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Packers QB Jordan Love ready for second crack at Chiefs' defense

Game two years ago provided intro to Kansas City’s incessant pressure

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – Jordan Love said he hasn't watched the film recently of his first NFL start against Kansas City back in 2021.

It's because he doesn't have to. He's seen it enough already.

"I've watched that tape plenty," Love said Wednesday, explaining how it was his primary study tool heading into last season. "So I know the exact kind of looks that they gave us. I'm expecting that they'll have a new flavor of pressure of this week."

As the Packers prepare to face the Chiefs at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, that's what the game two years ago was all about. Pressure.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo dialed up blitz after blitz against Love, especially on third downs, and the result was a massive struggle for the offense, which was shut out until getting a touchdown in the latter stages of a 13-7 loss.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur has said repeatedly he doesn't put that performance on Love but on himself and the coaches for not giving their young quarterback answers to all the blitzes he was going to see while subbing for Aaron Rodgers.

Everyone will be much more on alert this time around against another Spagnuolo-coached defense that ranks among the best in the league – fourth in yards allowed and third in points.

Certainly plenty will fall on the Packers' offensive line – guard Jon Runyan, who played in the '21 game, was reviewing that film Tuesday – to protect Love from a Kansas City defense that has racked up 37 sacks in 11 games. Leading the pressure generation is edge rusher George Karlaftis, with eight sacks, and interior monster Chris Jones, with 7½.

Jones, a 6-6, 310-pound four-time Pro Bowler with a pair of 15½-sack seasons to his name, can dominate games if not accounted for properly. The Packers have held their own in recent weeks against some of the league's top pass rushers – Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Aidan Hutchinson – but Jones is a different beast.

"He's so massive, and he's the total package," LaFleur said. "He's a big guy that can really move. They do a good job of moving him around, and you combine that with some really good players around him and the scheme in terms of a very aggressive style … it's a deadly combo."

Added Runyan: "No. 95, we're definitely going to know where he is every play and potentially try to get four hands on him."

It's not just the pressure the Chiefs produce up front, though. It's how that works in concert with the way KC's secondary challenges receivers behind whatever front or blitz is called.

"They don't give you anything for free, so we've got to find a way to work for it," receiver Christian Watson said.

Or, as LaFleur put it: "They're going to try to choke you out at the line of scrimmage."

Which puts it back on Love to read those coverages, understand all the protection adjustments, know where his hot throws are if the blitz is coming, and keep that clock in his head for when to get the ball out or break the pocket.

He's a different quarterback now than the one who went through quite the "learning experience" at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago, but he considers that game "valuable" for everything it began teaching him about that laundry list of duties.

More recently, Love has been lauded by both LaFleur and QB coach Tom Clements for finding his checkdown throws more readily, which has reduced the sacks he's taken because he's not holding out as long for the bigger play downfield. It was very evident in the Thanksgiving win at Detroit and should pay dividends against this Chiefs defense as well.

LaFleur noted it's natural for any quarterback to want to push the ball down the field, but it has to be "calculated," and the read has to be there first. When it isn't, the progression must speed up.

"There were a couple instances where the pass rush hit home quicker than what you'd like it to, and he got to his checkdown on maybe his first hitch," LaFleur said of last week's game. "I thought that was big-time progress in terms of just avoiding a negative play and allowing our offense to stay in front of the sticks."

That's the goal against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs – manageable down-and-distances, avoiding the third-and-longs that allow Spagnuolo to get as creative as he is aggressive.

"I've definitely been waiting for this game," Love said.

One way or another, it promises to be different.

"It's crazy to see how far everyone has come, and Jordan's going up against them again," Runyan said. "We'll see what happens."

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