Over the past five games, the Green Bay Packers' beast of a tight end, Jermichael Finley, has just 12 catches and two touchdowns – hardly numbers worthy of one of the league's top tight ends.
The latest team to take away Finley was the Buccaneers on Sunday. With just one catch for 30 yards, Finley was a relative nonfactor, adding the slightest bit of frustration to an otherwise pleasing victory.
Said Finley of how the Buccaneers played him, "(It was) nothing really. It was just man-to-man press. Something I should've ate up. But I didn't have the game I expected."
While the Packers' offense still had a productive day – 378 total yards and 35 points – the Buccaneers provided a blueprint on how to limit the Packers' top two offensive weapons, Finley and receiver Greg Jennings, who had just two catches for 6 yards.
"Teams are going to start doing that regardless of who we're playing," said Finley. "They're going to try to take (No.) 85 and (No.) 88 away. We've just got to learn how to beat the double team and just play faster."
The Buccaneers' pass defenders got up in the Packers' receivers faces, playing press coverage for much of the game, a risky move considering Green Bay's weapons, but one that can affect the Packers' rhythm. Other teams have rolled coverage over the top to Finley, like the Broncos did in an Oct. 2 game, when the 6-foot-5, 247-pound tight end had just three catches for 28 yards.
Finley started the season off at a Pro Bowl pace with 15 catches for 206 yards, including a three-touchdown game at Chicago.
"The first three games we came out on fire," he said. "The next games, we're getting doubled-teamed from here on out."
The beneficiaries of the attention paid to Finley have been Donald Driver (a season-high 72 yards on four catches last Sunday) and Jordy Nelson, who has a team-leading nine touchdowns and a gaudy 18.9-yards-per-catch average. Over the last five games, Nelson has had three 100-yard receiving games and six touchdowns.
"I can see teams shifting around and it's going to be like that on and off the rest of the season," said Finley, "because Jordy's going to do well, then maybe they'll double team him. Eighty-five's going to do well, too. It's going to shift around the rest of the season."
Finley, who lines up more as a receiver in a two-point stance than an in-line tight end in a three-point stance, figured this year that he would be more in line statistically with the top tight ends in the league. But that has not happened. Finley's 34 catches rank 16th among tight ends with his 475 receiving yards only a little better at ninth.
Furthermore, he has been thrown at 19 times over the last five games compared to 31 the first five for a total of 50 on the season (according to Pro Football Focus stats). Fifteen other tight ends have been targeted more times, with the Saints' Jimmy Graham leading the way with 92.
"It's frustrating because you see guys at your position doing way better than you are and they're running free," said Finley. "But at the same time, I've got to play my style of ball."
His style of ball is to dominate. And to do that, he might get more physical than he has been this season.
"To tell you the truth, I just need to get off the double-team a little bit faster," he said. "I've been pretty lackadaisical on that press coverage and I just need to get off the ball a little bit better.
"You've got to be strong. I guess I got to go old-school and keep my hands up like this as I'm down like this," he continued, displaying a crouched athletic position. "So, I've got to keep my hands up. I guess I have to go back old-school with it."
Perhaps then the Year of the Takeover will be back.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org