Big Two

No team leans as heavily on their top two wide receivers as the Packers have done with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb this season. It's a major change-up from past seasons. But, even with a depleted cache of weapons for Aaron Rodgers, the passing game is as dominant as ever. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers became one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks by spreading the ball around to a star-studded group of pass catchers.

When Rodgers took over as the Green Bay Packers’ starter in 2008, Jordy Nelson finished fourth on the team in receptions and James Jones was sixth. In 2009, Nelson was seventh on the team in receptions. In 2011, Randall Cobb was seventh on the team in receptions.

This season, Rodgers essentially has a two-man receiving corps.

And it hasn’t mattered.

The Packers’ passing game is as good as it’s ever been. Even with the disappearance of Jarrett Boykin, the sporadic contributions of rookie Davante Adams and only the occasional key play by a tight end, Rodgers leads the NFL in passer rating, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage.

That’s because Nelson and Cobb have been nothing short of sensational. Among wide receivers, Nelson ranks sixth with 60 receptions, third with 998 receiving yards and tied for second with nine touchdown receptions. Cobb has bounced back from a slow start to rank 15th with 54 receptions, 12th with 779 yards and first with 10 touchdown receptions.

Nelson and Cobb have emerged as the league’s dynamic receiving duo. As the chart below illustrates, Nelson and Cobb rank second among wide receivers with 114 receptions and 1,777 yards and first with 19 receiving touchdowns. While Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have more receptions and yards, Nelson and Cobb have a bigger role by percent of their teams’ total passing attacks.

“They’re getting open a lot,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPNWisconsin.com on Tuesday. “We’re putting them in positions to be one or two but those guys are usually matchup issues for the defense. We look for those opportunities. It just depends on how defenses play us, who they try to take away. It’s about progressions in the West Coast offense and looking for the best matchup. We’re going to continue to play that way but, more often than not this year, those guys have been where the ball’s going.”

More often than to any duo in Rodgers’ career, as well.

In 2008, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver combined for 44.9 percent of the receptions, 57.0 percent of the yards and 50.0 percent of the touchdowns. That’s been as “two-sided,” to coin a phrase, as any passing attack during the Rodgers era. From 2009 through 2013, no Packers duo had more than 39.3 percent of the receptions, 48.4 percent of the yards and 51.6 percent of the touchdown catches.

Contrast that to this season: Nelson and Cobb have combined for 52.8 percent of the team’s receptions, 63.3 percent of the team’s passing yards and 67.9 percent of the team’s touchdown catches.

Can the Packers get into the playoffs and make a run with Nelson and Cobb serving as backbone of the passing game? Or, perhaps asked in a better way, can they continue to carry the load in the passing game, regardless of the opponent, or will some team find a way to slow down that two-headed monster? And if so, is Adams or someone else ready to pick up the slack in a big game?

With a rare blend of talent and chemistry, maybe Rodgers, Nelson and Cobb can carry the load all the way into February. Or maybe a team like New England will expose the Packers' two-man approach as too reliant.

Receiver DuoTeamRec.Team %TargetsTeam %YdsTeam %TDsTeam %
Thomas/SandersDEN13950.520349.22,05962.11343.3
Nelson/CobbGB11452.816851.21,77763.31967.9
Jones/WhiteATL11445.218447.81,47852.9847.1
Hilton/WayneIND10638.517239.41,55645.7517.9
Jeffery/MarshallCHI10441.117646.11,34749.21257.1
Johnson/HopkinsHOU10156.716357.21,39564.0538.5
Maclin/MatthewsPHI10140.917041.01,47948.61578.9
Evans/JacksonTB8944.116548.81,35555.9956.3
Boldin/CrabtreeSF9950.315948.61,19749.9746.7

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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