Much thought and energy has been expended these past two years by Green Bay Packers fans on the state of the team’s receiving corps. This might be a good time to sort things out and see what, if anything we – and the team’s leadership – has learned.
The team’s passing attack went from a fearsome weapon to an object of ridicule in 2015. There was no shortage of blame or explanations. Jordy Nelson’s ACL injury caused the offense to crash. Receivers couldn’t gain separation, they were too slow, they dropped too many balls, and they ran sloppy routes. The passing strategy went from stretch the field to dink and dunk. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers got happy feet, would only throw to his favored receivers, and lost his accuracy.
When the 2016 regular season got underway, the team felt so well endowed with receiver talent, it couldn’t part with any of its top seven receivers, and would have kept Geronimo Allison too, if that were feasible. Rodgers was reportedly in his best shape ever. The Packers had a new and dynamic receivers’ coach, Luke Getsy. And the experiment of Alex Van Pelt being a quarterbacks and receivers coach failed – Van Pelt returned to coaching just the quarterbacks.
So what’s happened in 2016? Quite a bit, actually, though it’s been an evolutionary process.
As for those seven or eight valued receivers, it was all smoke and mirrors. As the season progressed, Jared Abbrederis was let go, Jeff Janis was never really utilized (for the third straight year), Ty Montgomery went the first five games without having a pass thrown his way, and Trevor Davis was likewise only given spot appearances. A dropped pass by Janis and a muffed punt by Davis has those two in coach Mike McCarthy’s doghouse, perhaps permanently.
With the magnificent seven receivers effectively down to the thrilling three, Geronimo Allison was upgraded from the practice squad, so he now gets a few token throws that the other four backups used to get.
A possible wild card is Ty Montgomery, who out of nowhere had two busy and impressive games, both as a hybrid running back/receiver. It appears that spot is back to being manned by actual running backs, and Montgomery can’t likely penetrate the established three-wide-receiver lineup. Last Sunday, Montgomery saw little action in his hybrid role: four runs for 17 yards and three catches for 27 yards.
The three starting wide receivers, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb have quietly become one of the most productive such trios in the league. Jordy and Davante are now tied for 23rd in the league in passing yardage (643), while Randall is in 48th place (517). Jordy and Davante are each statistically projected to barely attain 1,000-yard seasons.
The only team with three wide receivers placed higher on the list is New Orleans, with wide receivers Brandin Cooks (11th), Michael Thomas (19th), and Willie Snead (37th). The only teams with higher-ranked wide receiver tandems than Jordy and Davante are New Orleans and Denver, where Demaryius Thomas ranks 20th and Emmanuel Sanders ranks 22nd.
The Packers threesome has also benefited from staying healthy – the only one to miss a game has been Cobb.
At first glance this is all pretty impressive. At second glance, however, the wide receivers have up until last Sunday been getting almost all of Aaron Rodgers’ attention – at the cost of the running backs, tight ends, and backup wide receivers.
This pattern dramatically reversed itself against the Redskins, however. With the return of running back James Starks and tight end Jared Cook. Those two, plus tight end Richard Rodgers, combined for 15 catches and 179 receiving yards. The thrilling threesome, meanwhile, combined for only nine catches and 154 yards.
Rodgers’ numbers are not only up, but way up. Aaron has averaged 314 passing yards in his last six games – that’s better than his average of 309 yards when the team went 15-1 in 2011. The upsurge in passing yardage has not been reflected on the scoreboard, however. The team is averaging 24.8 points over the six-game stretch, whereas in 2011, the team averaged 35 points per game.
Regardless of the statistics, Rodgers’ performance remains spotty, and he continues to struggle with accuracy, finding receivers when he scrambles, and connecting on deep throws. He’s not back to his 2011-2014 form.
The trouble with the last six games of course is that five have resulted in losses – three by lopsided margins. Also, much of the team’s passing yardage came after the outcomes were determined.