GREEN BAY — The ball sailed out of bounds, with Aaron Rodgers having thrown it safely away into the Chicago Bears’ bench. The play had not gone as planned.
It came early in the third quarter of the Green Bay Packers’ 10-3 win over the Bears last week, a second-and-7 crossing route run by No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams, who’d spent most of the game being shadowed by Bears All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller with help from elsewhere on Chicago’s outstanding defense.
But as Adams came out of his break, not only did he have cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix bracketing him, but linebacker Roquan Smith had also joined the effort — meaning Adams was, indeed, triple covered.
As the play ended, there was Adams, demonstratively counting how many guys had been on him. And then NBC Sports’ cameras cut to Rodgers, wearing a bewildered smile.
“I had to make sure I got it right. 1 … 2 … 3 … yeah, there’s three people covering me right now. On a crossing route at that,” Adams recounted with a chuckle this week as the Packers turned their attention to the Minnesota Vikings for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
Asked if he appreciated the level of respect such a play showed him, Adams replied: “It means a lot, but I still want the ball. Obviously, it means that they were concerned with where I am on the field, but that’s no excuse. It happens to (Atlanta’s) Julio (Jones), it happens to a bunch of people. You still have to find ways to get the ball.”
First-year coach Matt LaFleur said the play was run as designed, but Chicago’s defense sniffed it out, covering Adams perfectly while Smith, having not bitten on the play-action run fake, had complicated matters by also dropping into coverage.
The play underscored just how much of a priority the Bears had made of defending Adams, and to some degree showed how little respect they had for the Packers’ other wide receivers — Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Trevor Davis and Jake Kumerow.
“I knew there was a chance it could be well-defended. It was a different (play-) action than we’ve ever tried before under center,” LaFleur explained. “To the Bears’ credit, they had the right coverage called for that play. That happens from time to time.
“It certainly is a challenge when you have a legitimate No. 1. We’ve got to do a great job of feeding the other guys to alleviate that pressure to get him the ball.”
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That will be vital against the Vikings, who come into the game with another top-flight corner they figure to put on Adams in Xavier Rhodes, and coming off a game in which they totally negated Jones in a 28-12 win over the Falcons. Despite being targeted 11 times, Jones caught just six passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett replied when asked if he expects the Vikings to employ the same approach on Adams as they did on Jones. “That’s definitely something they’ll consider, so you have to be ready for that and other guys. If those guys take him away, somebody else is going to have to step up.”
And therein lies the challenge for the Packers. While Adams was targeted a team-high eight times, he caught only four passes for 31 yards against the Bears. Valdes-Scantling, with a 47-yard catch that set up the game’s only touchdown, had three other catches for the not-so-grand total of 5 yards; Allison wasn’t even targeted for a single pass; Davis had one 28-yard catch; and Kumerow played only one offensive snap.
“If a team feels like they can take away the No. 1 guy, and you don’t have any answer, you don’t want to be in that predicament. You want to have answers,” Allison said Thursday. “It’s important for the guys behind the No. 1 guy to always be prepared. Teams are going to do that all year. They’re going to try to take away your star player. It’s just a matter of, the opportunities have to be there (for the other receivers), and then when they get presented, you’ve got to capitalize on them.”
The issue for the Packers is obvious: Adams is their best offensive perimeter threat and they want to get him the ball as much as they can. At the same time, they don’t want Rodgers eschewing other receivers who are open because he wants to get the ball to his No. 1 target.
“I think the key is you never want to force-feed somebody because you’re just limiting your possibilities,” LaFleur said. “You definitely want to attack coverage and try to put people in position where you think maybe some of those holes could be, but I think you get into trouble sometimes if you really to force-feed somebody the football.”
Added Rodgers: “It’s finding ways to get (Adams) the ball in sets or alignments or situations. Obviously, he’ll be moving around on either side. It comes down to a lot of those one-on-one matchups with a great corner.”
That means the Packers have two options if they want to get Adams more involved Sunday without forcing the ball to him too much: Do a better job of scheming him open within LaFleur’s system and Rodgers taking mild risks by throwing to Adams even when he’s technically well-covered.
“(Last week) was very disappointing, especially for me. There’s no secret, I’m a big part of this offense and how it moves,” Adams said. “So if I’m not in a position where I can make a play or if I can’t make a play in whatever way or the offense isn’t moving, I’ll never complain and say, ‘I need the ball more,’ but I’m one of the ones that puts the ball into the end zone. And I like to do it a lot.
“Obviously we won, so that trumped everything, But yes, it gets to me because I expect a lot from this offense with the personnel we have.”