It would be foolish to try to read a lot from the outcome of Thursday’s game – in all of my considerable years I’ve never seen an NFL game in which the two teams were so devastated by injuries. Still, halfway through this season, we are continuing to learn more about this resilient group. Though flawed in many ways, they have a propensity for winning.
More thoughts about the team’s prospects will come later. For now, I think it’s an appropriate time to start to compare Davante Adams with the best Green Bay receivers in the modern era – the incredible Don Hutson is in a league of his own.
It’s true that Davante’s “numbers” aren’t yet comparable to the annual totals of such greats as James Lofton, Sterling Sharpe, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver. His best yards-gained season to date is 1,386 in 2018 – the only time he has surpassed 1,000 yards.
Lofton had six 1,000-yard seasons, including three seasons of 1,294 yards or more, and with a top season of 1,381 in 1984. Sharpe, whose career spanned only seven years, had five 1,000 yard seasons, with the best being 1,461 in 1992. In his nine years with Green Bay, Jordy had four 1,000-yarders, with his best being a spectacular 1,519 in 2014. In his 14 years, Driver had a surprising seven 1,000-yard seasons, the best being 1,295 in 2006.
As to career yardage, two players are well ahead of the rest: Driver accumulated 10,137 yards, all with the Pack, while Lofton wound up with 9,656. Adams, who will turn 28 next month, stands at 5,869, which ranks tenth best in team history at the moment.
The only questions about Davante breaking the team’s all-time yardage record are: will his health allow it, and will he remain a Packer for many more years. Davante, who was a starter even in his first game as a rookie, has missed 5, 4, 1, 2, 1, 4, and 2 games in his six and a half years as a pro. The majority of his missed time has been due to hamstring ailments, which have also had an affect on games he has played at less than full strength. Davante is signed up through 2021. His four-year deal, at an average of $14.5 million, has been a bargain.
Over his last three games, Davante has gained 422 yards, an average of over 140 yards per game. He’s also caught six TD passes in that time. He leads the league by a wide margin in receiving yardage per game played, at 112.5 yards. He is at the peak of his abilities – and for once the Packers are getting nearly full utilization out of one of their stars.
Seldom has there been a better example of symbiosis in the NFL. For Vikings fans, here’s the definition: interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.
We all know that Davante isn’t exceptionally fast. Back at the 2014 NFL Combine, his 40-yard dash time was no better than average, at 4.56 seconds. His talent, however, lies in his unparalleled burst, acceleration, and ability to change directions.
This is where Aaron Rodgers comes into the picture. When Davante makes his cut and bursts into open space, it’s for a relatively brief time. Rodgers has the quick delivery, arm strength, timing, and full confidence in his receiver to hit him as soon as he breaks into open space.
We watched the duo hook up twice Thursday night on their classic connection: Davante races about twenty yards downfield, then does a stop-and-go, or sometimes more of a stutter step, and propels himself downfield. This invariably gets him, briefly, from a half-step to a full stride clear of the defender, and Aaron hits him, perfectly, 30 to 35 yards downfield. Though these plays result in long gains, Aaron typically launches these passes in under three seconds, well before pass rushers can reach him. Such plays require tremendous precision, and they are a thing of beauty for Green Bay fans to savor.
Time will tell how far the Rodgers-to-Adams connection can take this team. Despite the lack of a strong supporting cast of receivers, Matt La Fleur and his offensive coaching staff are slowly but surely strengthening the passing game. The team is getting good returns on passes to the running backs – though there remains untapped potential in that regard. Though they just had a quiet night, the same is true of the Pack’s three capable tight ends.
Tyler Ervin made a nice contribution of four catches for 48 yards against the Niners. Marquez Valdes-Scantling again displayed his best (getting open deep) and worst (dropped passes) traits against San Francisco. When Allen Lazard returns from injury, likely following this mini-bye week, enough pieces should be in place for the Packers to have a highly productive passing game.
Final thought. Despite watching Green Bay’s pass attack consistently weaken over the past five years, I steadfastly maintained that it was within Aaron Rodgers’ power to reverse the trend – his “decline” was due to “bad habits,” and unrelated to aging. I never thought, however, that he could turn things around so abruptly and dramatically.
Aaron’s passer ratings from 2016 through 2019 were 104.2, 97.2, 97.6, and 95.4. Over the first half of 2020, however – and despite an unimposing receiving corps – Aaron stands at 117.5, second only to Russell Wilson (and his great group of receivers). Quite simply, Aaron is back to being his All-Pro, MVP-quality self. Such a comeback is a tremendous achievement, and it dictates that anything is possible as the team heads into the second half of the campaign.