Going into their second preseason game against Pittsburgh, the Green Bay Packers and their fans were feeling good about just about everything. Las Vegas had them pegged as Super Bowl favorites, and their whole team was clicking well thanks in part to star receiver Jordy Nelson. By the time they got off the field in the Steel City, things looked a lot less rosy.
During the preseason game, Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL in his right knee. That injury will sideline Nelson for the entire 2015 NFL season, according to the Packers organization.
It’s difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game,” Aaron Rodgers said after Sunday’s game.
So what does that mean for the Packers? Well, it means the team just got noticeably worse. Vegas saw that right away, dropping the Packers’ Super Bowl odds from 9-2 to 6-1. Gamblers clearly think that Nelson’s loss is significant for the Packers – and they’re probably right. Here are the ways in which Jordy Nelson’s absence may – or may not – hurt his team.
The Rodgers Effect
Jordy Nelson is one of the best wide receivers in the game when he’s on the field, and there’s no doubt that Aaron Rodgers will be worse off without him. The media has been quick to point out, though, that Rodgers is one of the best in the game himself. He’s shown a significant ability to make the receivers around him better, and he played a big part in Nelson’s rise over the past few seasons. Maybe Rodgers can work his magic with Nelson’s backup, Davante Adams.
But Nelson’s breakout season (2011) came after several years of playing with Rodgers, so it’s not like Rodgers transformed him immediately. It’s probably true that Nelson needs Rodgers more than Rodgers needs Nelson, but there should be little doubt that the need is there.
One reason that Rodgers needs Jordy Nelson? The receiver’s size and athleticism. Randall Cobb, who is the team’s next-most productive receiver (he actually led the team in receiving yards in 2012), is short for a receiver: 5’10”, if you believe the team (and you probably shouldn’t). He can’t replace Nelson in end zone, jump ball-type situations. Nelson had 13 touchdowns last year; Cobb had zero. Even if the Packers can still march down the field as usual, they’re going to have a harder time scoring.
Randall Cobb’s Role
For the Packers to get near the end zone in the first place, they’re going to have to ask a lot of Randall Cobb. As the team’s next-best receiver, Cobb is going to have to step up to make up for Nelson’s absence.
But the problem with this is that Cobb’s success relies, in some part, on Nelson. Nelson was a huge threat downfield, and that forced opposing secondaries to counter him with deep safeties. With Jordy Nelson taking the top off of the defense, Cobb was much more productive than he might otherwise have been. Paradoxically, more throws to Cobb could make Cobb less productive, since the reason for the additional targets is a lack of downfield threats.
Run, Run, Run
The Packers’ vaunted passing attack is talked about all the time, and rightly so. But thanks to RB Eddie Lacy, the Packers of recent vintage haven’t had to rely quite so much on the air attack as they did during the years surrounding their Super Bowl season (2010). Lacy’s rushing ability will be even more important this year, as the Packers will need the run threat to better free up their now-less talented receiving corps. They’ll also be tempted to run more in red zone situations, since Nelson was their tall end zone receiver.
A Big Deal
Despite a growing media narrative that focuses on Rodgers’ ability to improve his receivers, the loss of Jordy Nelson is every bit as big as the Vegas odds makers believe. It will take some creative play calling and great seasons from Devante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Eddie Lacy to make up for Nelson’s absence – and even then, the Packers seem sure to score fewer points than they would have otherwise.
The Packers could still win the Super Bowl, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.
[image via Getty Images]