Editor's note: This was updated after Friday's news that Jordy Nelson won't play Sunday.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers has relied on Jordy Nelson more than any other receiver since “run the table” became a thing. In the Green Bay Packers' seven-game win streak, which includes Sunday’s playoff victory over the New York Giants, the quarterback threw Nelson’s way more than anyone else's.
With remarkable success. The duo connected on 80.4 percent of their attempts (45 of 56) and five touchdowns.
Yet there was Rodgers at his locker Wednesday afternoon, speaking confidently about the Packers' chances in Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, even if Nelson can’t play because of the rib injury he sustained against the Giants. It was learned Friday that Nelson will not be able to play.
Last season, the Packers’ offense struggled without Nelson, who never played because of his training-camp ACL tear. Last season marked the only time in Rodgers’ tenure as starter that the Packers finished outside the top 10 in passing yards, and they weren’t even close, at tied for 25th.
Why does Rodgers feel different this time around? Let him list the ways.
“We're doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better,” Rodgers said. “I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we're getting more contributions from the tight end at this point, and Richard [Rodgers] and Jared [Cook] are making plays for us, and I think we're a little deeper at receiver now with the emergence of Geronimo [Allison]. Davante [Adams] is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well.”
Let’s examine Rodgers’ statement piece by piece.
There has been more continuity on the Packers' offensive line than there was last season, when Josh Sitton was the only player to start every game. This season, three of the five starters -- tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga plus left guard Lane Taylor -- have started every game. Right guard T.J. Lang has started all but three, and center Corey Linsley has started the past 10 since he returned from a hamstring injury.
The addition of Cook has not only given Rodgers a tall, athletic target at tight end, but it has also forced defenses to take attention away from others and focus on Cook. As a result, Rodgers’ production with Cook on the field -- even when the QB isn't throwing to Cook -- has been significantly better than without him. Rodgers has 21 touchdowns and just one interception with Cook on the field, compared to 23 and six without him, and he is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt with Cook on the field and 6.7 without him, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Allison stepped in late in the season and caught eight passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in the final two games of the regular season. Cobb missed both games because of an ankle injury. It’s clear that Rodgers trusts Allison, given how much he has praised the rookie receiver.
“It helps me a lot,” Allison said of Rodgers' confidence in him. “It just continues to build my confidence with him and just my personal confidence with myself. I just want to go out there, execute and make plays for him and the team."
Then there is Adams, who last season battled an ankle injury that left him unable to get open consistently, even when he did play. This season, Adams played in every game and set career highs with 75 catches, 997 yards and 12 touchdowns. That doesn’t include his eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Giants -- all after Nelson was knocked out of the game.
“I think I’m ready for as big of a role as I need to play,” Adams said. “Obviously, my quarterback has a lot of faith in me. We’ve been doing a lot of great things this year and obviously this postseason as well.”
Cobb’s versatility will be crucial without Nelson. He can play every receiver spot in the slot or outside, and after he sat out the final two regular-season games, Cobb's ankle injury appears close to fully healed. He showed as much with five catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants. Together, Adams and Cobb largely carried things after Nelson's injury against the Giants.
“I don’t think anybody was stopping Randall the other night,” Rodgers said. “The beauty is we’ve had a lot of different guys have big games for us. It hasn’t been just one guy all season, even with Jordy out there. Davante’s had some big games for us, Ty [Montgomery]'s had some big games for us, Randall’s had some big games, Jared’s had some big games. We have a lot of weapons. It’s going to, obviously, change some things if he doesn’t go, but the second half and the end of the second quarter, we didn’t have him either, and we scored a bunch of points. We’re confident.”