Packers' young receivers respond to challenge
ATLANTA - Across the field from the press box, along the visitor’s sideline, Randall Cobb the receiver transformed into Randall Cobb the coach. Dressed in sweats because of an ailing hamstring that landed him among the inactives, Cobb did his best to contribute. And in this case, he had to teach.
His first pupil, Geronimo Allison, was given pointers on an easel made from thin air. His second pupil, Trevor Davis, received a one-on-one private lesson.
Such was the state of the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps Sunday as they entered the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons. The depth chart still had primary contributors Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, but beyond that the ledger lines were amiss.
What had already been a disheartening injury report on Friday afternoon — the Packers were to play without their top three cornerbacks — approached calamitous as the weekend progressed. Cobb, the team’s No. 2 receiver, was held out with a pesky hamstring. And Ty Montgomery, the offense’s new Swiss Army Knife, would not be available either due to illness.
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Instead, the supporting cast for a 33-32 loss to the Falcons was something of a motley crew, an unthinkable combination that, on paper, was unlikely to produce. But the plucky trio of Jeff Janis, Davis and Allison imprinted themselves on a game as ripe with passing as it was with points. All three had at least two catches; more importantly, all three of them scored.
“We had three touchdown passes — one each to Geronimo Allison, who wasn’t on the opening-day roster, to Trevor, who’s had limited opportunities, and Jeff Janis for the go-ahead touchdown,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I’m just so proud of those guys and the way they battled.”
Against Atlanta, the Packers reinstalled the quick-hitting passes and manufactured runs that worked so well against the Chicago Bears one game prior. Rodgers, who played a terrific game, slung the ball 38 times while completing 28. He threw four touchdowns and posted a passer rating of 125.5, his second-best mark of the season.
This newfangled offense thrives on variety, and for the second straight week Rodgers spread the ball around. His 58-yard pass to Nelson on the first possession set up a short touchdown to Nelson two plays later. From there, each of the subsequent touchdowns belonged to a different receiver.
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In the second quarter, Rodgers connected with Allison, the undrafted free agent from Illinois who starred through all five weeks of camp. Allison broke free in a five-wide empty set, and Rodgers, whose mobility was on display throughout the game, connected for a 4-yard score while rolling to his right.
“Aaron operates it and that’s kind of how preparation and practice has been going for us,” Allison said. “It just shows that everybody was kind of on the same page with him and it was kind of in sync and flowing.
“It was a blessing just to go out there and just be able to make that play and be a part of the team to go out there and help my other teammates and be able to come down with that catch was a blessing.”
Next came Davis, the rookie draft pick from California, whose touchdown before halftime flashed astuteness beyond his years. With the Packers facing second and goal, Rodgers fled the pocket as his protection began to fade. That’s when Davis abandoned his route and broke hard toward the football. Rodgers, moving right, fired a dart for a 9-yard score.
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Two quarters later, the Packers were on the 7-yard line when Janis broke free along the back of the end zone. Rodgers, who began the play alone in the backfield, zipped a pass through the defense for a crucial score. The touchdown and subsequent 2-point conversion gave the Packers a 32-26 lead.
I think it shows the type of guys we have in our room,” Janis said. “If somebody goes down, we have guys that can step up and make plays, and I think that’s huge going on in the season."
Obscured by the four touchdowns was a tremendous performance from Adams, whose season is trending up. Sans Montgomery and Cobb, and without running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks, it was Adams who manned the backfield for large portions of the game. He lined up as a tailback with no intention to run.
Instead, Adams mastered the short passes from which Montgomery excelled. The majority of his production — 12 catches for 74 yards — was predicated on catch and run.
“Davante, to his credit, he has to know so many different positions and so many different personnel groups,” Rodgers said. “He’s like the backup-backup-backup-backup running back/wide receiver in the backfield.”
When it finally ended, when Rodgers’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete, the end result belied a gritty performance. The receivers had done their part, and they have no idea who will be available next week.
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