I apologize for the length of this post, but I think it's a necessary issue to explore in-depth. Plus I got out of my stats course early, so I've got numbers on the brain. All statistics are available at nfl.com.
Kevin Seifert is in charge of the NFC North blog at ESPN.com. He does a great job rounding up news and analysis on the four teams in the Black and Blue division. In his latest post, he linked an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette by Rob Demovsky about the growing on-field connection between Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings.
The article doesn't come out and say that Jennings is Rodgers' favorite target, but I'm going to let the article say it for me:
“We had a similar play on a previous drive where I tried to hit Greg real quick, and I threw it behind him,” Rodgers said. “I was pretty upset at myself. We came back to a similar play call, a quick slant to Greg. I feel like, and I know our coaching staff does as well, if you can get Greg Jennings the ball with separation, good things are going to happen.”
That last line is the telling one. Aaron Rodgers and McCarthy's staff feel that Jennings is the team's best reciever, a title held by Donald Driver for more than a few seasons. And rightfully so, for a long time Driver was the most consistent reciever on the offense, with five 1,000-yard seasons in the last six years.
But is that torch passing to the third-year pro out of Western Michigan? Here's some numbers from the preseason and weeks 1 and 2 to look at:
An area where Jennings and Driver are tied is in catches. Rodgers has gone 42/60 so far, and Jennings and Donald Driver have 11 receptions each over two games, making each responsible for 26% of Rodgers' completions. Adding on the pre-season stats makes Rodgers 79/114, with Driver and Jennings grabbing 20 and 16, respectively. Not too big of a difference percentage-wise, where Driver leads 17.5% to 14%. However, a major consideration to make is the fact that Jennings did not play in the first two pre-season games, which may have deflated his reception total.
A big difference can be seen when yardage is considered. Rodgers is 8th in the league in passing yards with 506. Jennings currently leads the NFL in recieving yards with 258, whereas Driver has only 90. Greg Jennings accounts for over 50% of Rodgers' passing yards, while Driver only has about 18%. If you add on the stats from the pre-season, Rodgers has 942 yards, and Jennings and Driver have 368 and 177, respectively. Pre-season plus weeks 1 and 2 work out to Jennings getting 39% of the yards compared to Driver's 19%.
The biggest reason for the discrepancy is mainly because of Jennings' big-play ability, as he has 4 receptions of 50+ yards (3 of them going for 60+), with three coming in the regular season. Driver, on the other hand, doesn't have a reception longer than 25 yards. This can be seen in a side-by-side comparison of each reciever's averages, where Jennings wins handily 23.5 YPC to Driver's 8.2.
So does this mean that Jennings has taken over as Green Bay's go-to reciever? Not quite. A closer breakdown of receptions by field position reveals something. The majority of Jennings' receptions has come from before the offense crosses midfield (8-11), and he has no catches in the red zone. Driver has most of his catches between the 20's (9-11), and has 1 catch in the red zone (a 2-yard score). In the pre-season as well, the closer to the opponent's goal line the Packers got, the more receptions Driver had.
So the moral of the story is this: When Green Bay is in their own territory, Jennings is the guy Rodgers is looking for because he can break off a huge gain at any moment. However, after midfield, Driver becomes more and more prominent because of his ability as a possession reciever.
It's still early in the season yet, but this is a trend well worth paying attention to as Driver's NFL career winds down. It will also be interesting to see who steps up to fill the void when Driver does retire (he's 34 next February) among James Jones, Jordy Nelson, or a player added to the team later on.