Though the Green Bay Packers were still undefeated after four games last year, the team was averaging only 237 passing yards per game. By game seven the win streak was over. Opponents had become aware of the fatal flaws in the Packers’ offense, the passing attack got worse and worse, and the Packers proceeded to lose six of their final 10 games. Is this a glimpse into the future for this year’s team?
Many think the fatal flaw in 2015 was the loss of Jordy Nelson, but that’s not the whole explanation. What opposing defenses came to recognize and exploit was an across-the-board lack of speed — and field-stretching capability — in the Packers’ receiver group.
To be more precise, what the Packers lacked was “on-field” speed. The Packers had sufficiently speedy, quick, and talented receivers on the roster, but coach Mike McCarthy would not put those players on the field.
Well fans, nothing has changed. After four games in 2016, the situation is not only similar – it has in fact gotten worse. Now the Packers are averaging only 210 passing yards per game, and Aaron Rodgers’ numbers are spiraling even lower than last year’s.
Jordy Nelson is back, but he is not yet back to his old form. He’s a step slower than when he was last in a regular season game 20 months ago. It’s unknown whether he’ll ever regain his former speed, but the truth is that Nelson’s speed (4.51 40-yard dash, 62nd percentile) has never been anything special.
Davante Adams just had a rare strong game, but his lack of speed is apparent via testing (4.56 40) and to the eye. He tries hard, but he simply doesn’t possess the speed to consistently churn out significant receiving yardage in the NFL. Also, because Adams can’t gain much separation from defenders, almost every pass thrown his way has interception potential — this has already proven to be the case twice this year.
Randall Cobb’s quickness and grit saved the day for the Packers against the Giants, but we now expect a return to the defensive scheming and double-teaming that limited his effectiveness in the latter half of 2015.
The situation at tight end is desperate. With Jerad Cook sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury, the Packers are left with Richard Rodgers, one of the slowest (is anyone slower?) tight ends in the league. Rodgers has five catches for 40 yards through one-quarter of the season. He will likely never match the 58 receptions for 510 yards that he managed in 2015.
When he recovers, Cook’s speed must be put to use. We have to wonder why the team’s offensive strategists failed to meaningfully involve this splendidly fast athlete in the passing game when he was healthy?
And let’s not forget sure-handed Justin Perillo, whose 40-yard dash speed of 4.76 seconds (pro-day) vs. Rodgers’ 4.87 (NFL combine) could not fail to be an improvement. However, he’s barely been allowed on the field.
The running back receiving situation is also headed downhill. In 2015, James Starks and Eddie Lacy combined for 13 catches and 98 yards through the first four games. This year the duo has caught only nine passes for 72 yards. Starks, who has dropped a number of promising screen passes already, is unlikely to come close to matching his fine 2015 regular season productivity of 43 catches for 392 yards.
With the 2015 lessons fresh in mind, how can the Packers’ coaches not see that it is happening all over again?
The Packers have two downright fast wide receivers — Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis. Quite simply, if they are not made a significant part of the offensive game plan, don’t expect more than an occasional temporary resurgence in the play of Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers also have the quick-separating receivers Rodgers needs if he is to ever get his completion percentage and consistency back to anywhere near its former level – but they are taking up four spots on the bench. Janis, Davis, Jared Abbrederis, and Ty Montgomery all have burst and agility metrics that indicate they can achieve open space in a way that Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers are incapable of doing.
The clip of Vince Lombardi that we are often shown has him wailing on the sidelines, “What the hell’s going on out there?” That’s exactly how I feel week after week as I see the team’s slowest receivers take the field while all of its young, exciting, fast, and agile receivers sit and watch.