Four of his league-best five scoring catches have come inside the 20, including two in the second half last week against the Chicago Bears . Last season, 11 of Nelson’s NFL-high 15 touchdown catches were in the red zone.
This is in part because of the volume of scoring opportunities on the Packers’ potent offense. The running game also hasn’t been consistently productive since the start of the 2016 season.
But with quarterback Aaron Rodgers behind center, there is always a chance to score.
“Definitely on the same page with Aaron,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday about Nelson.
Rodgers-to-Nelson — a combination that has been playing pitch-and-catch together since 2008, which was Rodgers first season as starter and Nelson’s rookie year. The rapport has built up over years of practices.
“Time and communication. I put communication on it more than anything. In practice. In games. In meetings. Walking down the hall. Seeing something on film” Nelson said. “Constantly communicating.”
Nelson, 32, is two years removed from a right knee injury that knocked him out for the 2015 season. The timing, route-running and savvy are still there.
While Nelson is still a threat to catch the deep ball, his yards-per-catch average has dipped over the past couple of seasons. After averaging 15.5 yards in 2014, Nelson was at 13.0 yards in 2016. He is averaging 12.1 yards a catch through four games this season.
Keep in mind that the Packers have also had to adjust their offense early this season to account for injuries on the offensive line. Rodgers has handled teams with short, quick passes, though there is always the threat for a big-play strike.
Going into Sunday’s game at Dallas, the Packers led the NFL by scoring touchdowns on 78 percent of trips into the red zone. All five touchdowns in last week’s win over Chicago came from inside the 10.
“I think some of the throws down there, just some of the route-running with the time clocks have been right on the money. That’s a big part of it,” McCarthy said.
“He’s got some good matchups. Jordy’s the type of guy, if you give him an inch, he’s going to take full advantage of it and he can turn it into a yard.”
The trouble for opposing defenders is that if they focus on Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb can get open in the end zone. And pass-catching tight end Martellus Bennett hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season.
Rodgers said getting Bennett and Adams targets early in games helps to spark the offense.
“Obviously, I’d like to get Marty more involved a little bit earlier in the game and would like to get Davante some more touches in the red zone. Jordy’s been fantastic this year, Randall, when he’s been out there, has been fantastic,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to keep finding ways to get those guys the ball — and early.”
Adams has practiced each day so far this week, a good sign that he might be able to clear the concussion protocol for the Cowboys game after absorbing the helmet-to-helmet hit from Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan last week.
Whether Ty Montgomery can play with broken ribs is in question, though it appears that the Packers might have their full complement of rookie backups at running back available in Jamaal Williams (knee), Aaron Jones and Devante Mays.
And if handing the ball off in the red zone doesn’t work, there is always Nelson.
“Just does a great job with recognizing coverage, beating leverage and he’s just very technically sound,” McCarthy aid. “And, obviously, Aaron has a ton of faith in him.”