There is little doubt that many NFL experts consider the Green Bay Packers to be a Super Bowl contender. Two reasons why are Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.
Certainly, Rodgers and Nelson aren’t the only reasons to consider Green Bay a contender. The Packers have a top-10 defense and a number of studs on that side of the ball: Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, Sam Shields, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Damarious Randall, Morgan Burnett and others.
Offensively, the Packers also tout a strong running game and one of the best offensive lines in the league, it ranks third according to Pro Football Focus. Green Bay also has one of the best head coaches in the business, as well as depth at running back and wide receiver.
All the pieces are there. However, without Nelson being healthy last season, Rodgers struggled. He still threw for more than 3,800 yards and tossed 31 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions. Yet, his completion percentage dipped to 60 percent. He was sacked 46 times after being taken down 28 and 21 in previous seasons.
Rodgers saw his yards-per-game average drop from 273 in 2014 and 281 in 2013, to 238 in 2015. His yards-per-attempt was also a career low at 6.7, when his previous low as a starter was 7.5.
This may sound overly critical of Rodgers. It’s not meant to be. He was still one of the best players in pro football last season. His incredible plays against Arizona and Detroit proved that. Also the fact that the injury-laden Packers earned 10 wins, won a playoff game and came within a play of playing in the NFC Championship Game, tout his skills.
Rodgers wasn’t bad in 2015, but he wasn’t the MVP he was in 2014 either. That’s the Rodgers Green Bay needs to see this season and one thing that will help him get back to that level of play, is a healthy Nelson.
Not only did Nelson catch 98 and 85 passes during his last two healthy seasons, he also racked up 1,519 and 1,314 yards and 21 touchdowns. But Nelson matters more than just his production, it’s what he does to a defense.
Often times, when Nelson is outside, corners tend to play off because of his ability as a deep threat, that opens up easy screen passes and those check-with-me routes that Rodgers and Nelson have perfected so well. These plays, which are usually just quick, easy passes out to Nelson, have the potential for big gains because few corners can tackle Nelson one-on-one.
Nelson also destroys defenses with a number of short routes such as slants and hooks. Sometimes, these plays don’t get huge gains, but seven or eight yard plays, basically whenever you want, are crucial for NFL offenses.
So many times last season, the Packers got stuck in second-and-long, third-and-long and it was hard to recover. With Nelson and the quick passing game, that rarely happens. His presence also takes pressure off other wide outs like Randall Cobb or Davante Adams.
The extra attention Cobb saw in the slot last year affected him; this year, if Nelson is healthy, he should have more room to roam inside. The running game will also benefit, because believe it or not, Nelson is one of the best blocking receivers in football and you can bet Green Bay missed a few big runs in his absence.
Great players win championships and for the Packers’ best player Rodgers to be at his best, he needs Nelson to be at his.
That, above all other things, holds the key to Green Bay making a run at a fifth Super Bowl title in 2016.