The Green Bay Packers played without Jordy Nelson last season. For the most part, the results weren’t very good.
So why should the results be any better, assuming Nelson is out for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against top-seeded Dallas?
First and foremost, look at the results from Sunday’s Wild Card victory over the Giants. When Nelson was smashed in the midsection by the crown of Giants safety Leon Hall’s helmet, the Packers had 5 yards of total offense, zero points and four first downs through the first 19 minutes of the game.
Over the next 41 minutes, the Packers piled up 401 yards, 38 points and 20 first downs. With minimal help from the running game, Aaron Rodgers demolished a defense with three All-Pros in the secondary and finished second in opponent passer rating for 362 yards and four touchdowns. Davante Adams and Randall Cobb picked up the slack with 100-yard receiving games.
“It tells you just the way our offense works, the way we’re situated,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “The next guy has to jump in. You look at the numbers Davante and Randall put up, and, obviously, Jared Cook did a lot of good things for us. It was good to get Christian Michael going and get him some opportunities. Hey, it takes everybody to win these games. That’s a reflection of our offense and how we’ve been playing all year.”
Unlike last season, when the Packers’ offense worked only sporadically, this offense seems primed to do exactly what it did against the Giants — function at a high level regardless of who’s in the lineup. There is firepower everywhere — perhaps enough to replace Nelson’s 97 receptions, 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Think back to last year. Not only was Nelson out with a torn ACL, but Adams was laboring through an injured ankle. And, despite Richard Rodgers’ impressive production, there was no explosive element at tight end.
Contrast that to this season.
Adams has reached the lofty expectations that were bestowed upon him last year. He finished the season with 75 receptions for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns. Beyond those obvious numbers, Adams averaged 13.29 yards per reception and 5.15 yards after the catch this season — massive improvements over his 9.66 yards per catch and 2.67 YAC from 2015. Those are signs of the explosiveness he lacked last year. Adams’ catch rate soared to 62.0 percent from 53.2 percent.
Richard Rodgers caught 58 passes and scored eight touchdowns but averaged 8.79 yards per catch and 3.69 YAC last season. Because of an ankle injury that cost him six games, Cook didn’t even come close to matching Rodgers’ production — settling for 30 receptions and one touchdown. But he averaged 12.6 yards per catch and 5.27 YAC.
With Nelson’s return, Adams’ emergence and his own injuries (inactive for three games and zero catches in another), Cobb’s production was a lackluster 60 receptions for 610 yards (10.17 average) and four touchdowns. That’s down from 79 catches, 829 yards (10.49 average) and six touchdowns from 2015. But again, the raw numbers don’t factor in the efficiency and explosiveness. This year, Cobb averaged 6.07 YAC and caught 71.4 percent of targeted passes, big increases over 5.45 YAC and 61.2 percent last year. When the Packers needed Cobb on Sunday, he turned in a virtuoso performance.
The Packers have an impressive array of weapons with their supporting cast. Recall the first touchdown drive at Detroit last week. Nelson, Cobb, Adams and running back Ty Montgomery didn’t see the ball. Instead, all 71 yards were gained by the tight ends and fullback Aaron Ripkowski.
Who picks up the enormous amount slack left if Nelson is out, other than the obvious of Cobb, Adams and Cook?
Undrafted rookie receiver Geronimo Allison caught four passes for 66 yards vs. Minnesota in Week 16 and, amid the pressure and noise at Detroit in Week 17, he was even better with four catches for 91 yards.
Montgomery was bottled up as a runner by the Giants but split out wide for a catch-and-run gain of 34. The Packers potentially could use Montgomery more as a receiver this week based on the play of running back Christine Michael, who rushed for 47 yards on 10 attempts against the Giants, and fullback Aaron Ripkowski, who rushed for 61 yards on nine carries at Detroit.
Rodgers rightly noted that Nelson would be a “huge loss.” But, unlike last year, when the offense crumbled without Nelson, this year’s offense might be able to survive. And, of course, the way Rodgers has played during this seven-game winning streak is remarkable.
“You saw Davante wide left, wide right and slot right, slot left. That makes it difficult,” Rodgers said. “We also moved Randall outside and inside, tried to get some matchups with Jared; he had some catches for us, which was good. He’s a tough guy to defend. He made some nice plays for us, tough guy to bring down, as well. Those guys got going. Geronimo made a couple plays. We just did a good job of changing the face of some stuff we like to do. And then I was obviously playing a little bit better in the fourth quarter than the first quarter.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.