Packers need to play long ball with Nelson

Eric Goska
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Jordy Nelson returns to the playing field Sunday in Jacksonville and with him, one of the great long-ball combinations in Packers’ history is reunited.

Last season, Green Bay did not get downfield as well as it did in other seasons under coach Mike McCarthy. With Nelson out, the team lacked a consistent deep threat.

My colleague Pete Dougherty recently explained the importance of stretching the field. He argued that opponents will continue to place an extra defender in the box until the Packers can beat them over the top.

If Aaron Rodgers and Nelson can return to form — a big if — opposing defenses will think twice before crowding the line of scrimmage.

Green Bay’s success downfield was limited in 2015. The team’s four completions of 50 or more yards tied for the fewest in a season since Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008.

In addition, Green Bay set a franchise record with 91 completions of fewer than five yards. Most of those (67) occurred as the team struggled to win four of its last 10 games.

Green Bay’s passing game, a top-10 mainstay in yards produced from 2006 through 2014, plummeted to a tie for 25th with Tennessee.

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If anyone has the resume to turn this around, it’s Rodgers and Nelson. The two have combined for 18 completions of 50 or more yards, a Packers record.

Since 1930, there have been 51 duos who have collaborated more than once for 50-plus-yard gains. Some — Arnie Herber/Don Hutson (7), Bart Starr/Boyd Dowler (7), Lynn Dickey/James Lofton (14), Brett Favre/Antonio Freeman (13) — are well known. Others — Irv Comp/Clyde Goodnight (3), Scott Hunter/Carroll Dale (2) and David Whitehurst/Aundra Thompson (2) — are not so easily recalled.

Rodgers and Nelson first clicked in the 2009 season finale. Nelson snagged a 51-yarder in the first quarter in Arizona to set up Rodgers’ 1-yard TD run as Green Bay trounced the Cardinals 33-7.

On Oct. 19, 2014, Nelson raced 59 yards with a throw from Rodgers to open the scoring in a 38-17 rout of the Panthers. It was the 15th such collaboration by the two, one more than the previous record set by Dickey and Lofton in 1984.

Nelson and Rodgers were in top form in 2011 (five) and 2014 (six). The Packers went 11-0 when the duo connected for 50-plus yards during those two seasons.

Rodgers and Nelson have combined for 13 TD passes of 50 or more yards. Their next score will break the team record held by Favre and Freeman.

Deadly together, each is also looking to make history of his own. Both are chasing legends.

Nelson has caught 19 passes of 50 yards or more (one from Matt Flynn) in his career. He is two short of Hutson’s team record of 21.

Rodgers has completed 53 long passes. He needs to match his personal best (nine in 2011) to surpass Favre’s franchise-best 61.

Should both succeed, it’s safe to say Green Bay’s passing game will have returned to form. History suggests pursuing these long-distance goals is worthwhile.

Since 1930, the Packers have completed 339 passes of 50 or more yards. The majority (209) went for touchdowns.

Of those that didn’t result in outright scores, half (65) spurred drives that eventually reached the end zone. Another 47 fueled advances that penetrated the red zone.

Only four times has the team had to punt after such a long gain.

The Packers are 175-115-2 (.603) in games in which they complete at least one pass of 50 or more yards. They are 30-11-1 (.726) when they complete more than one.

Cash in three or more times in the same game and they are unbeaten (4-0-1).

If Nelson and Rodgers do not return to form, Green Bay’s options become limited. More than half of Rodgers’ 50-plus throws have gone to players who have moved on: Donald Driver (6), Greg Jennings (13), Jermichael Finley (2), James Jones (7) and Tom Crabtree (1).

That leaves only Randall Cobb (3), Eddie Lacy (2) and Richard Rodgers (1) as holdovers.

Of course, the Packers don’t have to complete passes of 50 or more yards to stretch the field. Throws of 20, 30 and 40 yards will suffice.

After all, traveling half the length of a football field in a single bound is not easily done. The Rodgers-Nelson duo only makes it appear so.

Go deep!

Passing-receiving duos who combined for the most completions of 50 or more yards in the regular season for the Packers.

No.   Duo                         TDs

18     Rodgers-Nelson........ 13

14     Dickey-Lofton............ 9

13     Favre-Freeman......... 13

13     Rodgers-Jennings....... 6

9       Rote-Howton.............. 6

9       Starr-Dale................... 6

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