of their season, would be down to one quarterback—even if it was only for about an hour. The timing of the deal is very odd – consider that when Thompson released Vince Young, he said that he “probably should have had [Young] in here earlier” to help learn the system, and now their backup has a total of one minute and six seconds of preseason action in a different system – it’s an odd choice to say the least. Wallace is, at least, more talented than Graham Harrell, and has shown a better ability to adapt to new playbooks than Young did – but what if Rodgers goes down in the first game? Is Wallace going to have enough time to really internalize the Packers system and compete? Who are they playing in the first game, anyway? Let me just check my schedule here…
…Well, there’s your conspiracy theory for the day.
The Packers open their schedule traveling to Candlestick Park to play the 49ers – the same team that let Wallace go, and the same team that let quartberback Scott Tolzien go. And where is Tolzien now? On the Packers practice squad, of course. Tolzien has Wisconsin connections – he played for the Badgers in college – but perhaps more immediately valuable is his knowledge of the 49ers playbook for week one. Tolzien and Wallace will help run the scout team, perhaps helping the Packers defense prepare for the 49ers offense – the same offense that made them look foolish in the playoffs last season.
Obviously, that can’t be the only reason – the Packers aren’t going to be rotating through backup quarterbacks this season, trading for Pat White in week two and John Skelton in week three. It’s also not like the 49ers had started game-planning for the Packers when either Tolzien or Wallace had been released, so other than general knowledge of any new wrinkles added to the playbook, it’s not a game-changing statistical advantage.
But, if you’re looking at a variety of interchangeable practice-squad caliber quarterbacks, or second-stringers with experience in the West Coast Offense the Packers like to run, why not use familiarity with one of the top teams in the NFC as your tiebreaker? If they get any knowledge that helps them jump the hurdle that stopped them last season, that’s a net positive, right?
The fact of the matter is, if Aaron Rodgers goes down for any significant period of time, so does the Packers season – it doesn’t matter if the backup is Seneca Wallace or BJ Coleman or Vince Young. The Packers backup quarterback spot has been in flux since Matt Flynn left at the end of the 2011 season. It leaves them in the same spot as any other team with an elite quarterback – do you think the Broncos or Patriots are still Super Bowl contenders if they have to start Brock Osweiler or Ryan Mallett for significant portions of the season? With the salary cap, it doesn’t make sense to pay top dollar for a solid backup quarterback if you already broke the bank at the position for a top star – better to take your chances with their health, and use the cap room to shore up other doubtful positions.
And, if in the same bargain, you get an edge-up on the team that knocked you out last season? It’s all gravy.