Packers facing rookie quarterback for first time in 2020

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has built 5-1 record in such games for Green Bay

Jaguars QB Jake Luton (left) and Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (right)

GREEN BAY – It's the hardest position to play in all of sports, and it's especially hard the less experienced the player is.

The position is NFL quarterback, of course, and for the first time in 2020, the Packers will be facing a rookie in Jacksonville's Jake Luton, who will make his second pro start Sunday at Lambeau Field.

To be sure, the Packers are taking nothing for granted. They saw Luton connect with receiver D.J. Shark early last week vs. Houston for a 73-yard touchdown. They also saw Luton scramble for a TD late in the game that would have tied it up had the Jaguars also cashed in the two-point conversion.

Every quarterback has to start somewhere, and Luton's first start last week was a promising one, even in defeat.

But rookies go through growing pains because NFL defenses can be complex and deceitful. Disguising certain blitzes or coverages may not work against the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, but catch a rookie QB off-guard a time or three and the resulting mistakes can turn things in the defense's favor.

For Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the approach against a rookie QB is a balanced one. Yes, there are calls designed to obscure the look for a young signal-caller to keep him hesitant or unsure, but Pettine doesn't build an entire game plan in that fashion because the Packers' defense has to play its game, not one that deviates from its core strengths.

"I think you need to do some things that will confuse a young guy, that maybe you wouldn't get away with (against) a veteran," Pettine said. "But you don't want to overdo that and you don't want that to be the basis of your plan.

"We're not just chalking it up as, 'Hey, rookie quarterback, we just have to get inside of his head.' You also want to make sure you're falling back on who we are. It's the old cliché. It's not about them, it's about us, and we want our guys locked in and doing their jobs."

Pettine's track record in Green Bay in these circumstances is pretty good. Over his first two seasons as defensive coordinator, the Packers faced six rookie quarterbacks (Buffalo's Josh Allen, Arizona's Josh Rosen and the N.Y. Jets' Sam Darnold in 2018; the N.Y. Giants' Daniel Jones, Washington's Dwayne Haskins and Detroit's David Blough last year) and went 5-1.

Statistically, the six rookie QBs compiled a collective passer rating of just 65.6 in those games, completing only 52.9% of passes (99-of-187) for 1,173 yards with five TDs and seven interceptions.

The only loss was to Arizona, though Rosen had a totally non-descript outing (11-of-26, 149 yards, no TDs or INTs, 61.2 rating), while the best performance came from Darnold in a game the Packers won in overtime (24-of-35, 341 yards, three TDs, no INTs, 128.4 rating).

Walking that line between having surprises in store but not going overboard with them keeps the players from treating the game differently. As defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said this week, "He's an NFL quarterback. Your job is to go out there and treat him like an NFL starting quarterback, and you play your best."

Another factor for the Packers is they'll likely be shorthanded at cornerback, with top cover man Jaire Alexander still in the concussion protocol and No. 2 Kevin King limited in practice this week as he works his way back from a quad injury that has kept him out the past four games. Alexander is doubtful and King questionable on the injury report for Sunday.

So Green Bay may not be in a position personnel-wise to get too tricky or exotic if not at full strength in the back end. Who's available always impacts in-game calls, regardless of the opponent.

The mentality of veteran safety Adrian Amos probably sums it up best. Deception and disguises are a part of every game plan. Maybe they won't succeed as often, if at all, against certain quarterbacks, but if a defense keeps working to perfect them, they can come in handy at certain moments.

Like Sunday.

"You have to approach each and every week with the same mindset," Amos said. "You want to go out there, you don't want them to know what you're in. You want to be good at your disguises and make things cloudy for offenses.

"In my mind, it's not necessarily so much more (of an emphasis) this week. But yes, we want that to be a factor."

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