"I just hope that you all as media personalities don't run to whoever is the low man on the catch totem pole every week because that's going to get a little bit ridiculous," the Green Bay Packers' quarterback said when asked about James Jones' one-catch output on Thursday against New Orleans. "It is Week 1, it's a long season and I'm going to throw it to the open guy. So, I just hope you guys don't do that. You probably will, but that's a single plea from me."
Unless he gets to drop back 70 times, Rodgers faces an almost impossible task in keeping everyone involved and happy.
Greg Jennings, who ranks second in the NFL in touchdown catches since 2007, is one of the league's most dangerous receivers. Donald Driver is a proud, productive veteran who is chasing history. Jordy Nelson is playing for a contract. Jermichael Finley is healthy, playing for a contract and arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the NFL. Second-round pick Randall Cobb showed his immense potential with his 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
With all of that, it seems like Jones — re-signed to a three-year deal that included a $1.5 million signing bonus after the lockout — is almost an afterthought. And against the Saints, he was. He was targeted for one pass, which gained 1 meager yard. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was on the field for just 20 plays — seven less than Nelson, 26 less than Driver and 36 less than Jennings. Much of Jones' action came as the sole receiver in a run-heavy, three-tight-end set.
This isn't the NBA, where coaches lose hair to make sure all the egomaniacs on the floor get enough touches and shots. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin practically chuckled when asked how much time he spends planning and scheming ways to get all of his playmakers enough opportunities with the ball.
"We're trying to make the first down and score points," Philbin said. "We're not in it to build up one guy or minimize another. Whatever way we feel like we can get a first down and keep the ball and hold onto the ball and score points, we're going to do. There's not a lot of thought that I'm involved in to do this for him, do that for him. We're looking for ways to score points."
One reason why Rodgers boasts the highest passer rating and lowest interception percentage in NFL history is that he doesn't force the ball to this player or that player. He throws it to who's open. That's why, for the first time in team history, three receivers (Jennings, 76; Driver, 51; Jones, 50) caught at least 50 passes last season, with Nelson barely off the pace with 45.
That approach, over the long haul if not a weekly basis, keeps everyone happy.
Last season, Jennings' frustration overflowed — by his low-key standards, anyway — when he was limited to two catches in three consecutive games. In the final 11 games, however, Jennings led the NFL with 98.4 receiving yards per game, caught at least five passes eight times (with four receptions in the other three) and scored nine touchdowns.
Jones had two 100-yard games last season, both coming after his only zero-catch games. The biggest game of his career, with eight catches, 123 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, came after a goose egg the previous week at the Jets. In fact, Jones has five 100-yard games in his career. In the preceding games? He caught a grand total of three passes.
After catching just one pass against New England, Nelson caught four balls for 124 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. After being held without a catch in the wild card game against Philadelphia, Nelson had 21 catches and scored two touchdowns in the final three playoff games.
So, Rodgers' history is that the receiver left out in the cold one week will be hot the next.
Even if that's not the plan.
"You can't over-orchestrate the game," Philbin said. "We don't believe in that. You've got to let the game kind of unfold to a certain degree on its own. We certainly want to get our playmakers the ball, we want to get guys involved in the game. It's all part of the plan, but at some point in time, it's all dictated as to how the game's unfolding, what defenses we're getting on certain plays, etc., etc. He's going to be fine, he's going to have his day. He's going to have big games for us and make major contributions."
With that history, Jones didn't complain about his limited opportunities, though he'd like more than 20 snaps. And he's certainly not going to go crying to his quarterback, who has only one ball but six talented pass-catchers to choose from.
"Aaron's got his hands full," Jones said. "We've got a lot of weapons. It'd be stupid for me to come up to Aaron and tell him I'm open. Every receiver's going to say they're open on every play, even when they're covered. I don't bother Aaron. Aaron throws to the open guy. He's been good throwing to the open guy. Aaron doesn't tell me to sub into the game. So, if I'm not in the game, he can't throw it to me on the sideline."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.