How do you stop Packers WR Davante Adams? Teams have tried (almost) everything

GREEN BAY, Wis. – There’s one thing teams haven’t tried yet to stop Davante Adams.

Before last Sunday night, there were two.

But even the San Francisco 49ers’ most vicious effort -- a helmet-to-helmet hit by safety Jimmie Ward that knocked the wind out the Green Bay Packers wide receiver -- took out Adams for only one play. Remarkably, Adams returned after missing just a snap even when it looked like Ward’s hit -- intentional or not -- might have inflicted some serious harm.

“I know one way, for sure, but I can’t share it,” Adams said when asked if there’s something opposing teams haven’t tried.

“Well, there’s two. They tried one in the game [last Sunday], but I resurrected. Then after that there’s one left, but I’m not putting that one out there.”

So much for figuring out how to stop and Adams.

It turned out the season-opening, 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints wasn’t the beginning of the end for the Packers’ prolific quarterback-receiver combination but a reminder that opposing defensive coordinators have tried almost everything to take away quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target.

It worked for a week -- if you call holding Adams to five catches for 56 yards working.

The last two games, however, have been as productive as ever.

If Adams goes over 100 yards in Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), it will be his third straight 100-plus yard game for just the second time in his four-time Pro Bowl career. This after eight catches for 121 yards in the Week 2 win over the Lions and 12 for 132 in the last-second win at the 49ers.

All while teams have thrown more at Adams than anyone around here can remember.

“Not that I can think of,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said when asked if he’s ever seen Adams draw more attention. “We've definitely gotten looks that we haven't expected these first two weeks. The defenses are going against what they've done and basically played a lot softer, and I think that that goes to show the respect that they have for ‘Tae’ but also the respect they have for [Marquez Valdes-Scantling] and his ability to get on top of people.

“As a group, we provide so many different ways that we can attack that it makes teams a little bit scared.”

Coming off his record-setting, All-Pro season, Adams has seen a different approach to start this year. He’s been pressed at the line of scrimmage 41% of the time this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s up from 30% each of the last two seasons.

Why anyone would play press coverage (defined as less than three yards of cushion at the snap) on Adams, who is one of the best at beating defenders off the line of scrimmage, is beyond even Rodgers.

“Yeah, I mean some defenses want a challenge,” Rodgers said. “They want to challenge their guys and disrupt the timing in the passing game. That's what man coverage is built for, I believe, is to throw off the timing of the passing game and to give your defensive line a little more time to get after the quarterback. So I'm sure it's not gonna be the end of it. I'm sure more teams will do it [but it’s] definitely not something that 17 shies away from.”

It also means Rodgers has taken a few more chances throwing to Adams. Only 38% of Adams’ targets have been deemed as open (defined by ESPN Stats & Info as three-plus yards of separation), which would be his lowest rate since 2016.

Among all receivers with at least 20 targets through Week 3, Adams’ press percentage ranks fourth-highest in the NFL, while his open percentage ranks 24th best.

Adams, however, believes those press numbers are somewhat misleading.

“That stat is always going to be weird because I think the reason why I’m getting so much press now is because the run solutions and we take advantage of that, so that’s their way of eliminating that,” Adams said referring to the plays that are similar to RPOs in which Rodgers throws quickly to a receiver at or near the line of scrimmage.

“But the way you combat that – not combat it but you help your defense out – is by playing shell behind it," he said. "It’s not single press because, typically, that’s when we end up going over the top and stuff like that. I think that we win too much."

Through three weeks, Adams is on virtually the same catch-per-game pace (8.3) as last year, when he set the franchise record with 115 receptions (in 14 games). He’s ahead of last year’s yards-per-game pace (98 last year, 103 this season). The only spot he's off-pace on is touchdowns, with one through three games after catching 18 last year.

How have teams slowed him down in the red zone?

"They're cheating," Adams joked. "It's been a lot of doubles. I don't think I've gotten a single in the red zone yet. ... They're definitely gonna be doing that a lot more. It's not gonna be as easy, but last year they did the same thing, too. We'll find ways to definitely get me in there."

Who knows if the Steelers have figured out the one thing Adams thinks might work, but like everyone else they think they have a solid plan.

“Make sure we let everybody on the defense know exactly where he's at,” said veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who claimed he will not be following Adams wherever he goes.

“He's not just a, 'Hey, Joe, he's over there. Good luck.' Coach T [Mike Tomlin] said that in a meeting. He's a tremendous player and him playing with Aaron Rodgers for this long, they have a great chemistry together. They find each other all the time.”

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Brooke Pryor contributed to this report.