Big days by Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard 'can open up some other things' in Packers' offense

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - Robert Tonyan could’ve flattened the football. He smashed it with earth-quaking force early in Sunday’s third quarter, implanting a small crater in Lambeau Field’s north end zone. He wasn’t done celebrating, either. 

Tonyan flexed his muscles. He smacked both sides of his yellow helmet. He leaped into the stands. 

The Green Bay Packers tight end had waited a long time for this moment. Longer than he could have possibly imagined entering this 2021 season. This fall was supposed to be the sequel to his 2020 breakout, the launch pad to Pro Bowl status, maybe more. 

Instead, Tonyan has had to be patient. He has learned to reevaluate his game, to gauge success differently, to know his role goes deeper than numbers. 

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) catches a pass against Washington Football Team linebacker Jamin Davis (52) in the third quarter, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

“I wouldn’t say it’s frustration,” Tonyan said. 

No, but as Sunday’s second half began, the Packers tight end was in a drought. Zero touchdowns in his previous four games. Just one all season.

Then Tonyan cut a corner route on Washington linebacker Jamin Davis. Before the snap, he thought Washington safety Kamren Curl would cover him. Curl lined up on Tonyan’s outside, a problem for a corner route, but he stayed underneath to cover running back Aaron Jones instead. 

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Davis lined up inside Tonyan. The rookie linebacker had no chance. 

“I went vertical,” Tonyan said, “and then I saw the linebacker attach to me inside, and I was like, ‘This is the perfect look.’ So I was hoping the ball was going to be in the air when I turned, and it was.” 

The ball found Tonyan more Sunday than it had all season. He caught a season-high four passes for 63 yards against Washington, a reminder why his skillset is so invaluable in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. 

Almost as significant as Tonyan’s first touchdown in more than a month was his 25-yard reception on third-and-4 early in the final quarter. Tonyan thought he was about to get pulverized on the play. He was wide open near the left seam, but saw Curl load up for a big hit out of the corner of his eye. 

“I thought I was about to get smoked over the middle,” Tonyan said. “So I covered up, and I guess they weren’t really that near me.” 

Curl instead allowed Tonyan to fall safely at the 36-yard line, into Mason Crosby’s field-goal range. Crosby made a 39 yarder six plays later, extending the Packers' lead to 24-7. 

Tonyan was expected to have days like Sunday afternoon this fall. With their injuries along the offensive line, Tonyan has often been asked to stay near the line of scrimmage as an extra blocker this season. It can be a draining role for a tight end who caught 52 passes for 586 yards and a franchise-record-tying 11 touchdowns last season, and surely hoped for more this year. 

Even if adjusting to a different role hasn’t been easy, Tonyan has handled it in stride. 

“Just as the competitor I am, and how hard I work every day this offseason putting in everything I can,” Tonyan said, “I saw what I did last year, and I want to be better than I was last year. I kind of had to realize that stats don’t really define being better than last year. I became so much better at blocking. I became so much more mentally just aware of what the offense is doing, what our job is and what our goals are. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating or anything like that. At the end of the day, we just want to win ballgames, and that’s what we’re doing.” 

The Packers' offense has missed this kind of production from their tight end. Tonyan wasn’t the only complementary receiver — definition: any receiver not named Davante Adams — with a big day against Washington. With the Packers deadlocked at 7 apiece, Allen Lazard caught five passes for 60 yards on a 9-play, 72-yard drive before halftime that ended with his 10-yard touchdown reception from Aaron Rodgers. 

Lazard hadn’t caught 60 yards or more than five passes in a game this season. It was only his second touchdown. 

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) catches a touchdown pass against Washington Football Team cornerback Danny Johnson (36) late in the second quarter on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

Adams still had his usual numbers — a team-high six catches for 76 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown on the opening drive — but the passing game got more support behind him. It was the type of supporting cast the Packers will need going forward, starting this week when their schedule gets much harsher with a Thursday night game at undefeated Arizona. 

“I think it can open up some other things,” Rodgers said. “Teams are still trying to take away Davante in a number of different ways, a lot of double coverage. There were actually a few times where he was singled up today, and tried to go to him in those situations, but that will be the focus moving forward, I’m sure, every single week. It starts and ends with him, but the more we can get guys like Allen involved and Bobby involved, it’s going to slowly give ‘Tae a few more one on ones probably.” 

Adams even got single coverage on Tonyan’s touchdown. He beat Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller on a double move, shooting up field toward the end zone. LaFleur saw his tight end run a “great route” on one side of the field, but his star receiver wide open on the other. “I was like, ‘Man, I wish we hadn’t have wasted the double move on a play that we scored one,” LaFleur said. That Rodgers threw the touchdown to his tight end instead of Adams was significant.  

It was a play Tonyan needed. He showed that much after getting to his feet in the north end zone. 

“I think it was more so, ‘I’m back in the end zone,’” Tonyan said. “Like before, it was just a stretch of more so blocking, and not getting the ball as much, but winning games. So I think it was just more that sigh of relief and a lot of built-up hype for that spike. Needed it. Needed it.” 

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