Packers receiver Jennings comes out of the dark : Packers Insider

Packers receiver Jennings comes out of the dark

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — When the Green Bay Packers spent the off-season tailoring their offense to highlight tight end Jermichael Finley, they didn’t think it would leave wide receiver Greg Jennings running routes on a bridge to nowhere.

But if you compare Jennings’ first five games with his last seven – games in which Finley has not appeared – it’s as if he has emerged from a total eclipse.

First five games: 14 catches for 183 yards (13.1 average) and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings has been red hot in the past two months. Here he is burning the New England Patriots, who are next week's opponent.

Last seven games: 43 catches for 761 yards (17.7) and eight touchdowns.

It just so happens that the start of that seven-game tear – six catches for 133 yards and a touchdown against Miami – coincides with the first game Finley was not in the lineup due to a knee injury. Finley was eventually put on injured reserve and Jennings’ numbers immediately skyrocketed.

Asked what’s been the reason for the sudden increase of catches, Jennings said: “Probably a little bit more eyeballing from the head guy over there, (No.) 12, trying to get the ball to me a little bit more.”

It’s not surprising the Packers became obsessed with the prospect of highlighting a player as talented as Finley, who if he had remained on his pace through his first four full games would have finished with 84 catches for 1,204 yards and four touchdowns.

The league knows what the Packers have in the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Finley.

In his defense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ obsession with throwing to Finley was borne of the coaches’ desire to maximize the tight end’s talents. By the end of four games, Finley and Jennings had been targeted the same number of times (26), but Finley was the one being moved around to create better matchups.

Now that pendulum has swung back to Jennings.

“I think Mike (McCarthy) had (made it so) Jermichael was not a tight end, he was a receiver and we can use him in a four-receiver set,” receiver Donald Driver said. “We didn’t have to add another receiver. Now that he’s gone, we’re able to move to Big Five and Big Four.

“When you lose a guy like Jermichael, you have to have guys step up. All our guys stepped up.”

Jennings’ frustration over not being highlighted boiled over at Washington, the same game in which Finley was injured. He apologized afterward, but his message may have been heard loud and clear by Rodgers, who decides where the ball goes.

Rodgers thinks things would have worked themselves out if Finley had remained healthy.

“At some point, we would have had to figure out what that balance was,” Rodgers said. “But I think we got back to some of the stuff we did last season. A lot more spread-out stuff, a lot more high-percentage stuff.

“Mike has given me a lot of opportunities to make some decisions and get us in good play situations. The no-huddle has been good for us. I think that stuff has helped me feel comfortable and play better, honestly.”

Since Finley went down, the Packers have completed just 21 passes to their tight end trio of Andrew Quarless, Donald Lee and Tom Crabtree. Since the Miami game, the three have combined for 14 catches for 156 yards and one touchdown.

Jennings, on the other hand, has had four 100-yard receiving games and jumped from unlisted to No. 22 in the NFL in receptions and No. 6 in yardage. He is No. 4 in average per catch among receivers with 40 or more receptions.

Other factors have contributed to Jennings’ success as well.

Driver’s thigh injury limited his output for a four-game stretch, although James Jones and Jordy Nelson picked up a great deal of that slack. Also, Jennings is just red-hot, much like an outside shooter in basketball.

“I think he’s in a groove,” receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. “I think he’s gotten a lot of opportunities in the last few weeks and he’s seeing it well, catching it well. It’s all kind of clicking offensively.

“We’re protecting Aaron and he’s playing at a high level, taking care of the ball and making accurate throws. It’s all working better than it was earlier.”

Jennings also is getting some of the favored treatment that Finley and Driver have gotten in group formations. Often, Jennings would be stuck alone on the weak side where he would be further down in Rodgers’ progression.

Finley was continually getting opportunities to line up in the slot and off the ball so he could have a free release and the middle of the field with which to work. Jennings is getting more of those opportunities now both because Finley isn’t there and the coaches decided this year Driver wouldn’t be the sole receiver in the slot.

The Packers also are using four- and five-receiver sets that spread out the defense and force it to play defensive backs who might not be as good as the receivers on the field. Jones and Nelson have both been factors lately and even Brett Swain has had a catch or two.

Against Detroit on Sunday, Jennings will be the featured receiver again. More will be known about whether teams will start rolling their coverage to him or the side he lines up on.

How this all shakes out when a healthy Finley returns next season will be something the coaches will have to spend time on in the off-season. As Rodgers said, there is a balance that can be reached.

“I don’t know,” Driver said. “Next year is next year. We got three more weeks before the year ends. Wait until next season comes. Then we’ll see if we can fit in all our receivers with Jermichael. That’s what it all boils down to. Right now, I think we’re doing well with the five we have.”

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