Packers Find Passing Balance (For One Game)

Green Bay's Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless had almost as much production on Sunday as their past four games combined. That long-awaited balance would come in handy against Seattle's dominant defense in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY)

When the Packers were clobbered 36-16 by Seattle in Week 1, Green Bay’s offense was trying to find its way.

Aaron Rodgers completed 23-of-33 passes, an impressive 69.7 percent, but those passes gained just 189 yards. Famously, Rodgers didn’t throw a single pass in the ZIP code of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. In fact, Rodgers threw passes to just five players: receivers Jordy Nelson (14 targets) and Randall Cobb (nine), tight end Andrew Quarless (four), and running backs Eddie Lacy (three) and James Starks (two).

Jarrett Boykin, who was the third receiver at the time, played 49 snaps. Rookie receiver Davante Adams played nine snaps. Rookie tight end Richard Rodgers played 20 snaps. They didn’t see one pass thrown their direction.

That might be the biggest difference between the Packers that were beaten soundly in Week 1 and the Packers that will be returning to Seattle for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. In the Week 17 victory over Detroit, Richard Rodgers caught five passes. In Sunday’s victory over Dallas, Adams caught seven passes and scored one touchdown. Those two are rookies in name only at this point in the season.

“I think that’s a great question,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday when asked about how their rise has impacted the offense. “Seriously. I watched the tape this morning. I think you watch Richard Rodgers play in Week 1 and you watch him play against the Dallas Cowboys, you’re looking at a different player. No different than Davante Adams. Our younger players have really improved since then. I think we’ve really improved as an offense.”

Adams, Richard Rodgers and Quarless scored all three of the Packers’ touchdowns against the Cowboys. Relatively speaking, the production came out of nowhere.

Breaking the season into quarters, those three caught 19 passes with one touchdown in the first four games, 27 passes with three touchdowns in the second four games and 24 passes with four touchdowns in the next four games. However, in the final quarter of the season, their production dropped off to 17 passes with no touchdowns.

Against the Cowboys, Adams caught seven passes for 117 yards, Quarless caught four for 31 and Rodgers caught a 13-yard touchdown pass. Combined, their contributions measured 12 receptions for 161 yards and the three scores. They made the Cowboys pay for limiting Jordy Nelson to two catches for 22 yards.

“It’s big for us,” Nelson said on Monday. “Obviously, we have a run game that’s been working for us and contributing well the last few weeks, and the more guys you have out there that can make plays, the better it is. So, we’ve been used to that over the years. This year has been a little different. It’s been a building process, especially with the younger receivers and the tight ends, too. Get them up to speed and get them comfortable with Aaron and allow him to trust them and get that confidence in them, and that will be big for us going into this game.”

Adams, in particular, fell off the face of the earth. After what was deemed a breakout game against New England, when Adams caught six passes for 121 yards, he caught just four balls for 29 yards in the final four games. Against the Cowboys, he caught five passes for 111 yards in the second half alone. Aaron Rodgers looked to him in key situations. When Green Bay pulled within 21-20 late in the third quarter, Adams converted a third-and-3 with a 16-yard gain and a third-and-15 with a 46-yard touchdown. On the clinching drive, Adams wrestled the ball away from a defender on a third-and-3 play that gained 26 yards.

“I just actually talked to him in the locker room,” Aaron Rodgers said after the game. “I just told him how proud I was of him. He went through a stretch where he didn’t get the ball a lot for about four games, and that was after he had a big game against New England and everybody was kind of thinking this is when he’s going to come on. But I’m really proud of him. He’s a great player. He prepares every week the exact same. You don’t see a difference in his attitude, and it says a lot about the kind of guy he is and the kind of player he’s going to be for us.”

For the Packers to beat the Seahawks, they’re going to need similar contributions from players other than Nelson and Cobb. Sunday’s victory over Dallas was a step in the right direction.

“You’ve got young guys stepping up, and that’s what it takes,” Quarless said. “In our Super Bowl year, I was the young guy and I had to step up. That’s what it takes. It takes all hands on deck.”

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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