TEs Could Make Noise vs. Vikes

Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee have not been factors in the passing game, but the Vikings were exploited last week by San Francisco's Vernon Davis. We explain why Lee and Finley have disappeared after a strong preseason.

Neither Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin nor tight ends coach Ben McAdoo would admit it, but it's hard to believe they didn't get any game-planning ideas by watching the Vikings' game last week against San Francisco.

San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, the player taken after A.J. Hawk in the first round of the 2006 draft and a major bust until this year, exploited the Vikings' defense for seven catches for 96 yards, including touchdowns of 5 and 20 yards.

While it hasn't shown up statistically, the Packers have one of the top tight end tandems in the NFL with starter Donald Lee and promising backup Jermichael Finley. While Lee and Finley haven't been big factors in the passing game this season, Monday would be a good time to change that.

"We go out and prepare each week to contribute in the pass game," McAdoo said. "Sometimes that doesn't work out quite that way. We go in like we're going to get 10 thrown to us. Sometimes things don't work out that way. Sometimes we're a factor in protection more than we are in the pass game. We just roll with the punches on game day. Usually what happens is it comes in bunches. So, when balls come to us in bunches, that's when you really got to take advantage of it and make your impact there."

Through three games, Lee has caught nine passes for 46 yards. That average of 5.1 yards per reception — with a long catch of 11 yards — shows that he's mostly been an outlet receiver when quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been feeling the heat. Finley has five catches for 62 yards, good for a 12.4-yard average with a long of 22 yards. Four of those catches came in Week 2 against Cincinnati.

Last week at St. Louis, Lee caught two of the four passes thrown his way. Finley didn't get a single pass thrown in his direction. That production is a far cry from the preseason, when Finley caught nine passes for 92 yards and was a focal point of Rodgers and the offense.

What's happened?

Part of the reason is the added blocking responsibilities. The offensive line's struggles have been well-documented, so the tight ends frequently have stayed in to provide extra protection. While Tory Humphrey wasn't a major threat last year, he often was counted on as a blocker. Lee said he has been asked to pick up the slack since Humphrey was released with a broken arm. McAdoo, however, said the tight ends blocked more in 2006 than they have been this year.

Instead, the biggest factor has been the challenging down-and-distance situations that have taken a bite out of the playbook.

"Sometimes it's been the defensive call, sometimes the situation," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We've been in a lot of second-and-long, a lot of third-and-long. The tight end, certainly they're targets on third down and they can be targets on second-and-long. But I think a lot of times you're looking at getting a run-type of formation, use some sort of play-action pass and get them isolated on a safety or get them down the field on a linebacker. When you're in second-and-long a lot of times, it limits your options."

None of this means Lee and Finley aren't contributing.

"I think Donald Lee clearly is playing much better than he did both in run-blocking and pass-protection part of it," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought Jermichael Finley has had winning performances two of three times in the blocking part of it. I really like the way those two guys are playing. Yes, I'd like to get them the ball more often. That's always the case when you look at your perimeter guys."

Regardless of whether the tight ends have 12 passes thrown their way on Monday or two passes, Lee and Finley will have big roles against the Vikings.

"With the caliber of defensive ends that they have, I think we can make a big impact getting the backside cut-off in the run game," McAdoo said. "Depends on how the game goes, whether we're in protections in the backfield or doing some things helping out on the line. The pass game, obviously, we're very confident about how we can play in the pass game."

Confidence is something Finley doesn't lack.

"If I was the quarterback and I could throw it and go run and get it, I'd do it probably 85 percent of the time," Finley said as he and receiver James Jones shared a laugh. "But that's not the case."

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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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