Receivers Dominate Packers' YAC Attack

Almost solely because of their wide receivers, the Packers are on the heels of the Saints for the NFL lead in yards after the catch. "One thing we do is we challenge one another," Donald Driver said. "Who's going to make that play?"

In one breath, James Jones said the Green Bay Packers' receivers don't put a lot of focus on where the team ranks in yards after the catch.

But when told the Packers were only about 15 yards behind the top-ranked Saints, Jones switched gears as quickly as he does when he gets in the open field.

"Saints are beating us?" Jones said. "We don't like that. We're mad at that. We've got to get our YAC up. That's not acceptable. We need to be No. 1."

Heading into Week 9, the Saints are averaging 167.5 yards after the catch per game, according to STATS. The Packers are next with 165.4 YAC, followed by San Diego's 160.0, New England's 159.7, Dallas' 154.3 and Detroit's 135.0.

"Definitely yards after the catch is very important, especially with a controlled passing game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's been a big part of the history of this offense, getting the ball in the playmakers' hands within the precision of a controlled passing game. We've had some big years here. There was an emphasis for our perimeter group going into this season. We have those type of players, our quarterback is accurate, he gets it out of his hands, he's smart with the football. It's something we feel we should be very good at."

The Packers finished atop the heap in 2007. In 2009, they finished fourth — just 64 yards from recapturing the title. Last season, they finished fifth — but 240 yards off the pace.

This year, they're challenging for the title for numerous reasons. The two biggest: Aaron Rodgers' accuracy gives the receivers an opportunity to catch the ball in stride, and Jordy Nelson and James Jones are having productive seasons after dropping too many passes last season.

What's impressive about the Packers' YAC production is that they're doing it without an elite pass-catching running back. Of the top eight players in YAC, seven are running backs. The Saints' No. 1 ranking in YAC is highlighted by running back Darren Sproles, who ranks fourth individually. The Chargers' No. 3 ranking is buoyed by running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, who rank fifth and 10th in the AFC, respectively.

The Packers don't have that. James Starks, who has 137 yards on 18 catch, is tied for 30th with 179 yards after the catch.

What they do have is their receivers making plays left and right. Nelson leads the Packers with an 18th-ranked 243 yards after the catch — a big number considering he's got 24 catches. Greg Jennings has 218 yards after the catch on his 42 receptions. Jones has 155 yards after the catch on 19 receptions. Rookie Randall Cobb, who is being groomed to replace Donald Driver — the Packers' former king of YAC — has 120 yards after the catch on just 11 receptions.

"We've got some guys that are a little bit unique as far as the way they go about trying to extend yardage," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. "Some guys are elusive and make people miss, and other guys break more tackles. It's a talent. I think our guys are skilled, and it's something we try to increase through drills in practice. Ultimately, it's a combination of effort and will and understanding football with the vision as far as the pursuit of the defenders."

To be sure, YAC often boils down to talent and instinct. Nelson and Jones run with power; Driver and Cobb are elusive; Jennings excels at making the first defender miss.

Bennett, as did his predecessor, Jimmy Robinson, works on it at practice. Throughout camp and into the season, a quarterback will toss a short pass to the receiver, who then gets drilled by a couple of offensive linemen holding dummies. The receiver then runs with high knees over some dummies before diving headlong onto a big pad.

The ending of that drill mirrors Jennings' catch-and-run touchdown at Atlanta in which he outran the defense and then dove from the 4-yard line, extending the ball over the pylon for the score.

"Honestly, I've had more people talk to me about this touchdown than I've had talk to me about a lot of touchdowns that I've scored," Jennings said recently. "For me, it was just make a play. Everyone's like, ‘That was a great play.' For me, I expect to make that play. That's just the standard that we have in this locker room. It was a big play in that game but it's a play that I feel like I should make and I had to make at that point in the game."

The Packers' tight-knit receivers push each other to perform. Jones did most of the work on his 70-yard touchdown against Atlanta and Nelson rolled up about 70 yards after the catch with his 93-yard touchdown against the Rams.

"One thing we do is we challenge one another," said Driver, who has just 24 yards after the catch on 13 receptions. "Who's going to make that play? We like to go into meetings and watch film and see what the other guys have done. We all sit in there and talk about, ‘You should have seen what I did. I broke him. You've got to watch this.' Guys really enjoy it. We enjoy it because we want to see that play, and then we go back and talk about it and laugh and joke. That's the thing that makes us so competitive. We get on one another."

Especially when the receiver loses a one-on-one battle.

"When you've got a lot of space and you let one guy bring you down, especially a guy we might not think is that sweet, yeah, they'll probably talk about you a little bit," Jones said. "We expect everybody to make the first guy miss. You're in the NFL so you should be able to do that."

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin laughed when lobbed the obvious question about his receivers' ability to turn a 10-yard pass into something much longer. As an added bonus, the Packers' haven't fumbled on a completed pass all season.

"It helps your offensive production, I can tell you that," Philbin said. "You're looking to get the ball to guys who can make a difference in the game and hopefully give them a little bit of an area to operate in. Once they get the ball in their hands, you rely on their talent and ability to make some extra things to happen on their own. So, it's a huge, huge part of what we do. Certainly, your chances of scoring are greatly enhanced when those guys break a tackle or split the defense and get an explosive play. It's a huge part of our offense."


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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.


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