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Missed connection: Adams struggling to make impact in Packers offense

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Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, November 5, 2017

GREEN BAY--Other teams have treated Davante Adams as the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 receiver, so it's a reasonable question to ask: Why haven't coach Mike McCarthy and his offensive staff?

Starting with the Detroit Lions on Monday night, it's time they did.

If quarterback Brett Hundley is going to have success this season, he's going to need a go-to receiver, someone he knows will be in a specific place against any coverage, will turn a 5-yard pass into a 9-yard gain on third-and-8 and will win a one-on-one deep down the sideline when it really counts.

Adams has been targeted more than any receiver on the team, but his catch percentage of 55.6 is lower than Jordy Nelson (61.9), Randall Cobb (73.7), Martellus Bennett (63.2) and Ty Montgomery (71.4).

You could pin that poor percentage on Adams, who has three drops this season—Nelson and Cobb have zero—and was catching just 59 percent of Aaron Rodgers' passes before Hundley replaced him.

But it became clear in Week 5, after Adams destroyed Dallas rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis on the game-winning drive, that he was the Packers' most dangerous receiving threat. Minnesota confirmed it the following week by putting star cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Adams whenever he lined up outside.

It continued in Week 7 when New Orleans had first-round pick Marcus Lattimore follow Adams wherever he went.

On Monday night, it's almost certain the Lions will have their best corner, Darius Slay, follow Adams wherever he goes.

If you're the Packers, don't you work a little harder to get your top receiving threat open? The opposition has altered its defense to account for Adams' talents; why wouldn't the Packers counter that to take advantage of those same talents?

“Without getting into the detail of it, no doubt about it,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said of helping Adams. “No. 1, anytime you're drawing their best defender that says something about the player that we all know Davante is.

“But there are certainly ways that we can help in that situation. And there's other ways where you take the challenge, 1-on-1 vs. 1-on-1, best-vs.-best and you win your 1-on-1 battles. You kind of look at it from that standpoint as well.”

Young quarterbacks benefit from having go-to receivers.

When Mike Holmgren had very few receiver options beyond Sterling Sharpe, he made it possible for Brett Favre to complete 108 passes to Sharpe in '92 and 112 in '93, Favre's first two years as a starter. Holmgren knew he would have to diversify the offense at some point, but he won nine games both of those years and a playoff game in Detroit in '93 when Favre found Sharpe in the end zone for a 40-yard game-winning touchdown with 55 seconds left.

When Rodgers was in his first year as a starter, he connected right away with Greg Jennings, who went from 53 catches in '07 with Favre at quarterback to 80 in '08. The year prior, Donald Driver had led the team with 82 receptions, but Rodgers started favoring Jennings when he took over.

The best way to help Adams would be to put him in the slot more often where he isn't limited by the boundary when running routes. Adams has seen only a small share of snaps with one or two receivers lined up outside of his position. They are reserved mostly for Nelson, Cobb and tight end Martellus Bennett.

Since Hundley took over early in the Vikings game, Adams has been the outside receiver on the left 55 times and on the right 48 times (including plays where penalties were called). He has been in the slot—at least one receiver lined up outside of him—just nine times.

It means he has been in the slot only 8.3 percent of the time, which is far less than the 18.1 percent he was in the slot when Rodgers was playing. Both of those numbers are relatively low and need to change if the Packers are going to get the most out of Adams.

A case in point is the Vikings game. Rhodes was following Adams just about everywhere except when he lined up in the slot, which occurred four times. Hundley threw to Adams on three of those plays and completed two passes, one for a 14-yard touchdown and the other for a 19-yard gain.

As far as Adams is concerned, the coaches call the plays and he runs the routes. He said every receiver wants to be featured, but with the Packers there is enough talent to spread the wealth around.

That may be true, but to say McCarthy didn't create better situations for Driver, then Jennings and later Nelson and Cobb would be erroneous.

Lining up in the slot alone allows a receiver to avoid press coverage because he's usually stationed off the line of scrimmage. It allows the receiver two directions to work when setting up the cornerback with body fakes. And it allows for quick hitters up the middle when the defense blitzes, some of which can turn into big plays.

The Packers do move their receivers into different positions along the line of scrimmage and often give Adams one side of the field to work by himself, but since he has been drawing the other team's top corner, not much has changed.

“We know how we want to approach a particular defender,” receivers coach Luke Getsy said. “The other part of it is to move Davante around, and make that defender move and play different spots and different routes.

“We're not just going to let them sit in one spot all day and defend the same route all day. I think we do a really good job of that here.”

Maybe they'll do more of it starting Monday night, but the bottom line is they have not passed the torch from Nelson to Adams, despite the latter leading the team with 30 receptions for 351 yards and five touchdowns.

What's more, they've wasted a lot of slot opportunities with Bennett, who has been a huge disappointment as a receiver and isn't expected to play against the Lions because of a shoulder injury. His blocking has helped considerably, but he has seven drops and is averaging 9.7 yards per catch.

He consistently lines up in the slot and should have more than 24 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown for all the favorable positions the Packers have put him in. Those are positions where Adams could be making a difference.

When Rodgers is the quarterback, the offense attempts to find the best match-up based on the coverage, so the ball can go almost anywhere. The receivers' routes rarely are fixed; they are adjusted based on coverages.

But McCarthy moved Nelson into the slot more when he started receiving double coverage and put Cobb in the backfield to get him more involved. With a young quarterback trying to find his way, it only makes sense to do everything you can to get him connected with the team's best receiver.

Adams is that guy.



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