Packers’ star receiver Davante Adams is arguably the best receiver in the NFL; without argument he ranks in the top three. Unfortunately, however, on Sunday Davante not only did not star against the Chiefs, you might say he was a hindrance. Here’s what you might have missed in Green Bay’s good team effort in Kansas City.
Many factors went into the Packers coming away with a loss on Sunday: the special teams’ awful performance, Love’s inaccuracy, the Chiefs’ blitzing, the crowd noise, still more injuries to key players (Eric Stokes and Kenny King). Perhaps at the top of the list, however, I’d put: the inefficiency of the Love-Adams passing connection.
Jordan Love threw to Adams 14 times on Sunday; the result was six completions for a gain of 42 yards. His yards per target wound up being an even 3.0. The duo also failed to complete a pass of more than 14 yards. This is anemic productivity for any receiver. When not throwing to Adams, Love fared much better. Of the 32 times he targeted other receivers, those plays produced 190 yards – just about double the production (5.94 ypt) that Jordan achieved when throwing to Davante.
This passing futility bears scrutiny. Was Love simply not in synch with Adams? Did the Chiefs employ a defense designed to suffocate Adams? Was the play-calling not suited to a quarterback partaking in his first NFL start? Did the loud crowd prevent the Packers from making check downs when the Chiefs revealed their defensive formations? Was Love tunable to change plays as he got over center and saw the defensive alignment? Was Adams, just coming off of Covid-19 protocols, not yet 100 percent healthy (assuming he had tested positive)?
Adams’ Unique Physical Traits
Being an NFL Combine junkie, I’d start there. Most of Davante’s eleven combine numbers were around average or a bit better. His best ranking was for his vertical jump, which was at the 89th percentile, and his weight, which at 212 pound was at the 74th percentile.
Other than “hand size,” Davante’s lowest percentile ranking was for – you guessed it – the 40-yard dash, where he came in at 29th percentile among his receiver peers. We’ve seen his jumping ability in action, and we’ve seen how he can maneuver his strong upper body to come away with contested catches.
We’re also aware that he’s got among the league’s quickest feet, meaning he can burst away from the line of scrimmage, and change his direction, extremely quickly. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, because Adams’ agility scores at the combine were about average.
It’s common knowledge that Adams lacks blazing speed, though I don’t think most fans realize that his speed is well below that of even an average NFL receiver. What makes Adams almost unique in the NFL is that he is such a great receiver despite lacking great speed.
After Sunday’s game, Adams has slipped to being fourth in receiving yardage in the NFL. Other high-ranking receivers, and their dash times, are: 1st, Cooper Kupp (4.62); 2nd, Deebo Samuel (4.48); 3rd, Ja’Marr Chase (4.34); 5th, Tyreek Hill (4.29 Pro Day); 6th Marquise Brown; 7th, D.J. Moore (4.42); 8th, Chris Godwin (4.42); 9th Michael Pittman (4.52); 10th Brandin Cooks (4.33). Though the Ravens’ Brown didn’t record a dash time at the 2019 Combine, the 166-pound former Florida high school track star is blazing fast.
As you can see, Davante is almost unique, as to his lack of speed, among top NFL receivers. The other notable exception is the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, who wasn’t drafted out of Eastern Washington until the third round in 2017. Much like Adams, it took Kupp several years to become an elite pro, but he’s busted out in this his fifth season. With 924 receiving yards after eight games, he’s on pace to have over 1,960 yards by year’s end. Packer fans will get to see this meteoric star at Lambeau on November 28.
The Chiefs’ Defensive Plan
How did Adams come to fare so poorly in Sunday’s contest? The answer appears to lie in the game plan devised by the wily old (63) head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (61). Someone noted that the Chiefs blitzed Love 17 times on Sunday. Many of these blitzes featured multiple linebackers or defensive backs going all out to sack or harass the first-time starting QB, and many of them occurred on third down plays.
Aaron Rodgers would never have faced such pressure, as he has the experience and talent to hit a receiver in the spot that has been vacated by a blitzer. Given the onslaught that Love faced, he deserves a lot of credit for getting sacked just once, as well as suffering just one interception – and that pick was the result of a jump ball play in which Adams usually comes down with the ball. Unfortunately, it ended a 14-play 68-yard drive that featured Love looking his best.
When he was able to beat the pressure, his passes tended to be crisp and accurate. He simply didn’t have time to have a receiver break open on a bunch of plays in which he got a heavy rush.
Another positive for Packer fans was Love’s decisions to run with the ball. He chose to leave a crumbling pocket five times, avoiding sacks and gaining 23 yards in the process. He also became more effective, and looked more composed, as the game went on.
In his post-game remarks, coach LaFleur, as is his habit, accepted most of the blame:
“We always ask our players to be critical of themselves, and this one falls on me, squarely. . .It just comes down to the play calls and having answers to be able to protect against some of that. Anytime you go against zero pressure, if you don’t make a team pay, they’re going to keep running it. . .And unfortunately we didn’t make them pay until late in the game. So, I would anticipate that we’re probably going to see some more zero blitz until we get it corrected.”
LaFleur was referring to the full-out blitzes that the Chiefs used in almost every third down situation; the Packers failed to pick up the first down on the first nine such tries. Instead of having a quick bail-out option, LaFleur said that called too many slow-developing plays which were thwarted by the Chiefs heavy pressure on Love. Both Love and LaFleur will learn from this game, and be the better for it going forward.
Critique of Jordan Love
I liked what I saw of Love in his first taste of real NFL football. Prior to the game I recall (I believe) a national sports analyst saying that if Love doesn’t play well in this game then GM Gutekunst’s bold experiment will have failed – a bit over the top, wouldn’t you say. There were many factors working against a QB in Love’s shoes: a loud and hostile stadium, the sixth out of nine games played on the road, having game planning compromised by players just being released to practice and play, the continued drama and national press coverage surrounding Rodgers, and facing some of the best minds in football in head coach Reid and DC Spagnuolo. I’m very encouraged about Love’s prospects going forward.
Of all those factors, the most telling might have been Love’s lack of practice time with the team’s starting receivers. As mentioned above, Love and Adams hooked up on only 43 percent of their 14 targets. Meanwhile, when Love threw to Cobb, Dillon, Lazard, MVS, Deguara, and Lewis, he completed 87% of those throws (14 of 16). Go figure.
I suspect the reason for this disparity has to do with Adams’ style of route-running. He’s very precise, and he breaks open in an instant, but that window also closes rapidly because most defenders are faster than he is. Therefore, a quarterback needs to anticipate Davante’s moves and deliver the ball to him the instant he breaks free.
It took Rodgers and Adams five years before Adams recorded a 1,000-yard receiving season, and it took the duo seven years of familiarity before Adams got All-Pro acclaim last season. Considerable time will have to be spent before Love and Adams develop anywhere near the symbiotic relationship that Rodgers and Adams have.
One final note. It was no surprise to me that Adams was not about to extend his contract with Green Bay while the Rodgers drama was playing out. This pair has a closeness and familiarity that each would be foolish to break up. I do believe that whatever team Rodgers plays for in 2022, Davante will be on that same roster. It’s something we’ve seen before: the Brady and Gronkowski connection in Tampa Bay.