We could call this The Jermichael Finley Explosion or The Demise of Donald Driver. Either way, The Jermichael Finley Explosion is not to be confused with The Rock-afire Explosion, although they are similarly awesome.
To anyone who watched the Green Bay Packers down the stretch, it should be no surprise who was catching the most balls – tight end Jermichael Finley.
Finley was the Packers leading receiver in the final eight games of the season, including the playoff loss to Arizona, with 44 receptions. During the stretch, Finley was targeted 60 times, second only to Greg Jennings’ 64 targets (38 catches).
On the flip side of the coin was Donald Driver, who had 53 targets and only 33 receptions in the final eight games. In the first eight games of the season, Driver caught 37 balls for 613 yards.
Driver finished the season with 70 receptions and 1,061 yards, meaning that in the final eight regular season games Driver tallied only 33 receptions for 448 yards. That’s not terrible, but consider that Driver’s second-half stats were inflated by the Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions’ worst-in-the-NFL pass defense. In that game, Driver had seven catches for 142 yards.
Remove the Detroit game from the equation and Driver averaged 3.7 catches and 43.7 yards per game in the second half. In Green Bay’s aerial attack, you’d expect a bit more from the Packers’ No. 2 receiver.
The reasons for Driver’s demise are potentially numerous.
1. The Packers scaled back their downfield passing attack in the second half to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and this directly affected Driver’s numbers.
2. Finley missed four of the Packers’ first nine games, meaning there were more opportunities for Driver.
3. Driver is about to turn 35 and is no longer the player he once was.
There’s no doubt Driver has passed the prime age for an NFL receiver, but age really hasn’t been a factor in his career. Driver is always in top shape and has gone over 1,000 yards in seven of the last eight seasons. Plus, you have guys like Baltimore’s Derrick Mason still putting up 1,000 yard seasons, and he just turned 36.
Driver and Mason are the exception to the rule, though, and Driver’s second half numbers seem to signal that he’s either slowing down or Rodgers is beginning to favor younger, more explosive options.
Either way you slice it, the numbers seem to indicate Driver’s career is in decline.
Here’s another number that sticks out: two.
I’m referring to the two fumbles Driver lost this season. The first let Baltimore hang around in the Packers’ 27-14 victory on Monday Night Football and the second let Arizona jump out to a 14-0 lead in the Packers’ 51-45 wild card loss.
Can anyone remember the last time Driver lost a fumble?
You’d have to go all the way back to the 2004 season.
Will Driver remain a productive member of the Packers? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee him putting up another 1,000-yard season or being more than the third option on offense, which brings me full circle back to Finley.
In Finley’s last eight games he’s averaged 5.5 receptions and 72 yards per game. He’s also scored four touchdowns.
To put it simply, if he can stay healthy, Jermichael Finley is a stud-in-waiting. To illustrate, let’s compare Finley’s final eight games with the numbers of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who was widely considered the best in the NFC this season.
Davis averaged 4.9 receptions and 60 yards per game this season. If Finley begins to find the end zone more often – Davis scored 13 touchdowns in 2009 – he could be on pace to be the best tight end in the NFC.
The Packers haven’t had a threat like that since the days of Mark Chumra and Keith Jackson.