Are the Packers' receivers good enough or is help needed? It's complicated
The Packers' receiving corps has more to offer than the national narrative suggests, but it could still use a boost from a veteran not currently on the roster.
The Green Bay Packers' first sojourn across the pond unfolded in a hellacious fashion.
Despite playing with a 17-3 lead and de facto home-field advantage at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, breakdowns on both sides of the ball led to a 27-22 defeat at the hands of an undermanned New York Giants squad. The outcome reinforced existing concerns about a team that, while still sporting a winning record, hasn't lived up to its potential to this point in the season.
More than one issue has stymied the Packers. But while the defensive breakdowns have justifiable garnered criticism, the offensive inconsistencies have fallen squarely under the microscope. Aaron Rodgers, the two-time reigning MVP, hasn't come close to matching his stellar play of the previous two seasons. Some of the blame belongs to him, but the Davante Adams-less receiving corps has come under harsh criticism.
Without an All-Pro wideout creating easy answers for nearly every problem, Rodgers has looked more mortal than at any time in his Hall of Fame career. Even with his full complement of offensive linemen and arguably the league's premier backfield tandem in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, the veteran signal-caller enters Week 6 ranked 17th at the position in estimated points added per play (0.061) but ninth in completion percentage above expectation (1.9). That combination suggests a QB doing everything he can to lift the passing game but getting little help from his receivers.
With 12 regular-season games left on the schedule, the Packers have some time to correct their course. Green Bay has the resources to alter the supporting cast around Rodgers and, given his age and the uncertainty surrounding his retirement plans, have no shortage of motivation to make win-now moves. The conference remains wide open and no team in the NFC North has the inside track to the division crown.
But has the receiving corps let Rodgers down or is that simply a convenient narrative that shifts the blame from others?
Well, it's complicated.
Since trading Adams in March, the Packers' efforts to restock their receiving corps have drawn plenty of attention from all corners of the NFL world. For a time, every big-name wideout that seemed semi-plausibly attainable had his name connected with Green Bay, with A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, and others generating trade buzz.
However, the superstar successor to Adams never arrived. Instead, the Packers elevated Allen Lazard to a featured role and added Sammy Watkins as a low-cost April signing while doing most of the receiver shopping during the 2022 NFL Draft. General manager Brian Gutekunst traded two second-round picks -- one of which came in the Adams trade -- to select North Dakota State's Christian Watson. Gutekunst then added Nevada's Romeo Doubs and Nebraska's Samori Toure on Day 3.
Understandably, the approach drew criticism from several corners, including and especially the Packers' fan base.
Each time the passing game has struggled this season, countless pundits have pointed to the receiving corps as the chief culprit. Surely, losing a bona fide superstar hurt the offense, but the wideouts have delivered better play than their critics acknowledge. Doubs in particular has eluded defenders consistently even if his quarterback hasn't always provided the pay-off.
Through five games, Doubs has beaten coverage at eye-popping rates. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the rookie averages 3.8 yards of separation from the nearest defender, more than a full yard ahead of any other wideout on the roster with at least 100 routes run. Doubs' open rate (the percentage of targets on which the receiver has at least 3 yards of separation) comes in at 48.3% and his wide-open rate (at least 5 yards) at 31.0%. In any context, those figures seem staggering.
However, they look even more remarkable when compared to Adams'. In his final season with the Packers, the All-Pro averages 2.9 yards of separation while delivering an open rate of 40.2% and a wide-open rate of 15.4%. Rodgers took full advantage of Adams' ability to slip defenders, resulting in more than 1,500 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
And while opposing defenses have long keyed on Adams, Doubs has already begun drawing primary coverage. The Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers' last two opponents, both rolled safeties toward the rookie's side of the field. Of course, that doesn't mean Doubs has faced coverage of the exact same degree of difficulty as Adams, but the difference between the two doesn't appear as large as one might assume.
So why hasn't Doubs' ability to get open manifested as more production? Rodgers, especially in the first two weeks, didn't look the rookie wideout's direction as much as his separation warranted. The situation shares more than a passing resemblance to Adams' debut season where Rodgers overlooked him too often.
"There were games where I didn't give Davante a ton of looks and you go back and watch the film and think, 'Man, this guy is open, often,'" Rodgers said last Tuesday on The Pat McAfee Show.
Timing issues between Rodgers and Doubs on deeper routes have also limited their productivity early in the season. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the rookie has run 71 routes that took him more than 15 yards down the field. However, Doubs doesn't always take the optimal path to the spot Rodgers expects him to hit. This came up most noticeably on a slot fade Doubs ran against the New England Patriots, resulting in a pass sailed over the wideout's head. Those sorts of mistakes have led Rodgers to target Doubs infrequently on go routes (7.1%) and corner routes (0%).
"Let's face it, the farther you throw the ball down the field, the less percentage it is that it's going to be complete," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. "And you'd always like to throw the perfect ball on every play. That's not going to happen all the time. I think there's some things that we can do from a protection standpoint that maybe give Aaron a tick more time to him being in balance in the pocket. And then the wideouts' separation, I think everybody has to improve."
It takes time for a quarterback to build that rapport with a receiver, especially one as young as Doubs. That will only come with reps. The Packers will keep giving the rookie those opportunities, and the production should eventually follow.