Target watch: Who will catch Rodgers' passes?

The Vikings are dealing with injuries at QB. The Packers have that multiplied with their receiver corps. Aaron Rodgers' most targeted weapons in 2012 are all out for Sunday night's game. We look at the numbers and the incredible toll injuries have taken on his most-targeted outlets.

In a statistic-based sport, the NFL is by far the most dissected in the realm of professional "pay-to-play" athletics. People bet on the outcome of games. They want information. They pay good money to get the "inside skinny." Need to know the propensity of "third-and-what" situations? The NFL provides.

Jimmy Carter tried and failed a generation earlier to implement the metric system to a nation. Hands off, Jimmy! However, Carter did educate drug dealers into standard units of measure. Mission accomplished! ESPN is following the same malaise-laden path off the cliff, chasing herds of other metric lemmings to their watery grave. They have proven that, if there is a stat to be kept, someone will keep it – whether anyone else cares or not.

Viking Update's crack research team, jealous of ESPN's jackboot imposed "new math," decided to dip a toe in the self-creation pool of statistical analysis. To that end, we present, for the first, last and only time, the ARTW.

What is the ARTW?

It's the Aaron Rodgers Target Watch. It only pertains solely to this week, so ESPN's pasty stat crew can continue our research for future generations of cheese-wedge wearing acolytes. After Green Bay leaves the Metrodome Sunday night, the Packers won't be of immediate concern for another month, but it will be the first phase of Aaron 2.0. His security blankets are gone. It's time for him to make stars who aren't yet ready for prime time.

The purpose of the ARTW could go a long way to cementing the legacy of Rodgers. Roll back the dial to 2012. Rodgers has an embarrassment of riches in terms of talented receivers at his disposal. Fast forward to October 2013. The Rodgers of Sunday night is the same person he was in 2012, but who he's going to be throwing the ball to is vastly different.

In 2012, Rodgers threw 552 passes. The ARTW answers one simple question – who were his targets and where will they be Sunday night?

The scale drops as receivers available to Rodgers in 2012 and unavailable when the Packers take up shop in the Metrodome Sunday night are and deducted from his REL (Relative Experience Level).

Randall Cobb was targeted 104 times. Cobb won't play Sunday – or for the next two months. ARTW Count: 448 passes remaining.

James Jones was targeted 98 times. By all credible medical evidence, Jones won't play Sunday. ARTW Count: 350 passes remaining.

Jermichael Finley was targeted 87 times. Finley remains hospitalized with many wondering if his two head-related injuries in 2013 will mark the end of his career – and NFL culpability in his future quality of life. He may never see more than a one-year, incentive-heavy contract in his NFL future. ARTW Count: 263 passes remaining.

Greg Jennings was targeted 62 times. He will be playing Sunday, just not with Rodgers. ARTW Count: 201 passes.

In NFL terms, you then have to include "the chum" – those who filled out pads but didn't have any direct connection to 2012 wins and losses – Alex Green (29), Cedric Benson (15), D.J. Williams (15), Donald Driver (13), Tom Crabtree (12), DuJuan Harris (2) and Ryan Grant (2). Rolled together in a green (and gold) compost pile, that adds up to 88 targeted passes. ARTW Count: 113 passes.

In the Truth In Reporting requirements of such an investigation, one of Rodgers' 2012 targets turned out to be himself. In a non-highlight film moment against Chicago, he threw a pass that was batted at the line of scrimmage, he caught it and the play went for a one-yard loss. Officially, the play was etched in the historical record as "A. Rodgers -1 pass to A. Rodgers." You can't realistically expect a repeat of that rare botched-play-gone-worse. ARTW Count: 112 passes.

Of 552 passes thrown by Rodgers in 2012, 440 of the targets of those passes will not be available to him Sunday night by virtue of injury, commerce, release, lack of talent, etc. A tick under 80 percent of the targets Rodgers rolled with in 2012 are gone in 2013 – at least against the Vikings Sunday night.

How closes is the ARTW Count to going off the charts even more dramatically? Through six games this season, which discounts the combo platter of Jennings and the 2012 chum, Rodgers has thrown 220 passes. Keeping in mind that he has been missing Cobb, Jones and Finley each for all or part of two games, those three have accounted for 108 of Rodgers' 220 targeted passes.

The 2012 ARTW currently sits at 20.3 percent of availability Sunday night. That's a stiff number. What is more concerning (or at least should be concerning to Packers coaches, players and fans) is that the 2013 ARTW is down to 49 percent and dropping fast.

Barring a trade for a disgruntled receiver elsewhere, Rodgers is going to be faced with the biggest challenge of his career, starting Sunday. Jones may be back in a week or two. Cobb may be back by the heart of the holiday shopping season. Finley may never be back. The three of them may never play together again. Rodgers will have to develop young receivers and be a star-maker like Brett Favre was.

Tom Brady has proved he is a Hall of Fame quarterback by making lemonade out of a lemon receiving corps in New England. At least he knew what he was facing in August, but the TBTW Count is off the hook. Sweater choices aside, Brady's legacy has been chiseled among the all-timers. His latest chapter being perhaps the most telling. Rodgers is unexpectedly in an eerily similar situation. Cobb? He gone. Jones? He gone. Finley? He gone. Jennings? He's there, just not in the House of Rodgers.

At a time when the Vikings are playing Three-QB-Monty with its own signal-calling situation, Rodgers is facing the second-biggest challenge of his career. He checked off the biggest when he got sized for a gaudy ring. But he did that with receivers he inherited from the Throne of Brett. Now it's his job to get business done for the next month or more without four of his top five targets from last year.

The ARTW dies on the vine in the coming days. Our work is done here. Rodgers' work is just beginning. It starts Sunday night.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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