GREEN BAY – Bryan Eidemiller is a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, so like every other green-and-gold die-hard, the general manager of the Best Buy store on Oneida Street spends every Sunday cheering for the team’s cadre of talented wide receivers.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that he found out that he’s been cheering against his professional best interests.
Amid a rash of dropped passes the past two weeks, wideout James Jones revealed Wednesday that he and his four fellow receivers – Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb – came up with their own punishment for drops.
“If you drop a ball in our group, you have to buy the whole group a $100 Best Buy gift card,” Jones said, chuckling. “I’ve got Best Buy cards in my locker right now.”
Sure enough, after Nelson, Jennings and Driver each dropped passes in last Sunday’s 24-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams, Jones had a handful of gift cards in the cubbyhole of his locker Wednesday.
“I’m still waiting on Donald’s,” he said with a laugh.
Jones said running backs and tight ends are exempt from the punishment program, so when rookie tight end D.J. Williams had the team’s fourth drop against the Rams, he wasn’t out any money. Same for starting tight end Jermichael Finley after he dropped three passes, according to the receivers’ grading system, on Oct. 9 at Atlanta.
“If Greg or Jordy or Donald had done that, it would have been $300 (to each guy),” Jones said.
According to notoriously tough grader Joe Philbin, the team’s offensive coordinator, the Packers’ backs, tight ends and receivers dropped a combined “five or six” passes in the season’s first four games. But in the last two weeks, Philbin has them down for 10 drops – a wholly unacceptable number – entering Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
“That’s a trend that we honestly as coaches – we’re not real smart – but it’s safe to say when you have 10 drops in two weeks, that’s a concern,” Philbin said. “We have to get back to catching the football better.
“I think a couple of them, it was clear that their intentions were good – they wanted to maybe advance the football and make a guy miss and move the chains forward, and I think they maybe just didn’t take care of first things first. That’s what it looked like on tape to us.”
To that end, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he added an additional catching drill in practice Wednesday.
“It’s been addressed,” McCarthy said. “We need to do a better job of catching the football. Especially indoors -- we have no excuse. We’re playing in a dome this week, we had a challenge last week in the wind, we can learn from that experience, we had a couple balls that got away from us last week against St. Louis that I’m sure we wish would could have back.”
Aaron Rodgers, who has seen two of his three interceptions on the season go off receivers’ hands, certainly isn’t a fan of dropped passes, but the quarterback said on his weekly radio show on ESPNMilwaukee and ESPNMadison that he is more tolerant of dropped passes than he is of assignment errors. He also took some of the blame for a few of the drops against the Rams, saying he needs to throw a better ball in windy conditions like the Packers faced last week.
“It’s very frustrating at the time, but not as frustrating as a mental mistake,” Rodgers said. “I’ve said in the past, physical mistakes are going to happen. It’s part of the game. We’re human, we make errors physically. But the mental errors are ones I just really have a hard time with because I think that’s all about preparation.
“I know the kind of time that the coaches put in, getting us ready with this game plan, getting us prepared. I know the kind of time that I put in, preparing myself and I think there’s an expectation that each player puts in a similar amount of time to be ready for the game. And those mental mistakes are just uncalled for in my opinion. And that’s why I’m more upset about those than the drops.
“The drops are going to happen. It hurts worse when a drop becomes an interception, but that’s part of the game. It’s going to happen. You’re frustrated by it, but what are you going to do? The guy’s not trying to drop the ball and gift-wrap them a pick. It’s frustrating in a key situation, but they’re going to happen. I think you just have to learn to deal with them. It’s frustrating right when it happens because you’re just ticked about it, but it’s a part of the game.”
It’s important to note that drops are a highly subjective statistic. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers have only 10 drops this season: Jennings, Driver and running back James Starks each have two, while Jones, Finley, Nelson and fullback John Kuhn have one apiece.
STATS LLC, meanwhile, has the Packers with nine drops, and spread out differently. They have Driver and Finley with two each and Jennings, Jones, Nelson, Kuhn and Starks with one apiece.
"We say if it touches both hands, and sometimes if it touches one hand, it’s a drop," Nelson said of the Packers' grading system.
Nelson’s drop against the Rams, for example, was a no-doubter, coming on third-and-2 pass at the Packers’ 48-yard line on the Packers’ second possession of the second half. Open in the left flat on a quick throw by Rodgers, Nelson turned to run with the ball before actually catching it.
As for how much the drop cost him, Nelson said he only had to pay out $200 – “Since Greg and ‘Drive’ dropped one, too, we canceled each other out,” he explained – but added that he’s more worried about losing playing time because of a drop than he is about the gift-card cost. Given the plethora of talented pass-catchers the Packers have, a drop can land you on the bench while one of your fellow receivers gets your snaps.
“You can ask Greg, Drive, anybody – we’re not trying to give away our money,” Nelson said. “ (But) I’m not going out there lining up thinking, ‘I better catch this ball or else I owe $100.’ If I’m thinking anything, it’s ‘I better catch this ball, or else I’m not going to get to play.’
“Obviously, we don't want to drop a ball, but we're not in any sort of panic mode whatsoever. We know what we can do. It takes, sometimes, a game like that to sharpen the focus a little bit more. It's a good thing that we were still able to win the game like we did, but sometimes we've just got to refocus and get back at it. We'll be fine."
And that’s good news for the Best Buy manager, even though it would help his store if the wide receivers on his favorite football team kept dropping passes.
“They spend enough money here,” Eidemiller said with a laugh. “I’m perfectly fine with them catching the ball.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.