GREEN BAY – James Jones smiled at the question. After 13 games as part of the deepest pass-catching corps in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver knew this much: If any team in the league could muddle through without its No. 1 wide receiver, it’s this one.
So while he, his receiving mates and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will all be thrilled when Pro Bowl wideout Greg Jennings comes back from the left knee injury he suffered Sunday against Oakland – the team is targeting its Jan. 14 or 15 NFC Divisional playoff game for Jennings’ return – Jones also knows that the amount of talent on offense means he won’t see a sudden spike in his numbers. Not with Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley still involved.
And he’s OK with that.
“Everybody thinks stuff changes around here because somebody gets hurt. They don’t change,” Jones said Wednesday, as the Packers (13-0) prepared for Sunday’s game at Kansas City (5-8). “If the ball comes my way a little more, it does. Shoot, we’ve still got four wideouts plus J-Mike. So Greg being out, you don’t have to try to be Superman. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing – if the ball comes your way, make a play. And that’s what I’ve been doing this year.”
While the 7.7 targets per game that Jennings was averaging will have to go somewhere in the final three regular-season games – Sunday’s game in Kansas City, followed by home games against Chicago on Dec. 25 and Detroit on Jan. 1 – and the Chiefs, Bears and Lions figure to defend the Packers differently sans Jennings, it’s pretty clear to everyone involved that no one player will see a vastly expanded role in Jennings’ absence.
“(After) this game plays out, we will know how teams are going to play us without Jennings,” Finley said Wednesday. “Jennings, he’s the key to this offense. It’s big that he’s going to be back for the playoffs, but at the same time, I’m excited about the chance to step up and be the playmaker. We’ve got to step up.”
One reason why the offense won’t change appreciably is because all four receivers are capable – to varying degrees – of playing all of the receiver positions.
“That’s key to our offense. Those guys in the walk-throughs and in the pre-practice stuff, they switch positions around so they know the offense at each individual position,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers explained. “They understand the total concept of the play and when you’re doing that and (you’re) able to interchange Zebra, Z, X and E and the different positions we have, it gives us a lot of flexibility when a guy does go down.”
While Cobb, for instance, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a slot receiver, both he and Driver, who owned the slot position for years, can take the snaps there that Jennings had been getting.
“We all can move around and do different things. In this system, you have to know all the positions,” Cobb said. “I’ve caught about the same amount of balls from the slot and from outside, so I don’t know that the biggest difference is. It just depends on who’s in the game as far as where I go.”
One thing that the receivers know is that Rodgers won’t play favorites. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Jennings has played 675 snaps this season, followed by Nelson (470), Driver (411), Jones (379) and Cobb (223). According to STATS LLC, Jennings has been targeted for 101 passes, followed by Nelson (70), Finley (69), Driver (45), Jones (37) and Cobb (24).
“We’ll miss Greg. Greg is a great player. (If) last year taught us anything, the next man up has got to step in and produce,” Rodgers said. “We’re expecting with James getting more opportunities and Randall to step in and play well. Jordy’s obviously having an outstanding season. Donald has come on the last few weeks and played really well. If those guys keep it up, and James and Randall pick up the slack from Greg, (we’ll be fine).”
Or, as coach Mike McCarthy put it: “I think Aaron's going to continue to do his job. He's going to continue to take what the defense gives him, he's going to run the offense and play to the design of the play versus the coverage versus the matchups and so forth. I don't think it's going to change the way Aaron plays. We're very fortunate we have a number of perimeter players that can be productive. We're going to run our offense, we're not going to change anything.”
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.