Building a successful working relationship between a quarterback and receiver requires a lot of time and communication.
After seven years together, there are few better combinations in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.
A quarterback renowned for accuracy throwing to the league’s leading receiver, they’ll try to keep the Packers’ passing game rolling against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
“The best players are often the smartest players and the ones that have the distinct attention to detail, and Jordy has such great second and third reactions,” Rodgers said.
“But he also, really, from his second year on, really wanted to get on the same page with me and cared about how I was seeing the game, and has really gotten in my hip pocket since then.”
Early on, Rodgers did most of the talking. Nelson listened. Then the receiver started earning trust by making plays. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Nelson runs textbook routes.
Now it’s a two-way conversation between Rodgers and Nelson.
“The longer you’re here, the more experience you have with (Rodgers), you get a slight — a slight — privilege to say some stuff,” Nelson said with a laugh.
He leads the league with 33 catches for 459 yards. Nelson has an uncanny knack of catches on the sideline as if he’s walking a tightrope. He makes the most difficult moves look easy, such as midair adjustments to make tough catches with defenders draped on him.
“I don’t think I walked into here after Year 4 or something and said, ‘All right, now I’m going to tell you how I feel about things,’” Nelson said. “I think it’s just a feel-out process and just … I’m sure one day he just asked a question and it built off of there.”
Vikings receiver Greg Jennings is familiar with how things work in Green Bay. He played for the Packers until 2012, and had 80 catches for 1,292 yards and nine scores in 2008, Nelson’s first year in the league.
After Nelson had nine catches for 209 yards against the Jets in Week 2, Jennings sent a congratulatory text.
“I had to shoot him a ‘way to ball out’ text,” Jennings said. “But, yeah, it’s no surprise to me at all.”
Some things to watch in the teams’ first meeting since the 26-all tie last November at Lambeau Field:
JUST JENNINGS: The Minnesota wideout tried to make amends last year for pointed comments questioning Rodgers and his leadership. Asked this week to reflect on the comments, Jennings sounded more conciliatory.
“Those were some things that I wish I had not said or done. But again, life is about adapting and showing resolve,” Jennings said.
Still, Jennings can’t expect a warm welcome back in Titletown. When asked, Jennings added he did not miss Green Bay, but for reasons that didn’t have to do with football.
“I would have loved to have finished my career out in Green Bay, but from where I am spiritually and where I am with my family and the growth that we’ve had because of what we have around us educationally — and there was some great educational systems there, as well — but this is a step up for us,” Jennings said.
BRIDGEWATER: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had an impressive debut in his first career start with 317 yards passing in a 41-28 win last week over Atlanta. But he sprained his left ankle in the game and his status is uncertain. Christian Ponder would start if Bridgewater can’t go.
ZIMMER’S D: The last time Mike Zimmer coached against Green Bay, he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals in a 34-30 win last year in Cincinnati. Rodgers said the Vikings’ defense is running some similar schemes.
“You know a key is to stay out of third-and-extra-longs because that’s when his scheme and his defense really thrive,” Rodgers said.
Maybe that was true in Cincinnati, but so far the Vikings are tied for 30th on third-down conversions allowed at 50 percent (28 of 56).
SMOOTH RHODES: It’s a good thing for the Vikings that cornerback Xavier Rhodes is coming off the best game of his two-year career: five tackles and four pass breakups against Atlanta’s potent offense. But Zimmer would rather not have to get into another high-scoring affair.
“I hope not. I don’t really like those shootouts,” Zimmer said.
ON THE RUN: While the Packers’ passing game is clicking, the running attack needs work. Eddie Lacy, the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is off to a slow start, and Green Bay is just 28th in the league on the ground.
Green Bay is even worse against the run, ranking last. Minnesota rookie Jerick McKinnon ran for 135 yards on 18 carries last week against the Falcons, while Matt Asiata had three rushing touchdowns.
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