Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Green Bay Adjusts its Targets in Dispatching Atlanta

 By Eric Goska
Lambeau Field roughly three hours
before the Packers and Falcons kicked off

No Davante Adams. No Allen Lazard.

No problem.

The Green Bay Packers downed the Atlanta Falcons 30-16 Monday night. Lacking its No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers, the team leaned heavily on its running backs and a tight end when taking to the air.

Injuries to Adams (hamstring) and Lazard (core) forced Green Bay to employ a cast of relative unknowns at receiver.  Youngsters Darrius Shepherd, Malik Taylor and Reggie Begelton manned the position at one time or another as the Packers improved to 4-0.

Shepherd played six games for Green Bay last year and caught one pass. Taylor spent all of last season on the team’s practice squad. Begelton, a CFL All-Star for Calgary, was added to the active roster in a move announced just hours before the game.

Once on the field, few passes came their way. Shepherd was targeted three times (two catches) and Taylor just once (one catch) against the Falcons.

Tending away from the inexperienced, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers directed most of his throws to a different trio. RB Jamaal Williams (8 catches), TE Robert Tonyan (6) and RB Aaron Jones (5) led the team in receiving.

Toss in one catch by RB Tyler Ervin, and a running back or a tight end came away with 20 of Rodgers’ 27 completions.

That’s quite a haul. And quite rare.

Running backs, of course, predate professional football. Tight ends arrived a bit later.

And who was the first tight end in Packers history?

“I would say the tight end position was introduced by Vince Lombardi in 1959,” Packers historian Cliff Christl wrote in an email. “Gary Knafelc was the first. No question about it. He won the job in camp and held it for two years. Ron Kramer took over in 1961.”

Green Bay has had its share of great running backs and tight ends. Even so, the two positions have combined to snag 20 or more catches in a regular-season game just six times.

A lonely sign parked along Stadium Drive.
Seventeen of the receptions by Williams, Jones, Ervin and Tonyan were part of scoring drives. Two by Williams fueled an advance that ended when Williams failed to score from the 1-yard line on fourth down late in the first quarter. One – a 20-yarder by Tonyan – helped burn clock in the closing minutes.

Tonyan scored on receptions of 19, 8 and 21 yards. Jones crossed over from six yards out.

Rodgers targeted his backs and tight end 21 times. His only misfire occurred in the second quarter when he slid left to avoid pressure by DT Grady Jarrett and threw behind Ervin.

Together, Tonyan (98 yards), Williams (95), Jones (40) and Ervin (8) were responsible for 241 of Rodgers’ 327 passing yards. Unofficially – and from watching a replay at NFL Game Pass – more than half of that (126) came after the catch: Williams (67), Tonyan (31), Jones (20) and Ervin (8).

Those four players were key in Rodgers compiling a sparkling 147.5 passer rating.

Lynn Dickey was the first to connect with his tight ends and running backs at least 20 times in a game. He hooked up on 26 occasions with the quintet of RB Eddie Lee Ivery (11), TE Paul Coffman (9), RB Terdell Middleton (3), RB Steve Atkins (2) and RB Gerry Ellis (1) in a 14-14 tie with the Buccaneers in 1980.

Brett Favre had been the last. The gunslinger from Mississippi delivered 21 times to the likes of FB William Henderson (8), TE Mark Chmura (6), RB Darick Holmes (3), RB Dorsey Levens (3) and TE Tyrone Davis (1) in a 24-22 loss in Tampa Bay in 1998.

Nearly 22 years later, Green Bay again tilted heavily toward its tight end and running backs. Though the club was successful, here’s hoping Adams can return after the bye week and provide a greater accounting from the wide receiver position.

Top 20

Regular-season games in which Packers TEs and RBs combined for 20 or more receptions.

    Rec.        Tar.                   Date                  Opponent         Result

      26           29                   10-12-1980             Buccaneers         T, 14-14

      21           24                   11-30-1980             Buccaneers         L, 17-20

      21           30                   09-11-1994             Dolphins              L, 14-24

      21           25                   09-25-1994             Buccaneers         W, 30-3

      21           26                   12-07-1998             Buccaneers         L, 22-24

      20           21                   10-05-2020            Falcons               W, 30-16

Note: Prior to 1959, there were no games in which Packers running backs alone accounted for 20 or more pass receptions.

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