Getting their turn in Packers’ receiving line : Packers Insider

Getting their turn in Packers’ receiving line

December 2, 2010 by  
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Dec 2, 2010 ~ by Gary D’Amato, Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — Whether Donald Driver’s thigh injury is bothering him more than he’s letting on or whether the inevitable erosion of athletic skills has begun at age 35, the Green Bay Packers’ passing attack hasn’t missed a beat.

Driver hasn’t been the same dynamic receiver who posted his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season last year, but No. 3 receiver James Jones and No. 4 Jordy Nelson have picked up the slack.

And then some.

Jordy Nelson and James Jones have picked up the slack from an ailing Donald Driver. Here Nelson spikes the ball in Atlanta after making a phenomenal catch late in the game on 4th down to to the ballgame.

In the five games since Driver initially hurt his thigh Oct. 17 against Miami, Jones has 20 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns, and Nelson has 21 catches for 203 yards and one touchdown.

Over those same five games, Driver has caught just six passes for 57 yards and no touchdowns, though he was inactive Nov. 7 against Dallas.

“I talked a lot in training camp about how our (Nos.) 3 and 4 would be 1s and 2s in most places,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “That’s a gift that we have, having guys like Jordy Nelson and James Jones.”

It’s a gift that keeps giving. Rodgers’ confidence in the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Jones and the 6-3, 217-pound Nelson – and even in No. 5 Brett Swain – is one reason the Packers’ four- and five-receiver sets have been so productive.

“We feel like we can’t be stopped,” Jones said. “We feel like there are some mismatch problems for any team in the NFL. We’ve got so many weapons out there, with a great quarterback who can run the ball as well.

“There’s a lot of things they’ve got to defend.”

Jones and Nelson have made big plays in recent weeks and have complimented Greg Jennings, who has put together an impressive six-week stretch (37-639-6).

“Me and Jordy, we’re not starters – right now – so we don’t get as many opportunities as Donald and Greg do,” Jones said. “We pride ourselves on making the most of our chances and trying to make some big plays for this ballclub.”

Jones has had two 100-yard games and a pair of touchdowns in the last five games. On Sunday, in a 20-17 loss to Atlanta, it was Nelson’s turn to shine.

The third-year pro kept the Packers’ hopes alive with a difficult fourth-and-10 touchdown grab to tie the score in the final minute. Rodgers had to throw his best fastball into a tiny window, because Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud had good coverage and Nelson, running at full speed across the back of the end zone, was about to go out of bounds.

“Excellent catch,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “Good job with his feet. It was an impressive play.”

Nelson already has a career-high 34 receptions, and his 362 yards are just four off his previous best of 366 as a rookie in 2008. In fact, his numbers are nearly identical to those of Driver (34-364).

“You look at Jordy, he’s a guy who practices very hard each day and his practice performance carries over into games,” Rodgers said. “He makes plays when we need him to make plays.”

Jones has 35 catches for 502 yards and is on pace to top his previous career bests of 47 and 676 (2007).

“James is as talented as any guy we’ve got,” Rodgers said. “He’s a guy who’s made a lot of plays this year. He got more opportunities when Donald went down with his injury and with (tight end) Jermichael (Finley) being out.”

Swain has even gotten into the act as the fifth receiver in the “Big Five” formation, catching four passes for 54 yards over the last four games after catching none in the first seven.

“If you didn’t have the five guys you have confidence in, maybe you wouldn’t be in that (Big Five) as much,” said receivers coach Jimmy Robinson.

Over the last three games, Rodgers has completed 75 of 100 passes for 934 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback ratings in those games were 131.5, 141.3 and 114.5.

“We have confidence in our passing game,” Philbin said. “I think if you protect your passer well, we’ve got a guy who throws the ball well and we’ve got some good receivers so unless the weather doesn’t cooperate, I think we should be able to throw the football.”

That doesn’t mean coach Mike McCarthy is ready to abandon the run. The Packers have not been good on the ground in recent weeks and it’s something the coaches and players know they must fix.

“I’m not looking to run Big Five 20 plays a game,” McCarthy said. “We’ll make that real clear. It’s nice to have that as part of your offense.”

No matter what kind of personnel groupings McCarthy employs going forward, it’s clear Jones and Nelson will continue to play important roles in the passing game.

“We’ve been getting a lot of opportunities lately and I think we’ve been cashing in,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we can continue to make some plays.”

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