James Jones had only one pass thrown his way last Sunday in San Diego, and he hauled it in for a 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Such is the life of a receiver in the Green Bay Packers’ offense. With so many weapons to choose from, quarterback Aaron Rodgers could fire anyone’s way at any time, or perhaps at the most crucial time, regardless of a receiver’s contributions that day.
In other words, Rodgers’ receivers have to adopt that ol’ Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” If multiple hours each week in the film room and on the practice field will ultimately be just for that one pass in a game, it’s best to make it count.
“The proof is in the trust and belief we have here as far as our preparation leading to good things,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “That’s really the starting point. When you look at our guys, they trust and believe in each other.”
Jones’ one-catch, one-touchdown day on the stutter-and-go route at Qualcomm Stadium was actually his second such outing this season and the fourth by a Green Bay pass-catcher in 2011.
In Week 6 against St. Louis, Jones also caught only one pass, a backside post route for a 35-yard TD. Jordy Nelson caught only one pass in Carolina in Week 2 and took it for an 84-yard score. Fullback John Kuhn’s only catch in Minnesota in Week 7, and one of only eight catches on the season, went for a 2-yard TD.
That this can happen so frequently is a tribute both to the receivers’ constant readiness to make a big play at any moment and to Rodgers’ penchant for always taking what the defense gives him.
“I’m just glad those guys run each route as if they’re going to get the ball,” Rodgers said. “The way our offense goes, it could be a different guy every week depending how they’re going to play us.”
The one-catch, one-TD stat line started to pop up late last season as the Packers began their current 14-game winning streak, which may not entirely be coincidence.
In Week 17 with a playoff berth on the line against the Bears, tight end Donald Lee’s lone catch was for a 1-yard touchdown – the winning touchdown, it turned out.
Then against Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card round, tight end Tom Crabtree caught one pass, for a 7-yard score, after catching only four passes the entire regular season. Jones also had one catch against Philly, for a 9-yard TD, but he later dropped what could have been a 63-yard TD in the final minute of the first half.
“You have to be ready when your number is called and make the play,” Crabtree said. “I have plenty of games where it’s not called, and that’s fine with me. I just know it could be any play that I’m out there.”
Players will have some idea if their number might be called in scoring territory based on the plays that are practiced as part of the red-zone game plan during the week, but that’s still no guarantee.
There’s also no knowing if that red-zone play will be called on the first trip in close, as in Crabtree’s case in Philly last season, or in the fourth quarter with the game more in the balance, as in Jones’ case last week in San Diego.
“The important thing is sticking with the way you practice all week and carrying that over into the game,” Crabtree said. “You have to treat it like any other play and go about your business.”
The Packers’ business on offense this year has been to make every skill player on the field a legitimate threat. Back in Week 5 in Atlanta, Rodgers set the franchise record by completing passes to 12 different receivers in one game.
So far this year through eight games, seven different players have caught a TD pass from Rodgers. His personal high as the starting quarterback is 10, from his first season in 2008, and the odds would seem good that he’ll at least match that this year. Running backs James Starks and Ryan Grant, plus tight ends Crabtree, Andrew Quarless and D.J. Williams, have all caught passes this season but haven’t yet scored.
“The guys know how I play,” Rodgers said. “I’m going to go through my progression and try to find the open guy, and I think a lot of those guys are enjoying their opportunities, making the most of them, and hopefully having the season they want.”
The undefeated record sure helps, but it’s players making that one play matter that has helped forge that record, too.
“It’s putting the team first,” Bennett said. “When you are in position to make a play, be ready to make that play through your preparation. I think all of our guys practice at a high level so that when those opportunities present themselves in the games, we’re ready to respond.”
Injury update: Defensive end Mike Neal practiced on a limited basis for a second straight day on Friday but still has not taken any team (11-on-11) snaps, according to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who suggested that game action could be a little ways off yet.
“I think you have to really increase his activity at practice to get to the point I feel he’s ready for a game,” McCarthy said. “We’ll take it one hurdle at a time and as he continues to cross them and everything looks positive from a medical standpoint, time will answer that.”
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews (knee) returned to practice on Friday after sitting out on Thursday and was a limited participant. The rest of Green Bay’s injury report remained unchanged. Additional coverage - Nov. 11