Jordy Nelson is out, but here's why the Packers offense won't falter against the Cowboys
Jordy Nelson isn't going to play in Sunday's NFC divisional round game, and that, of course, is bad news for the Green Bay Packers and good news for the Dallas Cowboys.
But despite the fact that Aaron Rodgers will be without his No. 1 receiver when taking on the NFC's No. 1 team, you shouldn't write off the Packers' offense.
It's on a roll — a big one — and even without Nelson, that's going to continue Sunday.
Remember, the Packers lit up one of the NFL's best defenses, the Giants', without Nelson last week.
Nelson was injured with roughly 11 minutes to go in the first half of that wild card matchup at Lambeau Field last week. At the time he exited the game, with what we would later learn were two broken ribs, the Packers trailed 3-0.
Take the ridiculous Hail Mary out of it (though one could make the argument that it's not a lucky play) — the Packers put 31 points on the NFL's second-best defense (per Football Outsiders).
Yep, the Packers' offense is a well-oiled machine right now.
And the Cowboys' defense is not on the same level as the Giants'. It's really not even close.
You can see where we're going here.
The Cowboys' defense might have allowed only 19 points per game this year — better than the Texans, Cardinals, Vikings, Chiefs and Steelers (all good defenses) — but they did it with smoke and mirrors.
Their pass rush is middle-of-the-pack at best, the secondary is more of the same (9 interceptions all season), and while the run defense allowed the fewest yards on the ground in the NFL this season, that was because no team faced fewer rushes than the Cowboys (340).
There's no viable explanation behind the Cowboys' defense giving up so few points this season, but there is an easy explanation for the Packers' offensive resurgence: Green Bay has found offensive balance with the establishment of a run game, and Rodgers is feasting against defenses that no longer can just protect against the pass.
The only way to beat the Packers is to rush as few players as possible and get everyone back into coverage — that's what you're going to see from the Cowboys on Sunday. And early in the season, that tactic worked because the Packers' top rushing threat was Rodgers.
But with the emergence of Ty Montgomery as a viable running back, the Packers offense began to click. In subsequent weeks, Christine Michael and Aaron Ripkowski have added layers to that rushing attack — and while it's not even close to the best in the league, it is productive enough to command respect from a defense. Rodgers has taken full advantage of that fact over the past seven weeks.
Nelson's absence will be felt – make no mistake about that. He caught 45 passes over the Packers’ seven-game win streak, though he had only one catch last weekend before he was injured.
And while Green Bay will be without its top receiver, Rodgers won't lack options. Davante Adams will stay in the No. 1 receiver role he slid into last week — he had eight catches for 125 yards against the Giants, all coming after Nelson left.
Randall Cobb will remain the Packers' No. 2 option in the passing game — he's an established player a defense cannot sleep on for a second, lest it get burned.
But the real reason the Packers won't slow down without Nelson is the team's third receiver — a late bloomer who came on strong at the end of the season and could prove to be an X-factor Sunday and beyond, should the Packers advance.
If you don't know Geronimo Allison's name by now, you're going to hear it a lot on Sunday.
The undrafted rookie out of Illinois caught only 12 passes for 202 yards in the regular season and one pass for 8 yards against the Giants, but when he's been targeted, he's been a strong, reliable option for Rodgers. In Week 16, he hauled in four balls for 66 yards against the Vikings, and in Week 17 he had four catches, 91 yards, and a touchdown against the Lions.
The kid can play, and Rodgers hasn't shown any reluctance in throwing him the ball.
So while Rodgers is playing so well that he could grab two guys from the concession stands to play receiver and still complete 70 percent of his passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, it is important for him to have options he trusts on the field. Backups don't typically have the kind of rapport with the quarterback that Allison and Rodgers have shown.
Also: Adams, Cobb, and Allison are much, much better than those random guys, and against a defense that, frankly, cannot be explained, they're going to show it.
The Packers would have preferred to have Nelson in the fold Sunday — of course — but they're not going to slow down without him.