Someone Must Become Playmaker

A high-octane offense with Jermichael Finley is in four-game funk without him and will be without veteran Donald Driver on Sunday night against Dallas. We have the ugly numbers and what they're saying in the locker room.

First, he lost Jermichael Finley for the season.

Then, he lost Donald Driver, partially for a couple weeks and then for all of this week's game against Dallas.

And it looks like he's going to be without Andrew Quarless, too.

It's been that kind of season for Aaron Rodgers.

"It's been a tough challenge for us, it really has," Rodgers said on Wednesday. "Just coming into the season, I have, in my opinion, the best tight end in the NFL in Jermichael Finley. And I think the preseason showed that. He's tough to guard. You look at the way we were played early in the season with him in the game, teams were double-teaming him, in the middle of the field and in the red zone. You lose a guy like that, you have to have the production from somewhere else."

Now more than ever. The offense has been stuck in a funk since Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the Week 5 game at Washington.

With Finley in the lineup for the first four games of the season, the Packers averaged 27.3 points per game.

Without Finley but with Greg Jennings and a full-strength Driver, the Packers averaged 19.5 points per game in two overtime losses.

Without Finley and with Driver limited by a quad strain, the Packers averaged 18.5 points per game in back-to-back victories — and that's being generous by not discarding linebacker Desmond Bishop's touchdown against Minnesota.

On Sunday night against struggling Dallas, Rodgers will face the biggest challenge of his career.

Without Finley and Driver, the Cowboys are sure to swarm Jennings, who is on a three-game tear of 18 catches (six in each game) for 288 yards and two touchdowns. While Jennings has done his best to fill the playmaking void, James Jones has been mind-numbingly inconsistent, Jordy Nelson has been OK and Quarless, who the Packers have used in a Finley-like role, doesn't appear ready for a marquee role.

"We've been missing key weapons all year," Rodgers said. "What you've seen is guys stepping up and making plays in their absence."

Actually, Rodgers is being kind, because other than Jennings, nobody has stepped up consistently enough to make this even an above-average offense.


Jordy Nelson
Jim Luzzi Daniel/Getty Images
According to STATS, Jones has been targeted on 40 passes, trailing Driver's second-ranked tally by just three, but has only 19 catches. When he catches the ball, he's made plays, with an impressive 6.2 yards after the catch. But his four-catch, 107-yard performance against Minnesota was sandwiched between no-catch games against Miami and the Jets. Against the Dolphins, his lack of effort on a long pass led to an interception; against the Jets, he dropped what would have been, at worst, a 40-yard gain.

What's such a head-scratcher is that Jones is immensely talented. He's a big, tough target with incredible hands. It's just the lapses that have prevented him from becoming a huge part of this offense.

"I talk to him about it all the time," Jennings said. "He knows what he's capable of getting done, but it's a matter of getting it done. We ride each other so viciously. I told him after the game, we were on the plane, and I said, ‘When you dropped that ball, I couldn't even look at you. I was (upset).' That's how we are. I ran the shake route and got twisted up because I didn't keep my angle high, and I come to the sideline, and James is like, ‘Are you serious? What were you doing?' Nobody takes it personal. We hold each other to a high standard of excellence. The bar is set high, and when I came in, Drive had already set the bar. And you either match that, or you exceed that. But you can't fall short of that. That's just not acceptable."

Nelson has caught 22 passes out of 35 passes thrown his way, a solid 62.9 percent. But he's averaging just 3.6 yards after the catch and hasn't had a catch of longer than 25 yards this season.

Both he and Jones have dropped two passes.

At tight end, Quarless has caught seven of the 14 passes thrown his way (50.0 percent) compared to Finley, who caught 21 of the 26 passes (80.1 percent). Veteran Donald Lee has caught a superb 7-of-8 passes but doesn't offer the versatility or athletic ability of Finley or Quarless.

"I'll tell you what I tell them: I need you, period," Jennings said. "Not just because Driver's out; that's each and every week. More so this week because Driver is out. They know where they fit in, but they look forward to the opportunity."

That's what Jones is looking forward to: more opportunities. Without Driver, Jones is certain to get his chances against the Cowboys' downtrodden secondary.

"Definitely, I want to be more consistent," Jones said. "But more consistent also means more opportunities. If I come out and have four catches for 107 yards like I did against Minnesota, and then come out the next game and have one ball thrown my way, then it looks like, ‘Shoot, he was good, then he was bad.' But it's not necessarily all me. Have I dropped a couple balls? Sure. I'm not going to say I've been playing flawless football. But it comes with opportunities, to be able to show what I can do. And if I come off a good game and then the next game I don't get a ball thrown my way until the fourth quarter ..."

For the last couple of years, Rodgers and the coaches have said Jones and Nelson could start for most teams in the league. Now, it's time for them to prove it, with the Packers playing without Driver and in a four-game offensive slump.

"It is," Nelson agreed. "That's the way a lot of things go. You've got to take advantage of our opportunities. When your time comes, you've got to step up to help the team out. We need to keep going. We need another win."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.


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