Cascading injuries to their wide receiver corps could have decimated the Green Bay Packers season before it even got off the ground. Instead, the Packers have relied on veteran chemistry, quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ impeccably accurate passes, and some surprisingly effective reserve receivers to remain a perfect 6-0 entering their Week 7 bye.
When leading receiver Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL in his right knee during the Packers second preseason game, head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements didn’t necessarily have to panic.
"It's a tough blow to our football team, but as we spoke in the team meeting, nothing's changed," McCarthy said in August.
But the very next week, Green Bay’s other top receiver, Randall Cobb, suffered a shoulder injury, and would miss weeks of practice before returning for the season opener. There was also the sprained left ankle suffered by second-year wide out Davante Adams against Kansas City in Week 3, causing Adams to sit out the last three games.
Once completely healthy, the 25-year-old Cobb would catch three touchdown passes in the Packers 38-28 victory over Kansas City, seemingly putting to bed any talk of the Packers vaunted offense and Rodgers in danger of slipping up in 2015. But Cobb has since caught 10 passes for 105 yards with no touchdowns in the last three games.
Yet the addition of fan favorite James Jones, exactly two weeks after Nelson’s injury was confirmed, has played the biggest role in Green Bay’s eighth-ranked offense (27.3 points per game) and why the No. 17 passing game (237 yards per game) hasn’t fallen any further compared to last year’s No. 8-ranked unit.
Following his one-year stint with Oakland and the New York Giants cutting him in September, the Packers brought the 31-year-old Jones back to Lambeau and he’s exploded for six receiving touchdowns in six games, failing to score in only one contest all year.
Cobb has still been Rodgers’ No. 1 option, owning a team-best 47 targets, but Jones has carved out 424 yards off 21 receptions from only 29 targets and leads the Packers with 20.2 yards per reception.
For Rodgers, the return of Jones should’ve been a signal to the rest of the league that Green Bay would not falter. Beginning in 2008, when Rodgers would assume the starting position, right up to Jones’ last year in Green Bay, 2013, Jones was one of Rodgers’ most consistent connections to the end zone with 33 of his 187 touchdown strikes in that span.
Nelson’s absence and Adams’ recent injury, along with running back Eddie Lacy’s gimpy right ankle, have also allotted more targets for second-year tight end Richard Rodgers, as well as rookie receiver Ty Montgomery and veteran rusher James Starks.
Lacy’s tallied a mere 260 rushing yards and was held out for most of Week 6’s victory over the Chargers, but long-time backup Starks stepped up with 112 yards and a touchdown off 10 attempts and caught another ball for a five-yard score. All told Starks has 11 receptions for 75 yards off 15 targets, serving as a placeholder until Lacy’s healthy again.
A third-round pick out of Stanford who was expected to contribute more as a returner in his rookie campaign, Montgomery moved to the top of the receiving depth chart when Adams went down in the first series against the Chiefs and he’s now accounted for 11 receptions for 99 yards and two scores as the No. 3 or 4 option.
Meanwhile, Richard Rodgers has surged to second on the team with 30 targets, equaling his entire output from last season, and the 6-foot-4 bullseye has specifically served Aaron Rodgers well when he’s faced a heavy pass rush. The quarterback’s already been sacked 11 times this season, but he’s danced around for 160 yards and found his tight end 21 times for 189 yards and two more scores.
Clearly the Packers have dealt with the injury bug in ways most teams can only hope for, and the rest of the league should be terrified because Green Bay isn’t even at full strength and still stands as one of only five undefeated teams left in the league.