Welcome to the second preseason edition of the Four Verts column. We appreciate your patience as the NFL inches back toward games that matter (although, don’t say that directly to John Harbaugh). Week 2 of the preseason gave football fans a game that legitimately felt epic up until the end, but first let’s take a stop in Green Bay — and its potential third straight franchise quarterback.
Hold on, Jordan Love might be real
A new era is upon us in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is officially a member of the New York Jets, leaving 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love with the throne that once belonged to Rodgers, Favre and Starr. He has a long way to go before actually being considered among the all-time greats, but the first baby steps he’s taken have looked good so far in the preseason. Love has the full support of the Packers’ organization at this point in their marriage and the early returns look strong.
Love threw only eight passes in the Packers’ preseason game against the Patriots this weekend, but it's clear that he’s grown tremendously. He’s poised and accurate in a way that he wasn’t before, most notably on a 19-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed where he threw a strike into an impossibly small window before letting Reed do the rest of the work with the ball in his hand. If this is the version of Jordan Love the Packers are getting, it changes the landscape of what’s possible for them this season.
The NFC North is going to be one of the more competitive divisions in football. The Lions should have one of the best offenses in the league, the Vikings made the playoffs last season and the Bears will be frisky if Justin Fields continues to progress. The Packers will need Love to play well in order to buoy a roster that’s ready to compete for a playoff spot at other positions — particularly along the offensive line and at cornerback. This team can make some noise if Love has progressed in the ways that it seems like he has.
Love has always had the raw physical talent to become a great NFL quarterback, but now he’s starting to put it together with the more refined points of quarterback play. The sample size on this is small, and he'll most likely have some struggles in his first season as a starter, but the foundation seems to be there. Love being good would mean another decade of insufferable Packers fans, but sometimes a societal cost needs to be paid in order to keep our game being played at a high level.
Thank you, Ravens and Commanders
Can anyone remember the last time a preseason game felt like it actually had stakes? Has a preseason ever felt like a game that actually counts?
The Commanders ended the Ravens' 24-game preseason winning streak Monday on a last-minute field goal in a game that legitimately felt like a normal "Monday Night Football" experience. There were incredible plays made by both teams all the way until the final whistle, ending the Ravens’ seemingly impossible preseason win streak.
Even Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh pointed out the different atmosphere in an unusually charged-up postgame interview. “Preseason games that people want to write about, some of you in here, want to write about and say they don’t mean anything, because you never played the game,” Harbaugh said. “You never were out there in preseason games. You never were fighting for a spot on a team. And yet you have the audacity to say that the effort that somebody puts into that to win and fight and win a game like that is meaningless. Tell me that was meaningless out there, what you just saw. If you like football, is that a meaningless football game? I can’t respect anybody that says that.”
"I'm so proud of these guys for the way they fought."
Coach Harbaugh on the preseason streak. pic.twitter.com/RqFpdRR6cA
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 22, 2023
It’s a smidge dramatic, but the overall point is fairly salient. A game like that should get people fired up because it very clearly mattered to a degree. Not in wins and losses, but in terms of the stakes involved for the players who took the field and the overall winning streak. Harbaugh was clearly perturbed by the Ravens losing that game, but he was able to center it back on the players and highlight their effort for the night.
This game brought two things into focus that football watchers inherently know about the preseason and the sport as a whole. First, stakes can make or break a sporting event. If the game doesn’t feel like it matters (because they usually don’t), it’s hard to keep people engaged for a full game. The second is a point that Harbaugh himself made in his spirited postgame comments — football is still football. If you like football, then preseason football should still be watchable.
A moment like this is almost impossible to manufacture — hell, this took EIGHT years worth of buildup to get people to care — but it was still a strong reminder that football is a pretty cool sport.
The Eagles need to make a change behind Jalen Hurts
There’s good news and bad news in Philadelphia. The good news is that Jalen Hurts is entrenched as the starting quarterback and the Eagles should have a good offense again this year as long as he’s healthy. What’s a bit concerning is what’s happening behind him at the backup quarterback spot.
Journeyman Marcus Mariota is currently No. 2 on the Eagles’ QB depth chart, which appears to be a problem. Mariota is showing the same issues that he had while he was the quarterback for the Falcons last season. He often reads the play out well before throwing a wildly inaccurate pass on what should be easy completions, usually missing high over his intended target.
The Eagles have a roster that’s good enough to stay afloat if Hurts does miss a bit of time, but with the way Mariota is playing, that task looks increasingly difficult. Luckily for the Eagles, they might not have to search far to find an answer to their backup quarterback woes.
If the preseason is any indication, sixth-round rookie Tanner McKee is more than serviceable as a backup for this year — at the very least he’s hitting the passes that Mariota keeps sailing. There is some logic to having Mariota as the quarterback because athletically, Mariota and Hurts can do similar things. However, being able to complete a pass is more important than perceived similarities in how a team maintains its mode of offense.
McKee appears to have a better shot of performing the main function of a quarterback than Mariota right now, but it doesn’t matter that much either way — Hurts is the engine here. If he’s out, the Eagles are screwed regardless. Just trying to push some Falcons and draft agendas here. Let’s move onto something that’s actually pressing.
The Colts moving on from Jonathan Taylor is a little crazy, right?
Timeout! Flag on the play! Let’s not get too carried away here!
After a fairly bizarre offseason, superstar running back Jonathan Taylor and the Colts appear to be headed for a breakup as the Colts have reportedly given him and his representation the opportunity to seek a trade, a move that Yahoo Sports' Jori Epstein confirmed. This was the likely ending point given Jim Irsay’s ill-timed tweets about the running back market and the CBA, but all of this feels unnecessary to a degree. The Colts, if they’re not scared by Taylor’s injury last season, are kind of the perfect team to test the waters and pay a running back whatever the diluted market rate is.
Indianapolis just drafted quarterback Anthony Richardson with the fourth overall pick, which opens a window to surround Richardson with the best talent possible. An offense that accentuates Richardson’s talents (for this year, at least) is also an offense that accentuates the talents of Taylor, who was completely dominant in his first two seasons in the league prior to a poor third year in the NFL where he — and the entire team — couldn’t really get off the ground. Richardson and Taylor could build a ground game that is so dangerous that it keeps the offense afloat while Richardson gets used to the speed of throwing in the NFL.
Perhaps I’m a bit too pro-player in how I view the game, but the running back discourse has gotten to the point where signing someone like Jonathan Taylor is actively viewed as too big of a risk even though he is verifiably a game-changing offensive presence when he’s on the field. I thought scared money don’t make none? What happened to our morals!
Unfortunately, it makes sense for the Colts to play the slow game here because there is an uncomfortable truth about the situation Taylor finds himself in: There might not be any team willing to part with the draft capital it would take to acquire him (reportedly a first-round pick) to go along with signing him to a new deal. The 49ers did it last year with Christian McCaffrey and it worked out for them, so maybe a team will be inspired like they were. It’s just hard to find a spot where he fits considering so many teams are already set at running back.
It’s easy to see how the Colts have arrived at the spot where Taylor is too valuable to trade for pennies, but also don’t want to re-sign him because of what has happened to other running backs in the recent past. Still, Taylor is so good at his peak that giving him a long-term deal would be an understandable risk even though he had a down year in 2022. Taylor likely won’t be able to find a trade partner that matches both what he and the team are searching for, leaving him in the precarious position of having no real control over the future of his career.
But the Colts can secure their own future and a real running mate for Anthony Richardson with one simple trick: reconsider! Having Jonathan Taylor locked in is good for your football team!