Dropped Passes a Blight on Powerful Offense

No quarterback has been victimized by more drops than Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers rank in the top five in drops. One of the team's more sure-handed receivers over the past few seasons is one of the primary culprits. With the coaches, we go inside the numbers.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So is ugly. Like dropped passes.

According to the NFL's official statisticians, STATS, the Packers have dropped 28 passes, the fifth-most in the league and 10 behind Cleveland's league-high 38. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers have dropped 41 passes, second-most in the league behind St. Louis' 43.

Either way, dropped passes continue to be an inexplicable problem for one of the league's most-gifted group of pass-catchers.

"That's a great question," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We've just got to do a better job fundamentally. We watched the film. We've just got to do a better job concentrating, focusing. We spend a lot of time doing ball drills. Those guys are diligent about it. We've just got to do a better job. I wish there was an easier answer or something I could tell you that would cure it right away. Obviously, we would've used it already, but it's a little frustrating."

Drops are a funny number. Last year, the Packers' James Jones and Jordy Nelson were among the league leaders in drops per targeted pass, even though both players have good hands. It's the same story this year, with four of the top five being Pro Bowl or Pro Bowl-caliber players.

According to STATS, Cleveland's Greg Little and Atlanta's Roddy White have dropped a league-high 12 passes, Miami's Brandon Marshall is next with 11, and Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley and Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe are tied for fourth with 10. According to Pro Football Focus, Finley has 11 drops — worst among tight ends.

"I think sometimes things can be a little deceiving," Philbin said when asked specifically about Finley. "Obviously, there's a couple relatively easy catches that he missed the other day, but we had other guys drop the ball as well. There's no magic formula. He's got good hands. We use the term, pluck the ball out of the air, he usually doesn't let the ball get to his body and he's usually very, very good at catching it. The other day, the only two games that jump out, maybe Atlanta he struggled a little bit and the other day wasn't great. But I think we have a lot of confidence in him, I'm sure he's going to bounce back. I wasn't aware of where he sits league-wide."

By Pro Football Focus' numbers, in Finley's first three seasons, he dropped four of 103 targeted passes — including none of the 25 balls thrown his way last season. This season, he's dropped 11 of the 77 passes thrown his way, including two last week and eight in the last five games.

It was enough to make Finley stare at his hands and yell at them last week.

"You know, the drops, it's not me, you know?" he said. "This year, I've been dropping several passes. It's a thing of football. I have to work a little harder and start going back to the basics and keeping two eyes on the ball and look it in. ... We don't (have) a guy that's tossing the ball. We have a guy throwing the ball like a baseball, so you have to focus hard."

The drops, of course, go beyond Finley, whose drop rate is 19.64 when the 77 targeted passes are cut to 56 catchable balls. According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson has dropped two of 55 catchable passes (3.64 percent), Greg Jennings four of 71 (5.63 percent), Randall Cobb four of 27 (14.81 percent), Jones five of 33 (15.15 percent) and Donald Driver seven of 40 (17.5 percent).

Of players with at least 28 catchable opportunities (two per game), Finley has the third-worst catch rate among tight ends. Among wide receivers, Driver has the fifth-worst rate and Jones the 11th-worst rate.

What do all the drops mean? Rodgers and Detroit's Matthew Stafford have been victimized by a league-high 40 drops, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF has a stat called "accuracy percentage," which accounts for dropped passes, throwaways and clock-killing spikes. With the drops added to the completions and the throwaways and spikes subtracted from the attempts, Rodgers' accuracy percentage is a league-high 79.9 instead of his second-ranked 68.2 completion percentage.

The Packers have been practicing outside this week. Between getting acclimated to the December chill and some extra drills, the Packers hope to get back to where they were early in the season. They had six drops in the first four games but 19 in the last four, according to Pro Football Focus.

"it's not looking the ball all the way in, sometimes it's taking a peek and trying to run before the catch, sometimes it's just letting the ball cross your eyes," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. "It's just going back to your basic fundamentals and not taking anything for granted."

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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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