The Green Bay Packers’ beleaguered offense is on the verge of getting some much-needed relief.
Fresh off the bye week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday he expects receiver Davante Adams back in the lineup Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Adams hasn’t played since aggravating his sprained left ankle on the opening series of last month’s 38-28 win over Kansas City.
The offense sputtered without Adams in the three games leading into the bye week, averaging an uncharacteristically low 20.3 points and 224.3 passing yards per game during that stretch. Injuries and the inability to win one-on-one matchups led to defenses rolling coverage to slot receiver Randall Cobb.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has stated repeatedly that Adams is a “Pro Bowl-caliber receiver” who can help loosen the lock on Cobb and open things up for the NFL’s 22nd-ranked passing game. Adams, who was heralded as the Packers’ offseason MVP, wants to live up to the hype.
“I hope so. I hope that’s accurate,” he said with a smile.
Adams sprained the ankle in the first half against Seattle on Sept. 20. He finished the game, but lasted only three plays against the Chiefs the following week. Although Adams returned to practice on a limited basis in the week leading up to the Chargers’ game, the Packers held him out to avoid another aggravation.
Injuries have slowed the Packers' historically potent passing game. With Cobb already playing through a sprained AC joint, the receiving unit has grown increasingly thin with James Jones (hamstring) and Ty Montgomery (ankle) dealing with injuries of their own during Adams’ absence.
The team managed to get to the bye week undefeated in part because of its defense, but the 548 total yards it allowed in a grueling 27-20 win over San Diego proved how important it is for the offense to quickly find its footing.
The Packers won’t get Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) back this season, but have high expectations for the 22-year-old Adams. The ability is obvious. Cornerback Casey Hayward remembers doing “a whole 360” on the first route he ever had to cover the second-round pick in training camp last year.
Adams reminds Hayward of San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, who is on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards this season. Although Adams has only 47 receptions for 538 yards and three touchdowns in 19 career regular-season games, teammates and coaches know Adams is trending upward.
“He has a lot of potential,” Hayward said. “He can get out of his hips so well. He can run the route tree. I think that’s another element with him coming back that will help our offense. … He was a starter for a reason. When he comes back, it should evaluate our offense a little bit more — and not just our offense, but our team.”
Injuries have underscored the season. In fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tight end Richard Rodgers are the only key offensive skill-position players who haven’t been on the injury report after running back James Starks sat out of Monday’s padded practice.
It has limited the offense’s options and required the Packers to stay in packages consisting of three receivers, one tight end and one running back at times. They switched things up against San Diego with a no-back set, but were forced out of it when Montgomery left with an ankle injury and didn’t return.
The Packers could be without Montgomery against the Broncos, but tests indicated the injury isn’t significant. With Adams back in the fold, the offense should benefit from Cobb and Jones getting an extra week to soothe their injuries.
Ryan and Wes discuss the Packers' improved health and expected returns of Morgan Burnett and Davante Adams following their bye week. (Oct. 26, 2015)
Once Montgomery returns, it should allow Rodgers and play-caller Tom Clements to be more creative in their deployment of offensive personnel.
“You want to have all your weapons,” McCarthy said. “And Davante, like I said all through training camp, I thought he clearly was one of the young players that jumped out and you could see it in the OTAs, so yeah it will be great to have him back out there.”
Adams doesn’t anticipate needing much time to get back on the same page with Rodgers. Between the mental reps and relatively short time he has been out, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver believes he should acclimate quickly to what the Packers are trying to do.
The injury required Adams to stay in Green Bay during the bye week for treatment, but he felt a significant difference when he suited up in pads Monday. The Packers didn’t conduct any team periods, but he participated in seven-on-seven drills.
The matchup with the Broncos (6-0) presents challenges on a number of levels, but their league-leading pass defense may be the most concerning. Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Denver is one of only two teams holding opposing offenses under 200 passing yards per game this season.
During his injury, Adams has watched San Francisco, St. Louis and San Diego bracket Cobb with double coverage, containing the Pro Bowl receiver to 10 catches for 105 yards and no touchdowns. Jeff Janis stepped up when Montgomery left against the Chargers, but Adams’ return should make a difference.
“Naturally, that’s what you’re going to do when you have guys out there who haven’t earned as much as respect in the league, so they’ll give a lot more attention to James or Randall out there,” Adams said. “It’s kind of one of those things where last year I felt they weren’t going to put as much attention on me, and I feel like I’m better than … I was the No. 3 receiver and I feel like I’m better than their No. 3 corner, so that’s when it’s time to expose it.”
The Packers never have finished a season outside of the top half in NFL passing yards with Rodgers as their starting quarterback. What McCarthy and his coaching staff saw during their self-scout was a need to reinforce fundamentals in lieu of massive overhauls coming out of the bye.
Offensively, they understand Nelson’s injury means they never will be whole this season. With Adams edging closer to a return, however, they finally should get a better idea of what they can be without Nelson.
“I think it’s been frustrating at times this year,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “Offensively, the way we went into the bye the last couple weeks, we felt like we were leaving a lot of plays out on the field. You definitely have to be very optimistic knowing the fact that we haven’t played up to our full potential as a team yet, but we’re sitting here at 6-0 with obviously a lot of momentum on our side, a lot of confidence. Getting a couple key guys back for us this week is going to be huge.”