The Green Bay Packers’ offense floundered in 2015, and much of the issues have been traced back to Jordy Nelson’s absence. Nelson tore his left ACL in August last season and after putting up more than 1,500 yards the year before, was forced to sit out the season.
This year, Nelson is on track to be ready to go when the Packers travel to Jacksonville for week one. His return should open up the offense once again because of a critical package of plays that the Packers love to use: max-protect, play-action passes. Aaron Rodgers even addressed this in particular when speaking with ESPN’s Jason Wilde earlier this summer:
It was a lot of play-action stuff, where we’re taking eight-man protection and taking shots down the field. And we didn’t have a guy who could take that spot.
Nelson’s return would allow the team to take those shots down the field, as his speed and route-running puts opposing corners and especially safeties in a very tough spot.
In a piece published on ESPN Insider Thursday, former Packers safety Matt Bowen illustrated how critical Nelson is to the offense. In this feature, Bowen drew up one play for each team’s offense that should be difficult or impossible for opposing defenses to stop.
Here is the play that he drew up for the Packers, which is notable for its synchronicity with what Rodgers described as the “Jordy Package”:
Play: Sting Route | Personnel: 21 (2WR-1TE-2RB)
How it works: With Jordy Nelson back in the mix for Green Bay, expect to see Aaron Rodgers take some deep shots versus Cover 2. The sting route is a double move designed to isolate Nelson versus a deep-half safety. With the Packers using max-protection off play action, Rodgers should have enough time to let this play develop. With Nelson (Z) in a reduced split, he gets a free release versus rolled up cornerback in two-deep. The Packers' receiver takes a straight, vertical release down the field and stems to the corner before breaking back to the post. This forces the deep-half safety to open his hips while Nelson breaks inside to beat his leverage. And with the X receiver running a deep dig route to hold, or occupy, the free safety, the middle of the field is now wide open for Rodgers to target Nelson over the top. Time to strike up the band and play the fight song. That's an easy six.
This is an independent NFL analyst coming up with a single play that aligns almost perfectly with what Aaron Rodgers described as the reason Nelson’s loss hurt the offense. That’s a pretty clear indication that the Packers’ schematic issues last season did indeed stem from Nelson’s absence. Granted, the coaching staff can probably be fairly criticized for not adjusting to the injury. However, the Packers should be able to return to the lofty offensive numbers that they put up in seasons past - at least barring other serious injuries.