Tha Sports Junkies 101

The Importance of Jordy Nelson To The Green Bay Packers

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Anyone who watched the Green Bay Packers last year saw that Jordy Nelson may have proved himself to be the MVP of the offense without even playing a snap.

Nelson was lost in the preseason due to a torn ACL on a routine catch that proved to be season ending. It seemed that if any team could survive an injury to someone other than their QB, it was Green Bay. With talent like Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and James Jones to play with, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers should’ve been heading toward another career year. At first it seemed all would be well.

The Jordy-less offense started out dominate. Rodgers looked like a lock for yet another MVP as he went for 15 TDs and only 2 INTs the first 6 weeks, despite a lack of big plays. The Green and Gold opened up the season 6-0 but went into a week 7 bye with some major question marks as more injuries started to build up, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Post bye week Green Bay had to leave the Frozen Tundra to head to Mile High. The Broncos came in confident as they also held an undefeated record. Denver’s defense successfully exposed something that would ultimately start the longest and most glaring poor stretch of Aaron Rodgers career.

Before the brilliant mind of Wade Phillips got two weeks to watch film on the Packers offense, all other teams failed to find a way to exploit the glaring absence of Jordy Nelson. The previous teams chose to play the Packers as if they still had a player comparable to the All-Pro wideout.

The Broncos went against the norm and used man coverage with little safety help and constant pressure on Rodgers. This obviously isn’t a revelation for a Phillips defense, but it created a blueprint to stop the unstoppable.

Phillips realized that whoever was playing in Jordy’s spot on any given play was basically a decoy. Teams saw the same offense and assumed Rodgers had the same reads, but in reality he was never giving the deep ball a look so they simply didn’t waste more than one body on that man.

Rodgers would not even eclipse 100 yards against the Broncos. He finished with a career low 77 yards passing and a QB rating below 70. What Denver exposed was the lack of play-making available to the Packers. With one of the slowest and least experienced receiving groups in the league it was difficult for anyone to create space. Playing man coverage allowed the defense to cut down on guys like Randall Cobb and James Jones finding open spaces in zone coverages like they had in the past when so many guys were dedicated to spying Nelson.

The main reason no one dared to try man coverage versus the Packers the previous two years was because of the amount of times huge plays resulted.

For example, in 2014 Jordy had a NFL best five touchdown receptions of 50 yards or more, along with a NFL best five receptions of 60 yards or more. He made it almost impossible for defenses not to have safety help at all times.

If you ares still unconvinced of Nelson’s importance, the Packers offense tied for second in the NFL with 15 plays of 40 or more yards in 2014 and finished with only six in 2015, the second-fewest in the league.

Despite Aaron Rodgers above average final stat line of 3,800 yards, 31 TDs, and 8 INTs, it was the efficiency stats which he has consistently led the league in that were most effected. His 60% completion rate was by far the lowest of his career as he is considered one of the most accurate passers in history with a career % of 65.

Rodgers QB rating of 92.7 was also a career low. 92 would probably be a great year for most, but for a guy with a 104 career rating it’s yet another blaring sign of missing his security blanket in Nelson.

To add on to Jordy’s injury, running back Eddie Lacy gained a significant amount of weight throughout the season and struggled to put together sustained success. The running game was often reminiscent of the early days of the Rodgers era, non-existent. Backup running back James Starks often would essentially become the every down back by the 2nd quarter most games because Lacy was out of breath.

The Packers offense as a whole finished 23rd out of 32 in total offense, the lowest finish for a Rodgers led group. To add on, they finished 25th in passing offense, the lowest they had finished since 1987. In fact the last time they finished outside the top 10 was 2003. However, not all of this can be blamed on what was happening inside the white lines.

A lot of blame can, and should be placed on head coach Mike McCarthy. One of the best play-callers in football for 5 years, he decided to pass the duties on to Assistant Coach Tom Clements to start the season. After Clements and Rodgers struggled to connect he re-assumed the duties near the end of the year. Fans had been waiting for McCarthy to make the move, but he was faced with many of the same problems.

The coaching brain-trust in Green Bay was unable to adjust to Nelson being gone. Instead of countering man coverage with screen passes, quick routes and creative run plays they tried to mirror past successes and play through the intermediate pass game.

Green Bay’s lack of speed allowed teams to put 8, sometimes 9 guys in the box and take away Rodgers play-making ability and normal reads. By the end of the season Rodgers was in survival mode instead of winning mode. James Starks quickly became his favorite target, dumping off passes at the line of scrimmage over and over with no vertical passes available.

2016 looks to be a new year. From every report released it seems Nelson is stronger than ever. He joked before the NFC Divisional Round last year that if the Packers made the Super Bowl he would’ve been ready to go. Despite that being against NFL rules, with his work ethic I don’t doubt he would’ve been.

Along with a revitalized Nelson, the Packers add a slimmed down Lacy and free-agent pick up Jared Cook to the mix.

Lacy, on the urging of Packer management, started a new workout and diet program to get back to his rookie year body. When in his top form he’s one of the top backs in the league and can help stabilize a mostly, by necessity, pass first offense.

Tight End Jared Cook comes in after struggling to get touches in a very bad Rams offense the last few years. He creates a very athletic and capable target over the middle that Green Bay has been lacking since Jermichael Finley was forced to retire 3 years ago. Cook joins forces with unlikely 2015 breakout TE Richard Rodgers to form a very good combination punch of speed and possession options for the Packers.

The new season will bring a lot of expectations to Green Bay. For Mike McCarthy it could be make or break. Green Bay is a place where every year is a disappointment without a championship, and with Rodgers turning 33 in December the clock is ticking.

Defenses will see a revamped offense ready to run through the NFL like they did in the 2011-12 season. I am positive Jordy will be back to the old Jordy almost immediately. After a down year last year Randall Cobb should also be ready to go. We should see an increase in his numbers out of the slot position with a deep threat back in the fold.

If we know anything it is that as Nelson goes, so goes Rodgers and the Packers. With the duo on the field together they are 39-13 over their careers, 3 of those losses coming in games in which one of the two left with injuries. If McCarthy, Rodgers, and Nelson are able to re-calibrate the offense and spread the ball around it’s going to be another special year in Titletown.