Analysis: Geronimo Allison emerging as genuine weapon for Packers
There’s not much more to say about Aaron Rodgers returning from a knee injury to lead the Green Bay Packers’ spectacular comeback from 20 points down to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
He was brilliant, OK?
But there were signs Sunday night that the Packers have ample offensive pieces to go with him, most notably that third-year pro Geronimo Allison is not their No. 3 receiver by default. He’s beginning to blossom.
Receiver might be the second-toughest position for rookies and young players in the NFL, behind only quarterback. Compared to the college game, there’s so much more receivers have to learn as far as reading coverages, making adjustments and running precise routes. It’s even harder with a demanding veteran quarterback like Rodgers, who expects his receivers to see what his experienced eyes see.
But Allison is in his third season, and in the second half Sunday showed he has become a pro in that time. His five-catch, 69-yard performance included a stretch on a touchdown drive in the second half in which he caught big passes on four of five plays.
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One of the biggest was a crossing route that converted a third-and-14. Another was the 39-yard touchdown that showed better than any just how far he’s come.
On that play, Allison looked like a seasoned pro. Though he’s not fast for a receiver (4.67-second 40), he slipped past one of the league’s better cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller, at the line of scrimmage, then made sure he had some separation when the ball arrived by slowing momentarily and bumping the cornerback just enough to create some space.
Allison also won the hand fight with Fuller as the ball arrived, knocking Fuller’s hands away so the cornerback couldn’t deflect it, and making almost a one-handed catch as he fended off Fuller with his left arm. That’s a lot to think about all at once and illustrates why it’s so hard for rookies to excel at receiver in the NFL. There’s a lot to practice and perfect to make a play like that.
Going into the season, the biggest concern with the Packers’ receiving corps is its ability to stretch defenses. The Packers don’t have a burner among their top three (Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Allison), and while tight end Jimmy Graham still runs OK, at age 31 he doesn’t run a 4.56-second 40 anymore, as he did coming out of college in 2010.
But the Packers might be able to compensate for the lack of game-breaking speed with quantity – that is, several good options for Rodgers to throw to on any given play.
Adams isn’t a blazer (4.56) but gets open with great body control that also allows him to run after the catch like he did juking cornerback Prince Amukamara on a 12-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Cobb is instinctive getting open when plays break down and running after the catch, as he did on both counts turning a short throw into the game-winning 75-yard touchdown Sunday. Allison has made a big jump from last year, and though Graham had a quiet night, he’s a big, athletic target who will have his day.
There’s also Ty Montgomery, coach Mike McCarthy’s gadget running back who had a 48-yard catch and run called back because of a holding penalty. He was matched up on a linebacker on that play, which is exactly what the Packers will be scheming to do whenever he’s on the field.
While the Packers don’t have a traditional, game-breaking player in that bunch, they have a lot of viable options for Rodgers on any given play. Count Allison very much among them.
Mack truck tires
The Packers had big problems dealing with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks (a strip sack each) as pass rushers in the first half but wore them down in the second half with the no-huddle offense.
Mack, who sat out all of training camp before getting traded to the Bears, beat right tackle Bryan Bulaga several times early on. And guard Justin McCray couldn’t handle Hicks, who was disruptive as an inside rusher in the first half. But then after Rodgers returned from his knee injury in the second half, McCarthy went almost exclusively with a no-huddle offense, and that tempo slowed Mack and Hicks as they tired.
Mack, in fact, played 42 of the Bears’ 70 defensive snaps, which was too many for a guy who isn’t yet in football shape regardless of how hard he trained during his holdout. By the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Bulaga was still blocking Mack one-on-one and doing just fine.
» Linebacker Blake Martinez (six tackles) had his best game in three seasons with the Packers. He played every defensive snap (70 total), quarterbacked the defense, and made a couple big third-down plays in the second quarter that helped get the defense off the field. One was an open-field tackle of tight end Dion Sims for a nine-yard gain on third and 14 in the middle of the second quarter. A little later, he sprinted back on a 15-yard drop after mugging the line of scrimmage before the snap and broke up a pass over the middle to tight end Trey Burton on a third-and-five.
» Coordinator Mike Pettine’s new defense faces a much tougher test this week against Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins after facing second-year pro Mitch Trubisky last week. Pettine relied heavily on deploying six defensive backs on early downs – sometimes three cornerbacks and three safeties, other times four cornerbacks and two safeties.
But Cousins will be harder to fool with coverage disguises, so Pettine might have to send more corner and safety blitzes to disrupt Cousins than he did with Trubisky. Also, the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook is a between-the-tackles running back who could punish the Packers when Martinez is the only true inside linebacker on the field. Don’t be surprised if run-stopping Antonio Morrison plays more along Martinez this week after getting only 11 snaps against the Bears.