For most of the last five years, Jordy Nelson has been the best receiver on the Packers. If someone closes their eyes and pictures the Packers offense, it is Aaron Rodgers hitting his seventh step and launching a dart down field to #87 that comes to mind. Last season, Nelson missed the year with a torn ACL, and now it is unlikely that he will play in Sunday’s Divisional Round matchup up in Dallas due to injury. On the surface this is a devastating blow, and there is no questioning that Green Bay’s passing attack will not be the same, but this season the emergence of Davante Adams has helped take the offense to a different level.
During the Packers seven game winning streak, Adams has caught seven touchdown passes and has helped fulfill the role once reserved exclusively for Nelson.
Nelson has been the Packers’ primary deep threat for the last half decade, turning in highlights like these week after week, but now Adams has stepped more into that role as Nelson’s downfield speed has diminished. With a quarterback as precise as Rodgers, receivers know that even a micrometer of separation can be enough to get the job done, and Adams is beginning to build a rapport with Rodgers downfield. In this Week 14 strike, Adams realizes that Rodgers has broken the pocket and instinctively turns up field to capitalize.
Early in Adams’ career, he struggled to be on the same page as Rodgers, but during this recent breakout the two have been totally in sync. Explosive plays (like the one against the Seahawks) have been par for the course, and if the Packers want to advance Sunday they must look to generate threats down field. The Dallas defense has been bend-but-don’t-break all season, but they lack elite pass rushers. If Green Bay can give Rodgers time to work in the pocket, he will have his chances to poke holes in a vulnerable Dallas secondary.
The other place where Adams has taken great strides is his reliability as a red zone target. Randall Cobb has always been an excellent red zone receiver because of his ability to work the middle of the field with choice and option routes, but the Cowboys strength of their defense is up the middle with linebackers Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens. Those two will key on Cobb all game, along with slot corner Orlando Scandrick. Scoring touchdowns is paramount in the playoffs, and with a running game that lacks consistency the Pack will likely turn to Adams for big plays inside the 20. He has proven to be effective there, scoring against the Detroit Lions in Week 17 and again against New York in the Wild Card round last week. Rodgers’ ability to improvise and extend the play allows receivers to come open, and Adams has done an excellent job of creating just enough separation for his quarterback to fire a laser in to him. The Cowboys’ meek pass rush should given Rodgers ample opportunity to scramble around in the pocket, and for Adams to free himself up in the back of the end zone.
There is no argument to be made that the Packers offense is somehow better when Jordy Nelson does not suit up, but having Davante Adams take a step forward and become the player that Green Bay thought they were getting when the drafted him in the second round in 2014 has helped mitigate that damage.