Both Green Bay and New England have had dynamic passing games for well over a decade. Each is led by one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks ever. The teams rank one and two in the number of regular season wins over the last 10 years.
Still, the gap between the Patriots and Packers has been widening. While Green Bay has 106 wins over the last 10 years, New England is in a class by itself, with 126 wins. The Patriots, of course, have also used their superb passing game to go to four Super Bowls in that time span, winning in 2014 and 2016.
While the passing attacks led by Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are both highly effective, they differ in one significant way: Brady relies primarily on his tight ends, while Rodgers’ tight ends are strictly secondary options.
The total receiving yardages of the two teams’ tight ends, (including the names of the top two) from 2010-16 follow.
2010: 612 (Finley 301, Quarless 238)
2011: 841 (Finley 767, Crabtree 38)
2012: 938 (Finley 667, Crabtree 203)
2013: 762 (Quarless 312, Finley 300)
2014: 551 (Quarless 323, Rodgers 225)
2015: 643 (Rodgers 510, Perillo 102)
2016: 683 (Cook 377, Rodgers 271)
2010: 1,161 (Hernandez 563, Gronkowski 546)
2011: 1,418 (Gronkowski 1,327, Hernandez 910)
2012: 1,467 (Gronkowski 790, Hernandez 483)
2013: 744 (Gronkowski 592, Hoomanawanui 109)
2014: 1,383 (Gronkowski 1,124, Wright 259)
2015: 1,435 (Gronkowski 1,176, Chandler 259)
2016: 1,241 (Bennett 701, Gronkowski 540)
In the seven years examined, Green Bay’s top two tight ends averaged 719 receiving yards per year. In the same time period, New England’s top two tight ends averaged 1,264 yards. That’s over a 500-yard difference, year after year!
Three times in the last seven years, a New England tight end has gone over 1,000 yards. The best any Packers’ tight end could do was Jermichael Finley’s 767 yards in 2011. The team’s tight end corps has never reached the 1,000 yard mark, while the Patriots group did so six of seven seasons and went over 1,400 yards three times.
Other than 2013, when Aaron Hernandez was unexpectedly removed from the lineup due to a murder charge, the Patriots’ tight ends have excelled – regardless of personnel changes, injuries, or any other factors.
While New England is the most successful NFL team at employing their tight ends, they are by no means alone. In 2016, the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce had 1,125 receiving yards, Carolina’s Greg Olson had 1,073, and the Seahawks’ Jimmie Graham had 923. In 2015, Olson had 1,104, the Titans’ Delanie Walker had 1,088, the Browns’ Gary Barnidge had 1,043, the Redskins’ Jordan Reed had 952, and the Eagles’ Zach Ertz had 853.
Go as far back as you like, you’ll search in vain for a 1,000-yard Green Bay tight end. Finley topped out at 767 yards; Bubba Franks’ best was 442 (2002); Mark Chmura’s best was 679 (1995); and Paul Coffman established what I think is a team tight end record 814 yards in 1983. It appears to me that in 95 years Green Bay has never truly featured a tight end in the passing game.
Packers’ Outlook for 2017
Fans are rightly excited about new addition Martellus Bennett. The huge tight end has had seasons of 916 yards (2014, QB Jay Cutler), 759 (2013, Cutler), 701 (2016, Brady), and 626 (2012, Eli Manning). The question is: will Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy take full advantage of their 10th-year standout?
Bennett will not be alone. One day after his signing, the team went out and got former Rams’ tight end Lance Kendricks. Fourth-year man Richard Rodgers is entering the final year of his original contract as well.
As soon as Green Bay announced the signing of the six-year veteran Kendricks, fans began buzzing about dual tight end sets and how the passing attack was really going to roll now.
Though Kendricks’ best year in the pros was 2012, when he had 519 receiving yards, the Rams must have had a sudden change of heart. They released him though he had signed a four-year $18.5 million deal in 2015.
How will Bennett and his mates fare in the upcoming season?
Well, Jared Cook is a player quite comparable to Bennett. Though Cook has better athleticism, Bennett is a little bigger and he’s had more proven success in the league. By the third game last year, I was upset over the Packers’ misuse of Cook, who was averaging 2.5 catches and 19 yards per game. Then, after Cook returned from a significant injury, he had a great game in week 11 against the Redskins, only to be largely ignored for the rest of the regular season. It took a full season — until the playoffs — for Green Bay to make Cook a significant part of the offense.
Given the team’s underutilization of Jared Cook in 2016, count me as a doubting Thomas – I’ll believe the Packers will properly utilize Martellus Bennett’s ability when I see it happen.