Packers excited for rare gathering of 4 top WRs
Aaron Rodgers is putting up MVP-worthy numbers again, throwing for more touchdowns than anyone in the NFL and ranking near the top in completions and yards passing.
Imagine if he'd had all of his favorite toys for the whole year.
With Randall Cobb back from a sprained ankle and Jordy Nelson planning to play in Saturday night's NFC wild-card game against Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers finally will have all four top receivers for the first time in, essentially, three months.
"It makes us very dangerous," Greg Jennings said Thursday. "It's pretty obvious when we have all four guys healthy, the amount of big plays that we can accumulate goes up. Aaron has a lot more options."
There's no question Rodgers is a special quarterback, one of the league's finest, and he'd put up impressive numbers if he had only one or two guys to throw to. But he has four — count 'em, four — receivers who could be No. 1s on many other teams.
"I don't think so," Nelson said when asked if any other team is as loaded at receiver as the Packers. "I don't think you can go four and five deep like we can."
Jennings had 1,000-yard seasons from 2008-10, and came up just short (949) last year despite missing three games. Nelson has a career average of 15.1 yards per catch, and joined Jennings in the 1,000-yard club last year. James Jones led the NFL with 14 TD catches this year, and matched a Packers record with two scores in three straight games. Cobb is the newest of the bunch, and all the second-year receiver has done is lead the team in catches (80) and yards receiving (954).
Add in big tight end Jermichael Finley and you can see why defensive coordinators have nightmares about facing the Packers.
"You can go to any one of them and get a big play, so it makes it more difficult for defenses to defend," Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "If (opponents) only have one guy or two guys that they have to defend against, they can structure their defenses and set it up in certain ways to take those guys away. But if you have four out there, and sometimes even five, it makes it more difficult.
"So if it's more difficult for them, it's advantageous for us."
But injuries have kept the Packers (11-5) from making full use of that advantage. The Big Four have played less than three full games together this year, and you have to go all the way back to the Sept. 24 game in Seattle for when they were last all at full strength. (Yes, they were all available for the Dec. 2 game against the Vikings, but Nelson was gone after the second series with a hamstring injury.)
Jennings was hurt in the season opener, and wound up missing eight of the first 11 games with a torn muscle in his abdomen. Nelson was out for four games with a hamstring injury. And Cobb, who's also been Green Bay's primary kick returner, was sidelined last week with a sprained ankle.
Only Jones made it through the entire season unscathed.
"It's been a while," Nelson agreed. "Hopefully we can go out and perform well, make a lot of plays and play a few games together. That's what you want. You want to be at full strength going into the playoffs, and I think we're as healthy as we can be."
To get an idea just how potent the Packers could be, look at their last three games, when only one of the Big Four was on the sidelines. Rodgers has thrown for 998 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cobb, Jones and Jennings have had 100-yard games, and each game has had three receivers with five or more catches. Green Bay has put up 110 points, including hanging a season-high 55 on Tennessee.
Yes, the Packers lost at Minnesota on Sunday. But the offense found another gear after an uncharacteristically slow start on the first three drives, outgaining and outscoring the Vikings over the final 40 minutes. Jennings had his best showing since his return with 120 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches, while Nelson averaged a whopping 29 yards on his three catches.
Finley's eight catches gave him 61 for the year, a Packers record for a tight end.
"We definitely got it going," Jennings said. "Felt good with what we were seeing, ARod was delivering the ball on the point and guys were making plays all across the field. Are there some things we could have done better as a whole? Absolutely. But we got another shot at it. We've got a chance to make it right this week."
And they'll be doing it at full strength.
Cobb was held out last weekend as something of a precaution, but he's practiced all week. Nelson was a question mark after he banged up his knee against the Vikings. But he was a full participant in practice Thursday and said "no, none whatsoever" when asked if there was any question he'd play.
"We were hoping that, come this time, everyone would be together and ready to go and we are," Nelson said. "And we look forward to the opportunity."
Notes: Coach Mike McCarthy said there won't be a rep count on Charles Woodson, who will be playing his first game since breaking his collarbone Oct. 21. "We're going to let him play and communicate on the sidelines and make sure he's OK," McCarthy said. "He's been really pushing the conditioning really the last five or six weeks and he has been practicing the last four weeks. It's just that transition to the games." ... CB Tramon Williams missed Thursday's practice with the flu.
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