So, where does the Green Bay Packers' sputtering offense turn from here, with Finley potentially lost for the season after Tuesday's knee surgery?
Considering the Packers frequently used Finley split out wide as a third or fourth receiver, the latest incarnation of the Packers' offense likely will be more true three- and four-receivers sets.
"I just had this conversation with Greg Jennings walking off the field," coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about the team tripling its drops from three to nine against Washington. "We need to do more. That's a group that we count on. With the way the Washington game went, with the two injuries to the veteran tight ends early, it was a sub (package) game, and those guys were in position to make some plays and we did not get that done. I know that they don't feel good about it, and I have all the confidence in the world that they'll do the extra things and just get back in the rhythm that we all know they're capable playing in as a perimeter."
With more multi-receiver sets on the perimeter, the benefactor would be Jordy Nelson, who has become something of an afterthought with James Jones working as the clear No. 3. While Jones ranks third on the team with 15 catches on 24 targeted passes, Nelson ranks sixth with nine receptions on 14 passes.
What will become critical is getting Jennings on track. With Donald Driver doing the dirty work with his average per catch of 11.0 yards being nearly 1 yard less than his lowest season average and 4.2 yards less than last year, the Packers were using Finley more and more as a big-play threat. Before last week's games, Finley's seven receptions of 20-plus yards ranked third in the NFL among all pass-catchers.
Without Finley, where will those explosive plays come from? All the receivers have that potential but none more so than Jennings. Since the start of the 2007 season, Jennings leads all NFL pass-catchers with 21 receptions of 40-plus yards. This year, however, Jennings' long play came in the opener, a 32-yard touchdown at Philadelphia. Since then, his nine receptions have covered just 101 yards — a figure he eclipsed in five games last season alone. Since the opener, Jennings' long reception has gone for 21 yards, with an average of 11.2 yards per grab.
Getting the ball to Jennings under these circumstances will be easier said than done. Even with Finley being a focal point of defenses' game plans, Jennings wasn't getting open and making plays. Now, without Finley, defenses will put more of a focus on Jennings.
"You know, I really don't know," Jennings said when asked how the coaches can adjust to give him more opportunities to make big plays. "Honestly, I really don't know the answer to that. All we can do as individuals is do our part, and collectively as a whole, that will make us better."
Greg Jennings loses a one-on-one battle vs. Detroit.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
His 14 catches have him on pace for just 45 and his 13.1-yard average is a full 3 yards below his career average. Jennings had five 100-yard games last year, with Green Bay going 4-1, but also suffered through a no-catch game in Week 2 against Cincinnati and a six-game streak in which he averaged between 10.3 and 12.2 yards per reception. He roared to life down the stretch, with the team as a whole following suit.
"I was in the same situation last year," Jennings said. "I'm kind of starting to get too familiar with this area but it's all a part of the game."
Whoever it is on the receiving end, the Packers' playmakers must make plays. The Packers ranked second in yards after the catch in 2006, first in 2007, 14th in 2008 and rebounded to sixth last year. This year, according to STATS, the Packers are 18th with 455 yards after the catch. That translates to 1,456 for the season — a whopping 619 yards less than their average during McCarthy's first four seasons.
Beyond the receivers, the remaining tight ends are going to have to do what they can to fill Finley's shoes. Veteran Donald Lee, who might miss this game with a chest injury, made a big grab to help ice the game against Detroit but also fumbled against Washington on the play he was injured.
Rookie Andrew Quarless had four catches last week — almost matching Finley's rookie total of six — but the Packers are going to have to live with the inconsistencies of youth.
"I think as many reps before these past couple weeks I had with Aaron Rodgers, he built a little bit of confidence in me, which I think is a good thing," Quarless said. "I think it's only going to get greater and we'll build on it."
First-year Tom Crabtree has proven himself over and over again to be a rugged blocker. Now, he'll have to show he can catch in order for the offense to not be predictable.
"Yeah, I've got to," he said. "I prepare every week like I'm going to play a bunch of reps on offense. Whether I take those reps mentally or physically in practice, it's the same preparation week in and week out."
But Quarless isn't Finley and Crabtree isn't Finley. And right now, Jennings isn't even Jennings. McCarthy will never face such a challenge as righting this ship without an elite talent that had become such a critical figure in the plan of attack over the past two seasons.
"Anytime you lose a primary player in your planning, that's obviously another challenge," McCarthy said. "I've always looked at the game of football, as far as game-planning, as primary and secondary. You have primary concepts, and you have secondary concepts. You have primary personnel groups that you're operating in each week, and you have secondary groups that you're operating in. Really, you can use Jermichael and really Donald Lee in that particular game. Anytime you lose two in one personnel group, that's a challenge because you usually don't want to be one injury away from being out of a personnel group.
"We've lost a primary playmaker. That's a fact. But we're fortunate where we feel we have other players that we can go play with, and we'll put them in position to be successful."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.