GREEN BAY - All through training camp, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and his offensive staff rotated in a slew of wide receivers – from Davante Adams to an undrafted, tryout rookie in Darrius Shepherd – to get reps with Aaron Rodgers. LaFleur said it was to save wear and tear on the legs of players he knew he would lean on in the regular season, like Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison. But it was also done with an eye toward developing the entire receiver room.
Fast forward through the first three weeks of the regular season.
The rotation thinned – in part due to injuries to Shepherd and Jake Kumerow and the trade of Trevor Davis – but so did Adams’ representation in the offense. The two-time Pro Bowl receiver had been targeted 21 times with 15 catches for 198 yards and no touchdowns, far below his production from the previous few seasons. Even Allison had his snaps reduced to less than 50% of the team’s plays (before his injuries in 2018, Allison was on the field for about 70% of Packers offensive plays).
Then, last Thursday night against Philadelphia, that changed.
For the first time, the passing offense seemed to find rhythm. Not coincidentally, Adams was targeted 15 times and caught 10 of them for 180 yards. Allison caught three balls for 52 yards and a score. But Adams was injured with 10:52 left in the game.
After Adams exited, the Packers ran 20 more plays against Philadelphia and Allen Lazard and Shepherd were worked into the personnel groupings.
“We’ve got a very talented wide receiver room,” Valdes-Scantling said. “Anyone can play any position. That’s one thing that we always harped on from Day 1, that guys have to be able to step up because in the NFL guys get hurt all the time.”
Of those 20 plays, 18 were passes (including two pass plays that resulted in accepted pass interference calls on the Eagles). Rodgers targeted Valdes-Scantling three times, Lazard twice and Allison once. Only Valdes-Scantling caught a pass, a 17-yard completion. Another target to him in the end zone was intercepted. Lazard drew a pass interference penalty on one target in the end zone.
The end result of the Packers’ passing offense without Adams was Rodgers relying on his tight ends (seven targets) and running backs (five) while going 6-for-16 for 68 yards with no scores.
“My confidence starts with myself and I have a lot of confidence in my preparation and the expectations that I’ll play well on Sunday,” Rodgers said Wednesday when asked if he had confidence in his receiving corps. “And then I’ll be able to help those guys raise the level of their play by my own play and by the communication. A lot of stuff that’s going to happen on Sunday will happen in the locker room, in the meeting rooms, before practice, on the practice field and after practice. We’ll have to make sure that we’re sharp in our communication and those guys feel ready to play.”
Allison (63 snaps), Shepherd (15) and Lazard (14) played the most they had all season against Philadelphia and it looks like those numbers will increase against the Cowboys.
“You’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture, especially someone in my position not really knowing when your number is going to get called,” Lazard said. “You have to go out there and prepare like I’m starting and playing every snap and obviously getting ready for special teams as well and just doing that week after week because at some point my number is going to get called and I’m going to have to step up and make a play and help this team win a game.”
Kumerow said he’s back to full strength after missing the last two weeks with a shoulder injury, and while he is a favorite of Rodgers, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumnus has played only seven offensive snaps this season and seven NFL games total. He has caught nine career passes for 115 yards and a score.
It’s impossible to truly “replace” a Pro Bowl talent like Adams, but if he were to miss games or be limited if he plays going forward, there will have to be an uptick in production from Valdes-Scantling, Allison, Kumerow, Lazard and Shepherd.
“Those guys are going to have to fill the void if he’s not able to go,” LaFleur said. “Obviously, that would create a pretty significant void but it is the next man has got to step up. It’s not like our standards and expectations are going to change. Certainly, we have to be mindful of what we’re asking certain guys to do because when you have a receiver like Davante, I don’t think there’s a route that he cannot run. He’s a dynamic receiver but those other guys, it creates opportunities for other guys to step up and make some plays.”
And those opportunities will be there. Through four games Adams has been targeted 36 times and caught 25 balls for 378 yards. The other five receivers? They have combined for 40 targets, 25 catches for 305 yards and two scores.
“The confidence level has always been there,” Allison said. “One guy doesn’t stop the show. Not taking anything away from Davante, but it’s a next-man-up type of league. It takes all 11 to be successful. Davante may be ready; he may not be. We’ll see what we’ll have and what personnel we’re going out there with. Whoever’s out there, the expectation is for you go out there and do your 1/11th.”