Packers’ WRs ready, willing â€“ open? â€“ targets
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It seemed like it should have been a great day for the Packers’ healthy group of wide receivers in the playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. For the first time since Week 4, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had all of his playmakers on the field together for longer than one drive.
But it wasn’t Randall Cobb or Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson or James Jones or tight end Jermichael Finley who led Green Bay in receptions in the opening week of the postseason. It was new starting running back DuJuan Harris, grabbing a team-high five catches.
The wide receivers certainly weren’t ignored by Rodgers, but it wasn’t the game-changing production that the group, when healthy, has proven capable of.
“We were open; We were definitely open,” Jennings told FOXSportsWisconsin.com Wednesday in the locker room. “But (Rodgers) was taking what they were giving him, which was what was right in front of his face. You’ve got guys dropping out and they’re just leaving the running backs standing right in front of the quarterback and he sees that guy right there, why not just take it and get five, six yards every pop?
“That was obviously the approach that was taken.”
It was the first time since Oct. 10, 2010 that a Packers running back led the team in receptions in any game.
Rodgers spread the ball around against the Vikings, completing passes to 10 different receivers, tying the NFL playoff record and setting a franchise playoff record. Jennings and Jones each had four catches, Nelson had three receptions, fullback John Kuhn had two and several others had one.
“It’s a tribute to the kind of guys we got,” Rodgers said this week. “It’s not often you have 10 skill guys active like that, but we have a lot of different guys who can do things for us. It’s hard to keep them all happy. But I think at this point in the season everybody has a common goal and that’s winning a championship and knowing you kind of have to be selfless and realize it’s all about that championship.
“Whoever’s getting the throws that week, make the most of them (and) the other guys block for them. They know I’m going to go through my progressions and try and find the open guy.”
The six passes thrown to Harris were mostly check-down throws. On a few of those plays, receivers had space downfield, but the Vikings seemed content with allowing underneath routes rather than giving up a big play.
“When the ball came to us on Saturday, we made plays,” Jones said. “We didn’t have any dropped balls. So we did our job when the ball came our way. But we’ve just got to be ourselves. Nothing special. Go out there and be the Green Bay Packers.
“If you have zero catches, it doesn’t matter as long as you win.”
For the Packers to advance further in the postseason, starting with Saturday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the receivers will need more catches and overall higher statistical production.
“When I look at the perimeter players, I think of points,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s important for us to get points from our perimeter players, and you can put the running backs included there. Our receivers probably are going to have some opportunities come Saturday.”
Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett didn’t have any issue with his group’s production or the high number of check-down passes.
“You have to take what the defense gives you,” said Bennett, a former Packers running back who once caught 78 passes in a season. “When we get our opportunities for the big gains, then we have to make the most of those opportunities when they play one-high. At times, you’ll see it’s more about the yards after the catch, creating an explosive gain that way. All of those things factor into it.
“It’s definitely more about taking what the defense gives you and then we have to make the most of it.”
Rodgers is known for completing difficult passes — in Saturday’s win over Minnesota, he rolled right and found Nelson along the sideline in tight coverage near the goal line. But Rodgers also got sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL this season, partially because of his preference to take a hit instead of throwing into traffic for a potential interception.
When there is time to throw, though, Rodgers has one of the deepest group of receivers in the league.
“So many weapons,” Finley said. “You have to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes around. You don’t know when the ball will come back around. It’s crazy. It’s almost … I don’t even know how to say it. We talk about it all the time around here.
“I just stay out of the conversation because, whatever you can come up with, it doesn’t sound right, just because we have so many weapons around here. There’s no solution to it (for defenses to stop).”
If Finley and the receivers can get open against the 49ers this weekend – and Rodgers can find them — the Packers have a chance for the road win and a spot in the NFC Championship Game.
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