GREEN BAY — The path forward was clear. The Packers were going to have to do something different for the offense to succeed against the Atlanta Falcons.
An already extensive injury list grew larger before game time when it was announced receivers Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Ty Montgomery (illness) would be inactive at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
It was up to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense to make do.
Adjustments were made and new personnel was deployed in place of Cobb, Montgomery, tight end Jared Cook, and running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
While the outcome wasn’t what the Packers desired – a 33-32 defeat – the fact the offense scored four touchdowns and put up more than 300 total yards brought a smile to Rodgers’ face on Wednesday when reflecting on the game.
“You look at the inactives last week, that’s a pretty doggone good team that’s sitting and that’s not even counting Eddie and Sam (Shields) who are on the IR,” Rodgers said. “That’s the way the league goes.”
Rodgers is quick to point out there are no moral victories, but the offense has steadily found its footing despite all the injuries it’s encountered over the past three weeks.
The butterfly effect of Cobb’s and Montgomery’s absences resulted in Jordy Nelson lining up more in the slot and Davante Adams occasionally running routes out of the backfield.
Behind Nelson and Adams, three receivers, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison, caught the first regular-season touchdown passes of their young careers.
Second-year fullback Aaron Ripkowski, who saw 18 offensive snaps as a rookie in 2015, played a career-high 32 snaps against the Falcons, carrying the ball six times for 34 yards and protecting Rodgers in third-down situations.
It would’ve been difficult to project most of what occurred on Sunday going into the season with how well-stocked the Packers were at receiver, tight end and running back.
“The more experience those young guys get, the better we’ll be,” said Nelson, who had four catches for 94 yards and a TD against the Falcons. “We try to prepare them all the way back in training camp for that and obviously it showed up on Sunday with them making big plays for us and helping us be in the game and score some points. That’ll continue to grow and it gives them confidence that they can play at that level.”
Since Lacy went on injured reserve two weeks ago, Rodgers has understood more will be asked of him and the passing game. To compensate for Lacy’s and Starks’ absences, the Packers brought back their five-receiver package and utilized more short throws on early downs.
Rodgers has done his part. Over the Packers’ last two games, he’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 572 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions (111.7 passer rating).
When the Falcons switched to man coverage in the second half on Sunday, Rodgers used his feet to help move in the chains in scrambling six times for 60 yards, the most rushing yards he’s gained in a regular-season game.
“I’m deceptively fast. That’s what I like about it,” said Rodgers with a smile. “It’s been an asset we’ve had in the offense the last nine years and always as a thrower first outside the pocket, which I think can allow you to sneak in some runs and get some first downs there. It’s been a good weapon for us on third down at times.”
The Packers are in a similar situation of uncertainty this week with Cobb and Montgomery limited in practice Wednesday and only one healthy natural running back, Don Jackson, currently on the active roster.
Rodgers believes the key to handling young skill-position players is in creating packages they’re comfortable with and putting them in a position to succeed like the team did last week.
From the Packers’ perspective, it’s not about who’s missing but rather who’s stepping up.
“It’s too frustrating to think about those other guys,” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to embrace the guys you’ve got and feel confident with them and let it loose. That’s what I did last week was trust those guys to make the plays.
“We talked about not making excuses and holding guys accountable for their job description, which is being a professional and coming prepared and making plays on game day. I was proud of those guys because they stepped up and had opportunities and made those plays.”
Outside of Lacy – who’s out for at least six more weeks – the Packers hope to have their offensive starters back soon, but the past two weeks have shown the offense can adapt in the interim.
As challenging as the past few weeks have been, Rodgers admits it has been a fun to shuffle the deck a little offensively.
“I think it’s just sticking with the plan and preparation,” Rodgers said. “Some of the injuries, it’s made us be even a little bit more creative because we’ve had to come up with way to put guys in position to be successful. We’ve been a lot more efficient in the passing game the last couple weeks than we had before that.”