Career-best pace lands Nelson on SI cover
In his seventh NFL season, Green Bay's Jordy Nelson is on pace for a career year.
Through 11 games, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound wide receiver has 68 receptions for 1,066 yards and nine touchdowns. Projected over 16 games, he would finish with career highs in receptions (99) and yards (1,550). His 13 touchdowns would be his second-highest output.
But it's at Lambeau Field where he's really excelled this season. In five home games, Nelson is averaging an astonishing 25.7 yards on his 24 receptions and has caught six of his nine touchdowns.
His 616 receiving yards at Lambeau, with three home games remaining, are more than he's had in any full season except 2011, when he finished with 816 yards at home.
On Sunday at Lambeau, Nelson and the Packers will face the New England Patriots, who have given up 41 passing plays of 20-plus yards, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL.
Count Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia among those impressed with Nelson, who already has 11 catches of 20-plus yards.
"Jordy Nelson is a physical guy," Patricia said Tuesday. "He can use his size to body up or position up a defensive back. He does a great job at stacking DBs. When he gets downfield, he can really stack them.
"With a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, who can put the ball where he needs to put it, he can shield the defender with his body."
Nelson and fellow receiver Randall Cobb will be challenged this week by two physical cornerbacks in five-time Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis and 6-4, 221-pounder Brandon Browner. That duo helped contain Detroit's dangerous receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate in a 34-9 victory last week.
Green Bay will counter with a quarterback-receiver duo that is second to none in the league.
"He works so hard to be the best," Rodgers said of Nelson on the quarterback's weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show, "and loves learning more about the position, challenging himself, looking for ways to get on the same page with me every week even though we spend a lot of time talking and reps on the practice field. He's always looking for more ways to get in my head and make sure that I know what he's thinking about on certain routes."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is wary of the Packers' patented back-shoulder timing pass that Rodgers and Nelson have made into an art form.
"Back shoulder is tough because, especially with a guy like Nelson who has real good height and length and speed," Belichick said. "As a defensive back, you never really want to let the receivers get on top of you and get behind you. At the same time, they're so good at that back-shoulder throw that if you even start thinking about that and then Nelson runs by you, it's all over.
"I'd say it's a really tough play to defend because of the accuracy and timing with which Rodgers throws it and the length and ball skills of Nelson in particular. They all do it, as you mentioned, but Nelson is really, really good at it."
Nelson is featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated for a story by Tim Layden titled "Cream of the crop."
The story focuses on Nelson's farming background. He's from northeastern Kansas, where he spends much of the offseason.
Former Packers teammate Greg Jennings is quoted in the story: "Jordy is a hardworking farm boy. His physical skill set is second to none, but he's smart, he works at his craft, he studies the game. He's a hardworking farm boy in his life, and he's hardworking farm boy on the field."