The first pit in my stomach came when Jordy Nelson clapped his hands together in anger after going down in Pittsburgh. Nelson’s a smart football player. He’s also not a very demonstrative one. For him to be that upset in a preseason game I hoped it was just an ankle, but it probably wasn’t. We would later find out that it was indeed an ACL tear and that Nelson would be lost for the season.
Does that affect the offense immediately? Of course. Are the Packers still Super Bowl contenders? They certainly are. The Packers offense, as an 11 man unit has certainly been changed. Their potential as possibly the greatest Packers offense of the modern era may have left them but they can still be very effective.
The Packers offense can function without Nelson. He’s important. He’s also an elite talent at receiver, though he doesn’t often get the credit he deserves. The Packers still have options. Randall Cobb is the league’s premier slot receiver. Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Richard Rodgers are all top 100 picks by Ted Thompson. The cupboard is far from bare.
It’s possible that the Packers have a philosophical change and limit their use of 3 receiver sets. It would eliminate the need to use young receivers Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery. It would also allow the offense to use the talents of two of the John Kuhn, Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers group. These are all players that have knowledge of the offense, and that have the quarterback’s trust.
The Packers have been using fewer personnel groupings on offense of late. Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb spent most of the time on the field together. James Starks occasionally stepped in for lacy and the 11th spot on the offense was shared between Kuhn, Richard Rodgers and Quarless. 4th WR Jarrett Boykin almost never played after losing his job to Adams. Boykin is no longer with the club.
If the Packers go away from the three receiver set, they would have to use less of the no-huddle offense. Players like James Starks, Montgomery and Janis would rotate in with bigger athletes like Kuhn, Quarless and Rodgers. The diversity of the Packers offense, utilizing the shotgun, pistol and under-center sets, along with the diversity in talents of the personnel could make up for the loss of the no-huddle approach. Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery are both players that can be used out of the backfield. The Packers could attack in a number of ways.
I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. The Packers won’t change everything that they’ve been working on over the past two seasons just because of the loss of one player. Just because Ted Thompson has been adding depth at the skill position doesn’t mean the Packers don’t want to use the same 11 guys on offense more often than not. It more than likely means that Thompson has been attempting to prepare the roster in case something exactly like this happens. Staying in 11 personnel (3 WR sets) also allows Randall Cobb to continue to operate from the slot with a “two way go” off the line which keeps him at maximum effectiveness.
Ty Montgomery was technically the 4th WR on the depth chart from everything that I could tell going into the Pittsburgh game. The problem is that he is a bigger version of Cobb, but not maybe big enough. As a rookie I feel like Montgomery is better utilized as a slot receiver, weapon out of the backfield and as a kick returner. The player that I feel gives the offense the best chance to keep rolling, should he be successful is Jeff Janis.
Janis immediately entered the game after Nelson went down. He has the athleticism to be a star, but his lack of polish (and more than likely his Division II pedigree as well) limited him to being picked in the seventh round. Janis was on last season’s roster and practiced all season. He will now get valuable reps with Rodgers and the first team unit. If he is trustworthy and an acceptable 4th passing option behind Cobb, Adams and Richard Rodgers I actually don’t think the Packers offense will see much of a dip.
Yes, Jordy Nelson is a great player, but Aaron Rodgers is the best player. If you thought the Packers were going to create about 6,500 yards of offense this season you just have to re-distribute it a bit. Add some rushing yards to Eddie Lacy’s projection, because he’s going to get a few more carries. You can almost double what you had figured for Davante Adams, he’s the #1 outside receiver on the team now. Janis and Montgomery will have to fill in at the WR3 position. They’ll figure it out.
The issue with losing Nelson isn’t ultimately his loss, it’s the stress that it puts on the depth of the receiver position. As I’ve stated, I think you can be just fine running an offense with Eddie Lacy, Richard Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Jeff Janis. Aaron Rodgers is good enough to use that group of weapons and maintain the league’s #1 scoring offense. But what if something happens to another receiver?
If Randall Cobb goes down, you can no longer move Nelson inside until Cobb comes back. Adams shouldn’t attack from in there as he’s really only played outside receiver during his time as a Packer. If he goes down you all of a sudden have to play either Ty Montgomery or Myles White out of position in 3 WR sets. Multiple injuries at receiver at this point would virtually guarantee the use of an undrafted player (or the recovering Jared Abbrederis) in regular season play.
The Packers will survive offensively without Nelson, in fact they’ll thrive. What they need to avoid, though, is losing any more receivers. Young receivers make mistakes and QB1 doesn’t like mistakes.