Aaron Rodgers has put up the best numbers of any NFL quarterback over the second half of the season. It’s what has kept the Green Bay Packers in playoff contention. But the offensive unit can do better – and it will need to if the Packers are to get into and advance in the playoffs.
Tight end Jared Cook has not been properly utilized all year. Against the Vikings he had a 30-yard catch, which he gathered in despite smothering coverage simply because he was stronger and taller than cornerback Trae Waynes. It was a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown – the Packers led 31-13 and the game was well into the fourth quarter. Other than this completion, Cook’s productivity consisted of four targets, two catches in the right flat and seven yards gained.
Cook has exceptional physical ability. His six-catch, 85-yard game against Chicago showed what he can do. In the other four games of the current win streak, however, Cook has gained only 78 yards, fewer than 20 yards per game. Cook needs to be sent down the middle of the field, preferably deep or why did the Packers sign him in the first place?
Davante Adams has had a breakout year, though a strange one. In games 6 and 7, he was a possession receiver, hauling in 25 passes and getting his name in the Packers’ record book. But what we’ve seen during the win streak is Adams being repeatedly used as a deep threat. Though he broke free for a 66-yarder against Seattle, it’s a role that one with 4.56-second 40-yard dash speed isn’t really suited for.
Adams’ recent production is too inconsistent for an offense relying on winning via the passing game. His stats during the five-game streak are: 30 targets, but only 16 catches. He’s had one five-catch, two four-catch, one two-catch, and one one-catch game during the streak. Adams needs to get back to running short slants toward the middle, quick passes in the flat and the occasional stop and go – things he does the best.
Remember Richard Rodgers? He’s been healthy all year, he still gets plenty of snaps and he’s still sure-handed. Despite his limitations, he had 65 catches last year (counting the postseason) and he can contribute more this season.
You’ve probably heard me agonize over Jeff Janis being consigned to the end of the bench. Does anyone doubt that Janis’ most valuable ability is to go deep and do so in a hurry? Well, in the five-game streak he’s been targeted twice – the same curl route to the left sideline, for a total of 15 receiving yards. The Packers did allow him to run two end-arounds, which produced 38 yards and a touchdown. Like Cook and Adams, the Packers are not using Janis in ways that capitalize on his strongest talents.
Then there is the screen pass. Of the four running backs who’ve played in the last five games, Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael, and James Starks have all proven to be capable screen pass receivers. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski has even managed to catch three such passes during the win streak, before being perplexingly relegated to being strictly a blocker.
How has the foursome fared as pass receivers over the last five games? They’ve caught 18 passes for only 98 yards – under 20 yards per game.
My frustration is growing over not seeing more of Michael ever since the Seahawks gifted him to us in mid-November. This guy has big-game experience, including playoff games and two Super Bowls. The Packers ought to be relying more on guys like this during do-or-die games.
If the injured Theo Riddick is able to re-unite with Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford on Sunday, fans will see the league’s best screen pass duo. In 2015, running back Riddick gained 697 yards as a receiver, catching at least two passes in all 16 games. Though missing five games this year due to injury, he still has managed over five catches per game for 371 yards. He also has eight touchdowns through the air in the last two years. Ty Montgomery could play a similar role for Green Bay.
As recently as 2014, the Packers made great use of the screen pass. Eddie Lacy had 42 catches for 427 yards, including four touchdowns and 17 first downs. Last year, Starks did equally well, with 43 catches for 372 yards and three touchdowns.
The Packers have virtually abandoned the designed screen pass this year, choosing to dump balls off to the running backs only when no one else is open.
Pending the playing status of injured receiver Randall Cobb, the Packers are thin at the position. Fortunately, Geronimo Allison helped fill the void last week, but this isn’t an ideal time in the season to be testing out undrafted rookies fresh off the practice squad.
There is talk about Detroit’s best pass defender, Darius Slay, returning from injury on Sunday and being assigned to shadow Jordy Nelson. Regardless, Nelson is going to be the focus of the Detroit defense and Green Bay has become overly reliant on him. Unless the Packers start making better use of all their receiving options, the passing machine we’ve enjoyed over the past five games could suddenly become stalled.