Nelson’s Injury Equates To Playoff Opportunity
At the moment the crown of New York Giant defensive back Leon Hall’s helmet illegally impacted Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s mid-section during the second quarter of Sunday’s Wild Card win, legions of Green Bay fans watching collectively gasped.
As Nelson crumpled to the frozen tundra, Cheesehead Nation had to immediately wonder how the the end result of an apparently serious injury would translate not just for the rest of that game (he didn’t return), but also for the remainder of the post season. Only when announcers replayed the video did fans at home come to understand the severity, and the legality of the hit which would undoubtedly earn Hall a substantial monetary summons from the league office.
Funny thing, though, that happened upon Nelson’s exit to the locker room for tests and evaluation.
The Packers found their way.
After seeing their first five possessions end with a swift kick by the right foot of punter Jacob Schum one could hardly have foreseen the Green Bay turnaround that was about to unfold.
After Nelson’s departure, Aaron Rodgers caught fire through the air, turning a 6–0 second quarter deficit into a 14–6 halftime advantage and eventually a full throttle, blowout 38–13 win. That marginal halftime lead, was of course, propelled by a thrilling Hail Mary when Rodgers connected at the back of the end zone with Randall Cobb as time expired.
For an offense largely stuck in neutral and at times appearing uninspired early on, it was a surprising turn of events to say the least.
In order to understand the Packers’ recent aerial resurgence you have to look a little closer as to what makes all systems go in Green Bay.
Understandably, the offense runs through Nelson. He’d been the subject of a wide range of media and fan speculation heading into training camp and the regular season. To be expected for a player in his first year back from major reconstructive knee surgery.
And in spite of the whispers that perhaps he’d lost a step and combined with the uncertainty surrounding such a comeback attempt Nelson’s been nothing short of spectacular. To the tune of 97 receptions for 1257 yards and a league-high 14 touchdown catches.
Obviously, in the short term, the loss of Nelson certainly draws focus to his prolific 2016 stat-line and the imminent question about who can step up to fill in with a win-or-go-home bout at Dallas on the horizon.
On paper, the obvious answers are Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Both have had resurgent seasons in their own right respective to their lackluster performances of 2015 when Green Bay’s offense regularly misfired without Nelson’s game-breaking skill set. An early exit from the postseason the broad stroke result of that ineptitude.
Of course Rodgers (who sports an MVP-esque 19–0 TD-to-interception ratio over the current seven game win streak) has been the nearly unstoppable driving force since he remarked Green Bay could run the proverbial table and get to the playoffs for the eighth straight season back in November.
But there are other players who don’t have the same established production track record as Cobb or Adams. But who certainly have similar ability.
Case in point: the collective 2016 stat sheet before and after that 4–6 start by perimeter players. Look closely and you’ll find Green Bay actually has five (including Ty Montgomery- a converted wideout-turned-running-back by attrition) who have stepped up to catch at least 30 passes so far.
Subtracting Nelson’s 97 grabs leaves us with a healthy 297 caught collectively by Adams (75), Cobb (60), Montgomery (44), Cook (30), and Richard Rodgers (30) and with that type of consistency you have the equation for what Green Bay has sorely lacked in their passing game: balance.
An outlier in this equation, however, perhaps the final component in the Packers’ offense that may very well be their biggest x-factor the rest of the way if Nelson remains sidelined: undrafted wide receiver Geronimo Allison.
The former Illinois standout spent most of training camp earning Rodgers’ trust while quietly leading the team in receiving. And, somewhat surprisingly, he was let go at final roster cuts. A log jam at arguably the leagues deepest skill position essentially blocked his ascension to the active roster even though his on-field production begged to differ. The potential of veteran special teams standout Jeff Janis, incumbent Jared Aberderris (since cut in October, and recently resigned by Detroit) and rookie Trevor Davis made keeping Allison unlikely.
Allison detractors will surely point to his recent misdemeanor citation for marijuana possession following a routine traffic stop in September by the Wisconsin State Patrol as the primary reason why leaning on an untested-in-the-playoffs rookie is a murky proposition at best.
Throughout his football career, Allison’s journey has been anything but a simple post route. He skipped the sophomore and junior years of varsity football in high school, and landed as a Big Ten honorable mention after he helped Western Iowa Community College win a national title back in 2012.
But his focus since — as evidenced by his showing in critical games in both week 16 and 17 when he caught 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, is a prime variable as to why the offense has an excellent chance to continue to hum right along at its current pace. That’s whether Nelson’s in the lineup on Sunday with a protective kevlar vest, or not.
Considering the emergence of these players and the recent MVP-level surge in production with Rodgers at the helm and you start to see why Nelson was able to have the type of bounce-back season he’s had to this point.
Some have taken the “next man up” philosophy to heart by simply elevating their game alongside Nelson.
Some have changed positions entirely for the benefit of the offensive game plan.
And some are about to get a chance to prove themselves in the spotlight like never before.
In doing so, Green Bay has the potent look of the NFC’s sexy new Cinderella Super Bowl pick.