GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers is definitely not suggesting that the Green Bay Packers offense revert back to the early 1990s edition, when a young Brett Favre threw almost every pass to Sterling Sharpe — or so it seemed. Rodgers’ quarterbacking philosophy remains to spread the wealth.
Just not as much.
So even Rodgers, who has long said that his favorite receiver is “the one who’s open,” believes that he, coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin need to make a greater effort to get the ball to No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams — even if opposing defenses are hell-bent on not letting Adams beat them.
That was the approach the New England Patriots took with Adams last Sunday night, as Patriots coach Bill Belichick had Adams double-teamed most of the game.
Of all the things that disappointed Rodgers about the Packers’ 31-17 loss at Gillette Stadium, the biggest takeaway he had was that he didn’t try hard enough to get Adams the ball. Adams finished the game with six receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown on a team-high nine targets among Rodgers’ 39 pass attempts.
“I need to keep feeding Davante in those clutch situations. That’s what I’m most disappointed in myself about, is having him a couple times,” Rodgers said after the game. “The one time, I threw it to ‘EQ’ (rookie Equanimeous St. Brown) because he was coming open a little quicker than I thought he would. Maybe (I should) hold onto that and try to hit Davante down the field. He’s a tough cover and I’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the football.”
Rodgers was so bothered that he circled back to the subject toward the end of his postgame comments, adding, “I’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball. We’ve got to keep moving him around. We did a good job (against the Patriots) of moving him around (to the) No. 2, No. 3 (spots). But I’ve got to keep looking his way.”
Of course, it’s not all on Rodgers to make sure the Packers maximize Adams’ targets. The offensive scheme and play selection also play a role, so Rodgers, McCarthy and the offensive coaching staff must work together to get Adams more involved.
As the Packers prepped for this Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field, Adams’ opportunities were still on Rodgers’ mind. Even though Adams started the week 11th in the NFL in receiving yards (730, despite playing in one fewer game than six of the players ahead of him), eighth in receptions (58), tied for second in receiving touchdowns (seven) and seventh in receiving yards per game (91.3), Rodgers doesn’t think 87 targets in eight games is sufficient.
Asked how he reconciles wanting to throw more frequently to Adams with wanting to go through his progressions and throw to the open guy, Rodgers said making him the primary receiver in the progression would be a good start.
“It’s a combination of a couple things,” Rodgers said. “One is calling more plays for him where he’s in the No. 1 spot. We also have to run the ball a little more efficiently — well, more often; I think we run it pretty efficiently but more often to give us some better run-action stuff.
“And the second is just (me) trusting he’s going to be open. Like you said, the main receiver has been the open receiver for years. And he’s open a lot, so (we have to) keep finding ways to try to get him the ball.”
During the Favre-Sharpe salad days, Sharpe surpassed 100 receptions in each of Favre’s first two years as the starter, catching 108 passes for 1,461 yards and 13 TDs in 1992 and 112 passes for 1,274 yards and 11 TDs in 1993. He caught “only” 94 balls in 1994.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Packers targeted Sharpe 162 times in 1992, 189 times in 1993 and 159 times in 1994.
Adams is on pace to be targeted 174 times and catch 116 passes for 1,460 yards and 14 TDs. Rodgers has thrown 198 passes so far this season — he missed nearly half of the team’s season-opening win over Chicago with a knee injury before returning to rally the team to victory in the fourth quarter — and has a chance to break his single-season record for pass attempts (401, in 2016).
McCarthy acknowledged Thursday that Adams saw more double-teams against the Patriots than he’s seen in the past, and that while he anticipates that’ll continue, it’s incumbent on the coaching staff to scheme ways to get him the ball regardless.
“Davante, he’s earned that. He’s a force out there. You go back through the games, I don’t think there’s anybody that can just match him straight-up, 1-on-1,” McCarthy said. “We anticipate it going in. You just continue to move him around. He can play every position, every perimeter position in the offense – even if you have to put him in the backfield to try to get him some balls. That’s all part of the game plan.
“With that, it creates opportunities for the other guys. And that’s where we can get some more production there, too.”
For his part, Adams said he’s willing to do whatever the coaches ask — lining up wide, lining up in the slot, going in motion, starting out at running back, whatever — to make it harder for defenses to neutralize him.
“Anything within reason, obviously. I don’t feel comfortable snapping the ball, but I can line up anywhere and run whatever routes,” Adams said. “Whatever it is that they want me to do — obviously 2016 I played a little bit out of the backfield — whatever it is, I feel comfortable doing. It’s up to the coaches if they want me doing it, then we’ll figure it out.”
While both Adams and Rodgers said that there are times where Adams should be considered “open” even when he’s really not — because of his ability to go get the ball even with tight coverage from two players — offensive passing game coordinator Jim Hostler said it’s on the coaches more than anyone else to make sure their best player is getting the ball the most.
“I think it starts with us and our process of moving him around, (so defenses) don’t know where he’s at all the time. That’s our responsibility,” Hostler said. “We have to do a better job of that so when they are doubling him we’re moving him around and it’s not as easy for them to double.
“Obviously, the better a player you become, the longer you play in this league, the more attention you’re going to get and you’re going to have to beat double coverage. The great players on the perimeter in this league, they’re going to get doubled. Because that’s how this league is. This league is all about taking away your best players. So as that unfolds, Davante’s going to have to be able to beat two guys. That’s just the reality of being a great player. And he’s done a great job of that.”