Favre has — and has always had — a superior receiving threat out of the backfield. Rodgers does not, and that lack of a third-down back came into play on at least two of the sacks Rodgers took on Monday night at Minnesota.
In 1992, Favre's first year in Green Bay, Harry Sydney and Vince Workman combined for 96 receptions. Edgar Bennett caught 59 passes in 1993 and 78 in 1994. Bennett and Dorsey Levens combined for 109 catches in 1995. And so it went with Ahman Green and Tony Fisher providing a reliable outlet receiver. From 1992 through 2007, the Packers' top receiving threat out of the backfield averaged 53 receptions. Green, Levens and Bennett each had at least one 70-reception season. Even fullback William Henderson, who never was known for having nimble feet, averaged almost 30 receptions per year from 1996 through 2006.
With the Jets last season, Favre had explosive Leon Washington and standout Thomas Jones providing 83 receptions. And in Minnesota, Chester Taylor has caught at least 41 passes in three of the last four seasons and is on pace to catch 72 balls this year.
And who does Rodgers have out of the backfield on third down with Brandon Jackson missing the first four games of this season with a high-ankle sprain? Ryan Grant, who averaged 24 receptions and a woeful 5.4 yards per reception in 2007 and 2008, and DeShawn Wynn, who has two receptions and two drops through four games. No wonder the Packers have converted a middle-of-the-road 39 percent of their third downs and have had only one good screen pass all season.
Rodgers' lack of trust in his backs was never more evident than on one play in the third quarter against the Vikings. On a first-down play, Rodgers dumped the ball to Wynn, who had a head of steam moving upfield but dropped the ball. On third-and-5, Rodgers was pressured and had Wynn in the flat for what would have been a first down but elected to keep his eyes downfield. He wound up being sacked.
On the first drive of the game, Rodgers ran into Jared Allen for a sack and fumble when he could have dumped the ball to Grant. Rodgers was expecting Allen to be on the ground because of a cut block by Daryn Colledge, so his scramble to the left probably didn't have anything to do with Grant, but had that been a sure-handed back with some make-you-miss ability, Rodgers might have taken the checkdown rather than attempt to make a big play.
Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007, has been something of a disappointment in his brief career. Last year, Jackson caught 30 passes for just 6.2 yards per reception with a long of 18 yards. That hardly makes him the next Levens or Green, but his presumed return after the bye will be welcomed.
The lack of a third-down back — and not necessarily an electric one like San Diego's Darren Sproles — is practically inexcusable when your offense is built around the quarterback. Combined, Grant, Wynn and fullbacks Korey Hall and John Kuhn have caught 13 passes. Eleven running backs have more than the Packers' combined total.
Not only does having a receiving threat out of the backfield help cut down on sacks, but it's easy yardage. Of the top 11 players in yards after catch, seven are running backs.
More telling, of the 11 teams that are 4-0 or 3-1, eight have a running back with at least 11 receptions.
Whether rookie Tyrell Sutton could have provided something in this role is a matter of debate, though he departed Northwestern with the most receptions among any running back in college football. Sutton, however, was among the Packers' final cuts and is with Carolina. With Jackson out, keeping Sutton for at least a few weeks would have made sense.
Or, the Packers could have picked up a veteran like the venerable Warrick Dunn, who has 510 receptions in 12 seasons and inexplicably is out of football after rushing for 786 yards and catching 47 balls last year. Other low-cost, good-hands options who remain free agents include Green, Kenny Watson and DeShaun Foster. Plus, Kregg Lumpkin, who showed some promise in the passing game last year but struggled through training camp and didn't catch a pass in the preseason, is on the practice squad.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.