So Far, Gas Tank Remains Full for Receivers

The effectiveness of the Packers' no-huddle offense and the production by Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson has meant a heavy workload for the "Big Three" receivers. Are the receivers in danger of running out of gas over the 16-game grind?

The Green Bay Packers' offense is sizzling hot.

However, the success of the no-huddle attack, their reliance on three-receiver sets and the off-the-charts production by those three receivers could be a double-edged sword.

Through two games, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have played practically every snap, and Randall Cobb has played almost as many snaps when his special-teams duties are taken into account.

"The worst is a scramble drill or a deep ball and it's incomplete and you've got to run all the way back," Nelson said. "Those are the things that will get you pretty tired. You can suck it up and usually fight through a couple plays and get your wind back."

With Greg Jennings in Minnesota and Donald Driver in retirement, Cobb, Nelson and Jones are putting up staggering numbers.

Cobb (16 catches, 236 yards and two touchdowns) is tied for third in the NFL in receiving yards and tied for fourth in receptions. Jones (11 catches, 178 yards) is 19th in yards and 28th in receptions despite being shut out in the opener. Nelson (10 catches, 196 yards, three touchdowns) is tied for second in touchdown catches and ranks fifth in yards per catch.

The Packers are leaning heavily on that trio with Jarrett Boykin (five catches last year) and Jeremy Ross (zero catches) having paper-thin NFL resumes. In fact, their reliance on the "Big Three" has been so overwhelming that Boykin was in for one play and Jeremy Ross didn't play any snaps on offense, even with the Packers blasting the Redskins last week.

"It's something to consider," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the impact of high snap counts over the course of the season.

Even in a traditional offense, with a huddle after play, it would be a heavy workload for players asked to run full speed for 35 or 40 passes a game, plus running decoy routes or blocking on running plays. The challenge becomes even more grueling when there is no huddle for the receivers to catch their breath.

"We do a lot of running through the week, early in the week, to keep the conditioning up, and we know how to take care of it, I guess," Nelson said. "The big thing is we've been able to consistently move the ball. We talk about it all the time with the no huddle: It's not too bad if you catch the ball 10, 15 yards downfield and you spot it there, (then) you don't have to run back to the huddle. Everyone runs to you.

"We get tired in practice when we're doing no huddle and they're just moving the ball 2 yards at a time. Well, we caught it 15 yards down the field and you're making me run all the way back here to re-run a play. That's when it will get you. So, as long as we keep moving forward with the ball, we'll be in good shape."

Nelson joked that his training for the season was skipping most of training camp after needing minor knee surgery.

"We kinda knew coming in, obviously, that it would be the three of us," Nelson said. "I think all of us work extremely hard in the offseason preparing for training camp because, if you don't, training camp will be miserable for you. But it's just continuing to be in that game situation and games will get you in shape for games. You can only do so much to be in shape for a long, grind-it-out game, but games will get you in shape. Playing football will get you in shape, and we'll just continue to grind at it."

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett pointed to the Packers' up-tempo practices, as well, as getting Cobb, Nelson and Jones ready to be a three-man receiver corps.

"I think the way we work in practice with our tempo, our style of football, I think they're certainly prepared for that," Bennett said on Thursday. "That's a good part of what we do on our offense, when you're talking about the no-huddle offense. I think they're all well prepared for that."

According to league data, the Packers' five most-used personnel packages have Cobb, Nelson and Jones on the field. It stands in stark contrast to past seasons, when coach Mike McCarthy perplexed defensive coordinators by constantly changing packages. In 2010, for instance, the Packers had the fourth-most lineups, with McCarthy turning to his favored package on just 6.61 percent of the snaps.

This season, the Packers have used the fifth-fewest lineups. The most common of those packages, with the "Big Three" receivers, Jermichael Finley at tight end and James Starks at running back, has been on the field 28.91 percent of the time. The second-most common package, with Eddie Lacy in the game rather than Starks, has been on the field 26.12 percent of the time.

"The upside is just the chemistry that you're going to build over a season with Aaron," Jones said. "When you're constantly in there with the same guys and constantly repeating the same routes, the chemistry you can build over a 16-game season, you start building chemistry like that, the sky's the limit. And then you can start doing even greater things."

Added Nelson: "As a receiver, you get into the flow of the game. You get used to going up against a DB. When we had all the depth here with Greg and Drive, you'd go in for one possession, out one possession. So, you never got in the rhythm of if you have a release you worked (against the defensive back), and then you can set up other things or figure out how he's playing. Instead, you're asking guys or trying to figure it out on your own on the sideline. It's good to be out there getting comfortable. You get used to the DB you're going with. That's one thing about the no-huddle. We stay on our side of the ball so you're constantly going against the same guy. We like it and it allows Aaron to have a freedom to make sure that we're in a good play every time and allows us more opportunity to make plays."

So far, so good. As long as they don't run out of gas.

SFWashTotal
Jones62-6269-72131-134 (97.8 pct.)
Nelson62-6268-72130-134 (97.0 pct.)
Cobb53-6264-72117-134 (87.3 pct.)
Ross3-620-723-144 (2.1 pct.)
Boykin0-621-721-144 (0.7 pct.)
Note: Cobb's played 8 snaps on special teams.

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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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