Nelson, Jones Must Fill Playmaking Void

The pass-happy Packers need more from their receivers, who are the team's only proven playmakers. James Jones and Jordy Nelson are getting more playing time without Jermichael Finley, but so far they have not produced as expected.

Ryan Grant: Out for the season.

Jermichael Finley: Out for the season.

Those were two of the Green Bay Packers' top playmakers entering this season. With both requiring season-ending surgeries, the offense has sputtered to just four touchdowns over the last 10 quarters.

Clearly, the Packers need some players to step up.

"I think it's up to everybody: the line, the running backs, maybe get our run game cranked up a little bit more," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Maybe (tight ends) Tom (Crabtree) and Drew (Andrew Quarless) and Donald Lee pick it up more. I think it's up to everybody. I don't know that it's one guy or two guys. I think it's a collective thing. We're going to have to do some things better and differently to make up for that type of loss, there's no question about it."

Philbin, obviously, is right. Elevating the Packers from narrow losses to narrow wins falls on everyone, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers making better reads to the offensive line picking up stunts. But without a running back or tight end who has proven he can be a go-to player, the pressure falls to the team's only remaining playmakers: the wide receivers.

"I think they certainly accept that responsibility with a welcoming attitude," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said on Thursday.

Narrowing it down further, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are proven commodities. Driver is on pace for his sixth consecutive 70-reception season and, even with four drops against Washington, is catching 71.8 percent of the passes thrown his direction, according to STATS. That's ranked fourth in the NFC among wide receivers. Jennings, who has more 40-yard receptions than any receiver in the NFL since the start of the 2007 season, showed his game-breaking ability last week when he toasted one of the AFC's young-gun corners, Vontae Davis, for an 86-yard touchdown. With six catches for 133 yards last week, the hope is he's back on track.

With coach Mike McCarthy leaning increasingly on his passing game and without Finley being used frequently as the third "receiver" in three-receiver sets, that means James Jones and Jordy Nelson have been seeing expanded playing time.

They need to deliver.

For the last two years, the offensive coaches and Rodgers have said both players could start for most NFL teams. Right now, though, that seems like wishful thinking.

Last week, after Miami went up 13-10 with a drive that had just taken half of the third quarter, Rodgers went deep to James Jones, who was running up the right sideline with one-on-one coverage against Jason Allen. The ball was thrown poorly but Jones seemingly made no effort to go after the ball. Allen came down with an easy interception.

James Jones
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
"That was totally my fault," Jones said this week. "The guy D'd me up. He beat me up. Aaron threw it, had some confidence in me that I could come back over the top and make a play and I didn't."

Also in the Miami game, Nelson dropped two passes. The first was an easy one at the sideline. The second, on third-and-3 at the Dolphins' 8 early in the fourth quarter, would have been a great grab but he came up empty with a diving attempt. Make the catch, and the Packers are in position to score a touchdown and take a 17-13 lead. Instead, they settled for the tying field goal.

"The one (at the sideline) was terrible," he said. "The one near the end zone, it's a tough catch but as a receiver we believe we can come down with it. That's what we need. You need to make a play in that situation and I wasn't able to do it."

According to STATS, Jones has caught 15 passes in 27 targets, for a percentage of 55.6 percent. Nelson has caught 13 passes in 21 targets, for a percentage of 61.9 percent. Nelson has two drops; Jones one and the costly fumble at Chicago.

"We know we're missing a great playmaker with Jermichael," Robinson said. "The receivers, I think they all consider themselves playmakers and they know they've got to do more, whether Jermichael's there or not. We've all got to do more. We're 3-3 and we haven't been clicking offensively the way we hoped at this point. It's not just James and Jordy, although it might appear that way because Donald and Greg are the starters, but those four guys, and Brett Swain when he gets an opportunity, have to make the plays that are there."

While Robinson echoes Philbin that it's up to everyone — tight ends, linemen, etc. — to do more, he is putting the onus on his group to step up their collective game. They've got to make the plays that are expected of them, and they've got to make the kind of special plays that they've made in past seasons. That means making the great grab or avoiding a tackler to turn a short gain into a game-breaker. Annually a top-five team in yards after the catch, the Packers rank 16th.

"We've certainly got to make the ones that are easily makable and then the ones that are beyond routine," he said. "The ones that are a little bit different, that separate the great receivers from the average receivers, we have made those in the past and we're looking to start making some more of those."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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