Film Room: Davante Adams

Film Room: Davante Adams
Film Room: Davante Adams
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Cian Fahey

We're not used to this. Aaron Rodgers isn't supposed to let this happen.

Against the Detroit Lions in Week 10, the Packers lost their third consecutive game of the season. They had gone unbeaten before losing to the Denver Broncos in Week 8. In that game, Aaron Rodgers had the worst game of his career -- or at least, the worst statistical output of his career. The quarterback threw the ball 22 times for 77 yards without a touchdown or an interception. He was sacked three times and ran twice for 31 yards with one fumble. At the time it appeared like an anomaly for the offense as a whole, but the warning signs had been there before the bye week when Rodgers completed just 16 of 29 passes against the San Diego Chargers.

It didn't prove to be an anomaly. Instead, the Packers offense has been a major problem over their past three games. Against the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions, the Packers scored 45 total points while losing both games by one score. Rodgers himself has thrown the ball 109 times in efforts to drag his team to victories from behind. He hasn't played at his best despite throwing for six touchdowns and just one interception over those two games, but the Packers aren't built for Rodgers to be just another outstanding quarterback this season. They need him to be playing closer to his potential as the greatest contemporary quarterback.

Rodgers is a mythical being. He is the quarterback who gets the "Give him 10 fans from the stands and he'll give you a top-five offense" treatment more than anyone else. We typically frame sports through memories, moments, and folklore, so the reach of individuals can often be overstated. With Rodgers, you have a quarterback who can make every single player around him better, but he still needs help. The Packers aren't giving him much help this season. Without Jordy Nelson, the receiver who tore his ACL before the start of the season, the offense is missing its second-best offensive player. Running back Eddie Lacy is on the active roster, but his performances suggest that he is out of shape and he was inactive last week with an ankle ailment.

Without Nelson, the Packers don't have a true No. 1 receiver. Randall Cobb is a talented player, but a much less effective one when he is the defense's primary option. James Jones is a good receiver who can win at the catch point, but would ideally be the third or fourth option instead of the first or second at this stage of his career. Davante Adams is the Packers' biggest problem. He was a second-round draft pick of Ted Thompson's in 2014, but has done nothing in his career so far to suggest he was worthy of that high of a selection. As a receiver, you typically need to do at least one of three things to be a productive player: consistently get open, consistently create yards after the catch, or consistently make contested catches. Adams doesn't excel at any of the three.

His performance against the Lions this past weekend epitomizes what he has been for the Packers' offense throughout this season so far. At first glance, it appears that Adams had a decent game; he caught 10 passes for 79 yards. However, he was targeted 21 times, and 15 of those passes were catchable. The catchable targets don't include plays where it appeared that Rodgers threw an accurate pass but Adams simply lacked the physical ability to catch up to the ball or disengage from aggressive coverage. Seven of Adams' receptions came against off coverage and went for fewer than 10 yards. He could only beat press coverage for receptions by running slant routes.

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Adams failed to make wide-open receptions or contested catches on five occasions in this game. This isn't one of those plays. This is one of the uncatchable targets that Adams saw where he did nothing to help his quarterback. Adams runs a curl route where he shows off extremely slow feet and generally laborious motion. He makes no aggressive action, nor does he show off a burst of speed to move the defensive back off his spot. When he gets to the top of his route, Adams is blanketed in coverage. He doesn't keep working to create a throwing window for Rodgers, meaning the quarterback has to fit the pass into a tight window.

Rodgers' pass isn't necessarily a bad one. He had no margin for error and needed to throw Adams open. The receiver couldn't even disengage from his defensive back to get to the football, instead showing off a lack of athleticism that caused him to weakly fall to the ground.

Compare this route to that of Sammy Watkins against Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets this past week.

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The above gif is (obviously) in slow motion. Watkins is facing press coverage against a dramatically more talented cornerback. Everything about this play is more difficult than the one Adams was asked to make. Watkins showed off fluidity and strength to avoid the jam attempt from Revis before throwing him aside to release inside. Once inside, Watkins was aggressive in pushing downfield to force Revis to overcommit to recovering against the seam route. It was at that point that Watkins used his quickness to make a decisive cut with his right foot to turn towards the sideline. Watkins was wide open when the ball arrived.

Watkins' route created a huge throwing window for his quarterback. Tyrod Taylor didn't need to try and force the ball into a tight window or throw his receiver open. He could even wait for him to come open instead of trying to throw with anticipation. Those aren't benefits that Adams ever gives to Rodgers.

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Early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers fit the ball into Adams when he was blanketed in coverage by his defensive back. It was a perfect back-shoulder throw that fit through the defender's coverage and into Adams' stomach. The receiver only needed to secure the ball and fall down because he had a lot of space between his feet and the sideline despite the defender's contact. He couldn't hold on to the ball, though, because of that contact. This was one of five similar plays in this game where Adams either failed to make a contested catch or dropped a pass he simply should have caught. Rodgers had to be perfect just to create this opportunity for the receiver. He also needed a stroke of luck for the defensive back's arms to miss the ball as it flew through the air. Yet, despite getting both of those things, Adams still couldn't complete the play.

On the rare occasion that Adams actually did manage to create separation downfield, he couldn't complete the play again.

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The receiver faced press coverage at the line but the defensive back held his ground at the snap instead of engaging him aggressively. Adams was given a free release and took advantage of it by hesitating early in his route before accelerating down the sideline. Aaron Rodgers dropped a perfect pass over his shoulder for what would likely have been a touchdown. Adams appeared to be uncomfortable trying to track the ball into his hands before snatching at it in the air. The ball bounced off of Adams' hands and landed out of bounds for another incompletion.

Adams ran a 4.56 40 time at the combine, not a spectacular time, but he doesn't even play to that speed on the field. His laborious ways didn't cost him an opportunity to catch the ball on this occasion, but it does consistently hamper his ability to get open downfield. This was highlighted on a previous deep shot between Rodgers and Adams that didn't connect.

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Like he had on the previous play that was highlighted, Adams was able to win early in this route. He used another hesitation move to set the cornerback up so he could release freely down the sideline. The defensive back touches Adams to try and slow him down, but his contact is minimal so it should have no consequential impact on what Adams is doing. Even though Adams is essentially unopposed with the advantage of momentum carrying him away from the defender covering him, he is unable to pull away. The defender quickly recovers his position so he is on Adams' shoulder. Rodgers tried to lead Adams downfield and threw what looked like an accurate ball towards the pylon, but Adams simply couldn't catch up to it.

These are the plays that Jordy Nelson made for Rodgers. Nelson is one of the six or seven receivers who deserve consideration to be in the top five at his position. He was a superstar whose loss was always going to have a big impact on the Packers' passing game. How big that impact would be would be determined by his replacement. Expecting Adams to step into his role was simply unrealistic. James Jones offers a greater margin for error and more consistency at the catch point to Rodgers than Adams does.

Having a hindrance on the passing game would be less of an issue if the Packers had more receiving talent around Adams or if they were a better running team. The Packers' offensive line is built to protect the passer rather than clear out running lanes, so Eddie Lacy was always more important than was actually appreciated. At his best, Lacy is a creative runner with the physicality to break through running lanes and potential tacklers. He was never an explosive back but was always quick enough and fast enough with a short-area burst to be more than just an effective NFL starter. With Lacy as an ineffective/unavailable option so far this season, the Packers have remained an efficient running offense, ranking 12th in DVOA. However, they rank 22nd in the league in rushing attempts per game.

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In Lacy's place against the Lions, James Starks was the only running back to register a carry. He had 15 attempts for 42 yards with a long gain of 9. Noting Starks' longest attempt is important, because he is an explosive back who relies on big plays to be effective. He is a career backup who lacks the technical ability to be consistently effective between the tackles. Over the past three weeks, Starks has had a long of 15 yards while averaging 1.8, 3.9, and 2.8 yards per carry. Those numbers aren't coincidental.

Aaron Rodgers has made a number of uncharacteristic plays for the Packers over the past month or so of the season. That missed opportunity on the final play of the Panthers game stands out, though he had an even less understandable play earlier in the same game. A lack of trust has been pointed to, poor mechanics have been pointed to; hell, even Olivia Munn has been pointed to. In truth, Rodgers isn't the problem. He's not playing as well as he did last season, but he's still playing like one of the very best quarterbacks in the league. The problem with the Packers offense is that we have become accustomed to Rodgers elevating players around him to the point that those players then become overrated and the perception of their quarterback is warped. Jordy Nelson was one of the few truly great players they have had with Rodgers. Losing him was a major issue. Eddie Lacy may not have been a great running back up there with Le'veon Bell, Adrian Peterson, and Marshawn Lynch, but the drop-off from Lacy to Starks has been devastating when you consider the hit the passing game had already taken.

The foundation of the Packers' success is their offense. They can't afford to be inconsistent because their defense isn't a dominant unit. The franchise is still in a good position to make the playoffs and win their division, but a team's warts are typically highlighted more in the postseason. Right now, the Packers' warts are clearer than they have been all season long.


16 comments, Last at 22 Nov 2015, 7:07am

#1 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 18, 2015 - 2:07pm

If Adams is playing so poorly, why did he get more targets than any other receiver on Sunday?

Points: 0

#2 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 18, 2015 - 2:17pm

Rashean Mathis, who would have normally covered Adams, was on IR. If any receiver on your team is being covered by some random dudes named Nevin Lawson and Crezdon Butler, wouldn't you try to pick on them?

But you are right, in that after the 15th target or so, when it became clear that force feeding the ball to Adams wasn't working, they should have tried something else.

Points: 0

#5 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 18, 2015 - 3:31pm

Great article, and provides a very cogent explanation to what was a previously mystifying question to me (why the Packers offense is so broken).

Points: 0

#3 by TacticalSledgehammer // Nov 18, 2015 - 3:19pm

I much prefer this to going ESPN and watching Rob Demovsky suggest that Olivia Munn is the problem. I think it's the perfect storm of Rodgers being a little off, the o-line being a little off, the receivers not having that #1 option to bump everyone else down into their correct roles (Cobb as a #2, Adams #3, Jones #4, etc), and Lacy inexplicably just losing his mojo.

Points: 0

#6 by ammek // Nov 18, 2015 - 4:37pm

This is a great and very timely breakdown. I don't know much about WR technique, so when I saw the first gif I couldn't quite work out what it was trying to say. But as soon as I got the Sammy Watkins gif to load, it became crystal clear.

It's not been noted much, but Ty Montgomery has also been injured. He was the #4 receiver entering the season, and although he's even less experienced than Adams, he is at least speedier.

The Packers' coaches and Aaron Rodgers talked lots and lots about Adams' improvement during the offseason. Whenever they do that, it means the player concerned has been trying hard but underperforming. Green Bay hasn't had a disappointment at receiver since Robert Ferguson; there isn't much room for optimism in the clips above.

Points: 0

#9 by justanothersteve // Nov 19, 2015 - 1:10pm

The coaches may talk up a player showing improvement and it not being real. But Rodgers doesn't do that. He usually has cryptic words to show he's not happy with someone.

Points: 0

#15 by Theboardrider // Nov 22, 2015 - 6:48am

I thought the exact same thing watching those comps....great choices to really emphasize explosiveness and what it means for a receiver to "get open," and help his QB. Makes me want to watch some similar film of say Antonio Brown?

I've always felt that comments about how a teammate or someone on the team you coach, manage or own has "improved," or "had a great offseason..." etc, it can mean one of two things...

A: Player had a greet offseason

B: Trying to build his confidence

Your "definition," makes sense as an option C. Probably it was a bit of B & C....certainly doesn't appear to be A. Think of all the WR's in the league who, if they read this analysis...would be angry! They fight and claw for 5 looks a game, and a bum like Adams gets 21, catches 7, and displays a lack of understanding of his position and explosiveness on the others.

He's got some talent...if I were him, I'd spend this offseason with Cris Carter and the guys he works with each year. I think Cris usually works with Larry Fitzgerald and a few young bucks each year. They could probably help him a lot because a lot of this looks fixable.

Points: 0

#7 by ClavisRa // Nov 18, 2015 - 4:57pm

"Give him 10 fans from the stands and he'll give you a top-five offense", said NO ONE ever.

Rodgers is practically famous for not being able to overcome tough opponents. If a defense gets the better of him in the first half, they continue to get the better of him in the second half, almost always. He doesn't do comebacks. The loss of Nelson has hit Rodgers harder than it would have hit any other top quarterback. He's in a tough position, but no tougher than Brady who's down four o-line and two of his top receivers.

Rodgers is, obviously, great at hitting tight windows with velocity all over the field, and making accurate throws on a scramble. But, he's no star maker; he doesn't make bad receivers look good, nor average receivers look like stars.

Points: 0

#11 by Bossman60 // Nov 19, 2015 - 2:58pm

It may be hyperbole to call Rodgers a star maker, but if he isn't, who else is? Seems to me that extending plays and hitting tight windows anywhere on the field is primarily how a QB can make his receivers look better. Brady is great, but all things equal (scheme, protection, personnel, etc.) I'll take Rodgers any day.

The recent slump and annual playoff debacles are more of an indictment of the coaching staff than anything that you can pin on Rodgers. The refusal or inability to make in-game adjustments on both sides of the ball leads to more embarrassing results than should be acceptable for a team that is this perennially talented.

Points: 0

#13 by LionInAZ // Nov 20, 2015 - 12:15am

1. Plenty of people have noted how Packer receivers have failed away from Rodgers (Greg Jennings, James Jones), including Jones' resurgence with the 2015 Packets.

2. The Packers pass offense was still performing well in the first six weeks w/o Nelson, so his absence doesn't explain the recent collapse.

Points: 0

#14 by jtr // Nov 20, 2015 - 1:56pm

James Jones definitely undermines any argument that Rodgers doesn't make his receivers look better. Jones got cut by two teams before returning and playing well in GB. My impression of him is that he isn't any good at actually getting open, so he hasn't been able to produce anything without Rodgers pinpointing the ball to the six inches of separation between him and the DB.

Points: 0

#16 by Theboardrider // Nov 22, 2015 - 7:07am

I don't know if that's totally true...he may not elevate like Brady, but if Cobb wasn't drafted by the Packers, his career may have turned more like that of Desmond Howard or even Jacoby Jones.

And really, this was the first time I've ever read about Jordy Nelson in the lofty stratosphere that they put him. I'd like to see some similar tape on him to totally buy into that....

I think sometimes players grow and grow with their teammates. I think that Jordy became Jordy playing with Rodgers. If he had been drafted to the Browns, or Dolphins...not sure he's developed like he has in Green Bay. I remember in their Super Bowl win, he came really close to being the GOAT of that game and going down in Packers lore as the guy who dropped so many balls in his hands or numbers in the big game, and perhaps cost the Pack the win.

Points: 0

#8 by mehllageman56 // Nov 19, 2015 - 12:27pm

Great article, and thanks for the Revis/Watkins gif, a play I must have missed last Thursday. Was it the reception that clinched the game for the Bills? It seemed like Watkins was always almost a second away from taking the top off the defense, but it was a great battle between him and Revis.

Points: 0

#12 by duh // Nov 19, 2015 - 3:17pm

Yes, I believe that was the clinching reception. It really was an excellent job by Watkins.

Points: 0

#10 by nuclearbdgr // Nov 19, 2015 - 1:46pm

Minor comment - Lacy missed the Detroit game with a groin injury, not an ankle injury - the ankle injury was a couple of games back.

Points: 0

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