Tell you what, gang.
This hurts. I mean, it really hurts. It hurts because I just spent most of my weekend taunting my Viking fan cousin. And it’s going to come back to bite me.
Him: You know, with all the talent the Packers have, I think anything less than an undefeated season is a disappointment, don’t you?
Me: You know, with the lack of talent that the Vikings have, I think anything less than a wild card would be a…well, wait…that still wouldn’t be a disappointment, would it?
Jordy Nelson’s probable ACL tear in a meaningless game and probable nonexistence in what I’ve called the Packers’ best chance to add to the Super Bowl trophy case hurts. But not just in the “next man up” sense, just using your Madden ’04 Spidey-Senses to figure out how much a drop-off you have in raw ability statistics.
This hurts in the role that Nelson plays, and it is an important one.
Him: You know, I know you Packer fans think because you own imaginary stock, you think you’re the best fans in the world. But Vikings fans are pretty darn loyal.
Me: Actually, I would call all Vikings fans “die-hard fans”. Mainly because those are the only kind they have left.
While Mike McCarthy has always preached “interchangeability” among his players (which has probably worked out less often than he’s liked anyways), there are some basic truths when it comes to the wide receiver position. You can have the best stable of wide receivers, but when you have guys who take on certain roles within the “panic time” of a pass rush, you’re a heck of a lot better.
First thing you like to have is your possession receiver. This is a guy who can make plays but is often the safety valve and the guy who you can count on to make the first down. Not too long ago, Donald Driver filled this role adeptly for both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Sure, he’d make a play downfield here and there, but on third-and-long, you could count on Driver to tiptoe a stretched-out sideline catch for the first down.
Him: I mean, this is a huge momentous season for you guys. You have all the pieces in place. What are you going to do if you don’t win it all.
Me: Look forward to next season.
Him: Come on. That’s what we do. We’re rebuilding.
Me: No, you have been rebuilding for the last 35 years. We look forward to next season. You look forward to the next regime.
Next thing you want is the downfield threat. This is the guy who can stretch the defense and usually draws the additional defender, and if he’s good, he makes the catches anyway. Greg Jennings fulfilled this role quite well for Favre and Rodgers for many years. He was able to go downfield and ended up being the guy running into the end zone or getting open in the end zone. And when he pulls that defender upfield, he opens it up for the possession receiver to get the ball underneath or on the sideline.
Finally, if you’re really lucky, you have that third guy who is that wild card, the big-play guy. The circus catch, the “don’t know what to expect, but when it works, it’s spectacular” guy. He’s often a lot like the downfield threat guy in ability, but is the one that gets the third corner on him and should exploit him for explosive plays if he can. James Jones is that third guy who comes to mind filling that role back in the glory days of 2007 and 2010.
Him: I just get so tired of that Packer fan arrogance.
Me: I get tired of that Viking fan Napoleon Complex.
Fast forward to today, and going into a season with an MVP quarterback at the top of his game (for how much longer?), an offensive line that is considered to be the best since Mike Sherman’s squad in the early 2000’s, and a running back duo that should be unstoppable, we also find the WR crew might be the best in the game.
But they also fill those roles I talked about. Perfectly.
Nelson is the possession receiver, the safety valve, mimicking Driver’s tiptoe sideline catches perfectly. He is the guy Rodgers looks to when he’s in trouble, and he is sure-handed enough to make the catch.
Randall Cobb fills that downfield threat role. He’s a playmaker, the guy who draws the coverage downfield and makes the great catches that usually become long touchdowns. He’s not big, but he comes up big and while he may not make an impact on every series, his plays make a big impact on the game.
Finally, we were looking to Davonte Adams to blossom into the big-play wild card. With size and great hands, he’s the guy you always forget about and explodes when the top two wideouts each draw double coverage. He’s the one-handed catch receiver that, with a year of maturity, can make up for the lack of a dynamic tight end.
Him: You have to admit, that choke against the Seahawks might, like, top-5 of all time.
Me: Yes, that’s why we cut the guy that choked and you guys signed him. Seemed like a far better fit for him.
So, the question isn’t just telling Davonte “Hey, next man up. Go run all of Jordy’s routes.” It’s not that easy. Adams has a world of talent, but that doesn’t make him a possession receiver. In fact, looking at the ages of Driver in the 2007-2010 seasons and Nelson’s age now, you could easily divine that a possession receiver has to be a seasoned veteran.
So, do you ask Cobb to take on that role? Is he now the sideline toe-tipper, the guy that runs the shorter routes and let’s Adams try and stretch the field?
Naturally, there are many counterarguments to be made. The receivers will run any route asked, they’ll switch off roles, maybe there’s someone else on the roster who can step in as possession guy.
But the reality is, and it could easily be heard in the anger of Aaron Rodgers following the game, the Green Bay Packers have lost their security blanket, and that directly affects #12 on the field, particularly when he’s under siege.
Whether Cobb tries to take on that role, Adams tries to take on that role, or Janis, Abbrederis, White, or Montgomery all try to take on that role, you don’t fix it overnight–especially, in the mind of a Brett Favre (who notoriously relied on Driver so much he threw that ugly interception in the 2007 NFC Championship game) or Aaron Rodgers (who was criticized early last season for over-targeting Nelson, getting 36.3% of all passes thrown, more than Calvin Johnson).
So, all eyes will be on this wide receiving corps the rest of the preseason and the start of the regular season, looking at how well the group jives with Rodgers in their new roles. Perhaps, as we saw a few times last season with Rodgers, we’ll see a few Dan Marino-esque blowups by the quarterback at receivers not making the sure-handed catches that he knew Nelson would make.
And I pray I won’t be avoiding my cousin at Christmas reunion time.——————
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