To get a grasp of the problems concerning Green Bay’s passing game, you need to view things from a wide perspective. With the exception of Davante Adams, the entire receiving corps has caught the virus. Nor can backup QB Brett Hundley assume all the blame, as receivers were trending downward in 2016 too.
Let’s work our way up from the bottom.
Are receivers really so scarce that a team that had Super Bowl aspirations has to resort to trying to develop a 6’6” 217-pound basketball player? I have nothing against Clark, but it smacks of desperation, doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, the Packers had a more promising candidate in camp: Max McCaffrey. I’ll grant you he has bounced around from practice squad to practice squad: Raiders to Packers to Saints to Jaguars (active roster), then back to the Packers, and now with the 49ers. But if you want to “develop” someone, wouldn’t he be a more logical choice?
You can’t really regress if you aren’t given a chance to play.
In 2016, Allison was targeted 22 times, and had 202 receiving yards. Last year he was thrown to 39 times, but only gained 51 more yards. That’s not progress. I’ll grant you he’s made some plays, but his modest combine numbers and undrafted status are strong indicators that he’s not an adequate receiver for an NFL playoff contender.
In two years Davis zoomed up from three catches for 24 yards to five catches for 70 yards. It’s become obvious that, while he’s a fine punt returner, the Packers don’t view him as going anywhere as a receiver.
By his second year, Cobb had established himself as one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorites: 80 catches, 954 yards, eight TDs. His fourth year (2014) was his breakout season: 91 catches, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs. In the three years since, things have steadily careened downhill for Cobb: targets down, catches down, yards down, average gain down, first downs down, and touchdowns down. In 2017 Cobb’s 653 receiving yards ranked him 56th in the league. I’ve yet to come up with an explanation, but three years is a trend, not an aberration.
Nelson’s 2017 season was marred by the fact that Hundley seldom looked his way. Even so, in the half season that Aaron Rodgers was on the field, his production still lagged badly – other than for his six touchdowns.
I’ve tried to chalk it up to an athlete aging more prematurely than most, but it doesn’t wash. Athletes don’t lose half of their ability in a year’s time. Age catches up on you over a bell-shaped curve of about four years. As with Cobb, I’m unable to account for how Jordy could go from 1,257 receiving yards (sixth best in the league) to 482 (88th) in the space of a year.
I do think, however, that this team-wide pattern of regression justifies a change in offensive coordinators – so welcome back Joe Philbin.
While Davante Adams is the lone happy exception, even his progress has leveled off rather than continued upward. Though he missed two games in 2017, he still was targeted nearly as much on the year (117 vs. 121 in 2016), while his yardage dropped from 997 to 885.
We should also include tight end Richard Rodgers, the poster boy of regression, in the conversation. Though he’s stayed healthy, his stats over the last three years have gone from 58 to 30 to 12 catches, and from 510 to 271 to 160 yards. I’ve always considered Rodgers to have a low ceiling, and to have been a poor pick for a third-rounder, but I don’t understand why the Packers have simply written him off as a viable receiver. Talk about a guy who hasn’t been allowed to reach his potential…
As you can see, the problems with Green Bay’s receiving corps are endemic – it’s not just a guy here or there having a bad year. Yes, I continue to favor drafting a big, fast receiver with the 14th draft choice, but the problem goes beyond drafting and personnel. Nelson, Cobb, and even Richard Rodgers had established baselines of performance, but in 2017 they couldn’t even approach their past accomplishments.
Mike Pettine, the team’s new defensive coordinator, has tossed out several ways in which he’s going to bring about change in his players. We’ve heard fewer specifics, though, about an offensive turnaround from the head coach, Philbin, or the new offensive pass game coordinator, new receivers coach, or new quarterbacks coach.
The key staffer is Joe Philbin, who was the Packers’ OC from 2007 through 2011. Philbin’s entry into the NFL was as an assistant offensive line coach under Packers head coach/GM Mike Sherman. The 2010 season culminated in bringing the Lombardi trophy back home.
The following season was the high point of the Packers’ pass attack, when Aaron Rodgers and company set team single-season records for total points (560), total yards (6,482) and net passing yards (4,924). For 2017, the corresponding stats were 320, 4,891, and 3,167. That is serious backsliding.
The closest Philbin has come to disclosing his plans is to say the coaching staff will be debating whether to add more plays, cut back on them, go with more screens, go more vertical, and so on. He made clear that the team’s offensive philosophy flows from coach Mike McCarthy.
I might be in the minority, but I’m much more worried about the offense than I am about the defense as we head into a pivotal year for the team.
Coach Philbin also said it’s his job to “help our players reach their potential.” That hasn’t happened, across the board, for Green Bay receivers for two years running.