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Packers’ Receiver Weaknesses Have Been Exposed

In the midst of a funk over the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, I don’t want to make too much out of a game utterly dominated by injuries to Green Bay Packers players. Still, along with the other five games played to date, some clear and disturbing patterns are emerging.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Packers do not have any depth at receiver. That still applies, but to it we need to add that the Packers’ starting threesome is not currently very awesome either.

Jordy Nelson

On the year Nelson has 19 catches in 28 throws, for 230 yards, a catch average of 12.1 yards and six touchdowns. The latter stat is the only impressive one. Even taking into account some injury problems (including no catches vs. Atlanta), these numbers are considerably down from those of his past several seasons.

Jordy’s high point on the year was the first game, when he had seven catches for 79 yards. Omitting his injury years of 2012 and 2015, in 2011 Nelson averaged 78.9 yards per game; in 2013, it was 82.1; in 2014, it was 94.9; and in 2016 it was still 78.6. For the current season (and omitting the Falcons’ game, when he left early with an injury) he’s averaging 46 yards per game.

I don’t mean to scare fans, but I’m not sure if Nelson has another 100-yard receiving game in him. In the good old days of 2016, he had five such games, and three more of more than 90 yards. In 2014, he had seven games of between 107 and 209 yards.

Until this year, Nelson frequently got behind defenders for long gains – often 50 yards or more. The only time you even saw such patterns run this year was when Aaron Rodgers drew a defender offside and had a free play.

Nelson is still a great target for getting first downs and in the red zone, but he isn’t getting the separation from defenders that we once took for granted.

As it becomes apparent he’s no longer a credible deep threat, he will be played tighter and his separation abilities will erode further.

The aging process has apparently started to affect Nelson’s talents sooner than I expected. At 32, he’s starting to look like I would have expected him to look at 34 or even 35.

Davante Adams

The trouble with being a team’s WR1 and viewed as the top receiving threat, is that you usually are defended by the opponent’s top cornerback or double-teamed. Against Minnesota, safety Harrison Smith shadowed Adams instead of Nelson. Adams managed to catch five balls for 54 yards. As usual, however, it required a lot of throws, 10, to get those five completions. This has always been Adams’ pattern. As Davante assumes the top receiver label – this year or next – his low productivity or efficiency is bothersome. Adams proved he can get free for the back-shoulder catch with the best of them, and his slant route across the middle has been productive, but he simply can’t make all the plays, which is what is expected of a WR1.

Randall Cobb

I have no explanation for why Cobb is in the midst of his third mediocre season in a row. His yards per reception is way down from his 2011-2014 numbers, and probably as a result, the number of times he’s being targeted has been dropping too. Cobb pretty much ranges between five and 10 yards downfield these days. It certainly looks like Cobb will need to take a pay cut if he’s to sign a new contract with the Packers at year’s end. On the other hand, the Packers are so in need of dependable and productive veterans, they might not dare to let him go elsewhere.

Martellus Bennett

Can we declare the Martellus Bennett experiment a dud? Through six games, Marty has 22 catches for 216 yards, or 36 yards per game. And no touchdowns – and several drops at inopportune times. I’ll give him two more games before abandoning hope. Unless Rodgers’ backup and Bennett can get on the same page, the Packers might as well have stuck with Richard Rodgers.

The Rest

Do you see a bright future in Green Bay for Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis, or Jeff Janis? Me neither. That leaves… no one… unless you want to consider practice squad receivers Michael Clark or DeAngelo Yancey – and the Packers might have to before the end of the season.

A Rodgers-less Pass Attack

The Green Bay aerial attack was not clicking on all cylinders even with Rodgers on the field. We got a glimpse of what’s in store for Brett Hundley, or whoever the team unearths to be the new starting QB, against the Vikings. They teed off on him, daring him to move the ball in the air against their fine secondary before their pass rushers reached him.

Even if the Packers are able to someday have a healthy group of pass blockers, you can bet almost every team is going to harass the next quarterback mercilessly. With teams aware of the lack of experience at QB, it’s going to be doubly tough to resurrect a capable passing game.

Unless… the Packers are able to pull off a trick like the Vikings did last year: acquire a capable veteran thrower like Sam Bradford. Even if that could somehow happen, it would likely to be a very costly proposition. Right now, the team with the most QB depth is Minnesota – and there won’t be any trading done there. That’s right, there’s Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater is coming off the PUP list, and Case Keenum now has put together three decent outings on the still-young season.

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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5 Comments

  1. DanM October 17, 2017

    Wow, gloom and doom? Did you wife put sand in you Vaseline today Rob? Why are you even a fan?

    1. Robster October 17, 2017

      I’m an advocate for the Packers giving their all to be a winning football team. I’d follow the team just as heartily if they were 1-5, not 4-2 – as I have for the last 60 years. I’ve repeatedly expressed concerns that the Packers receiver corps has been left to decline. This article merely factually verifies that concern. Based on receiving yards per game (better than total receiving yards, as it allows for games missed due to injury), Adams is currently 29th, Cobb 45th, Jordy 49th, and Bennett 86th. Other than the 2015 season, I doubt you’ll find such low ratings among their peers by Packers receivers any time in the past ten years. And this team lives or dies by the strength of its pass attack.

  2. Gort October 17, 2017

    Gloom and doom or a solid argument in reality?
    I think “reality” is the correct choice.
    The whole thing goes back to personnel decisions.
    Was Cobb worth the big bucks he got a few years ago?
    Why let Jared Cook exit (remember “the play” in the playoff game at Dallas) only to sign Marty?
    Nelson still has hands, but most likely has lost a step (or 2) after the big injury.
    Janis can’t get out of the doghouse (when some DB’s can’t get into it, but that is for another post).
    Finally, my 2017 pet peeve – Max McCaffrey was rleased after a stellar preseason.

  3. Mitch Anthony October 18, 2017

    Does anyone think Bennett will be playing with the same heart as when he thought QB1 would be throwing to him? Was he playing up to his supposed potential yet? Did anyone else notice how many times QB1 was looking his way in those first few games? For those first few catches and several drops? Before the injury I was one of those who was thinking that Rodgers was ready to ride the Marty B train right into the ground. Dud is a polite word and this free agent pick up was buyer’s remorse shortly after things started in the regular season. I hope he plays well the rest of the year with Hundley but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

    Jordy is a great player/teammate who is getting a bit older. Cobb hasn’t been playing up to pay grade. Even if things get rearranged and Adams becomes solid #1, how much longer do you wait before really going after another featured WR in the draft? 2018 is probably that draft now.

  4. Tom October 22, 2017

    This is a good post. Most Packers fans think the WR corp is elite, but it is not anywhere close to that. The WRs work very well with Rodgers, but without him they get exposed. They are IMO without a doubt the slowest and least explosive WR group in the league. Cobb has not looked explosive in the last 3 years except for a couple of games that were preceeded by several weeks of rest- I think injuries have really taken a toll in him- just look at highlights of him from his rookie year. Adams is a number 2 at best. He has quick feet and is great off the line, but he is not running away from anyone. Nelson is still outstanding in the red zone but as the post says cannot consistently get the separation he once did (although he got behind the NO dbs today but Hundley threw a poor ball). In defense of Nelson, pretty much ever WR loses a significant step by age 32. The Packers need to draft a true #1 WR in the first round this year. As it is, they will probably grossly overpay Adams because they need halfway decent WRs so badly.