GREEN BAY – Jermichael Finley is unhappy with his numbers, but you wouldn’t know it by the quiet way the Green Bay Packers often outspoken tight end is carrying himself.
Finley enters Sunday’s game at Detroit having caught only 29 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown through the season’s first nine games, putting him on pace for 51 receptions for 481 yards. He had 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns last season, which he considered a disappointment after being on pace for a monster year in 2010 (84 receptions for 1,201 yards after catching 21 passes for 301 yards in the first four games before a season-ending knee injury). In 2009, he had 55 catches for 676 yards and five TDs before his breakout playoff performance.
Moreover, he has been a complete statistical non-factor over the past five games, catching only three passes for 11 yards at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, two passes for 12 yards at Houston on Oct. 14, two passes for 31 yards at St. Louis on Oct. 21, two passes for 24 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 28 and one pass for 6 yards against Arizona on Nov. 4, the Packers’ last game before the bye week.
And yet, Finley hasn’t made a peep – publicly or, according to his position coach and his offensive coordinator, privately. In a conversation in the locker room this week, he sounded downright philosophical about the situation.
“I’d have been a lot worse (in the past). Not because I wanted to, it was just me a couple years ago,” Finley explained when asked why he’s been so quiet about being, well, so quiet.
“I’m handling it pretty well right now. My wife (Courtney), every time I get in the door and she says, ‘How was your day?’ she says, ‘You’re 100 times better than you were a year ago. Or even a couple weeks ago.’ Everybody sees it.
“What makes me be like that? I look at it like this: I’m 25, I’m a smart guy with a lot of upside in my career. One year or one play or one game doesn’t define me. I had nine games like that (this year), but I’m just looking at it as a blessing that I’m still able to run out there and be with one of the best quarterbacks.”
If there is something that bothers Finley about his lack of production lately, it’s that everything seems to be aligned for him to break out. He and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with whom Finley says he’s had a hot-and-cold relationship over the past couple of years, are meeting every Saturday night one-on-one in advance of games at the team hotel, going over plays and routes in an effort to improve their oft-discussed chemistry.
A few weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy pulled Finley into his office for a motivational meeting in which he showed Finley clips of his tour-de-force performance in the 2009 NFC Wild Card Playoffs, when he set a franchise record with 159 receiving yards in a loss to the Cardinals.
And the separated A/C joint in his shoulder is fully healedafter he played through the pain against the Texans and Rams after suffering the injury against the Colts.
And yet, the production still isn’t there.
“It’s not there at all,” Finley admitted. “It’s out of my hands. If I could throw myself the ball – hike it, throw it up in the air and go get it – I’d do it every single play. But (Rodgers) has got guys that he’s got chemistry with, guys he’s on with right now. I don’t blame him. But looking from my side, I’m pissed. Inside. But I ain’t got no reason to be pissed at him or anybody else. It’s just not coming my way.”
Asked why Finley has been such a non-factor, both offensive coordinator Tom Clements and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot pointed to the attention Finley draws from defenses, even with his meager statistics.
“Defenses are always aware of Jermichael, so they’re going to try to take him away because he’s a force. And we’re going to run our offense, and a lot of times the defense dictates where the ball goes,” Clements said. “But he’s worked through his injury and I think he’s in a good place. And hopefully, he and the rest of the offense can be as productive as possible.
“We certainly want him on the field, so I think there’s a value. He has the ability to be a playmaker and the defense has to be aware of him. So it is beneficial.”
Fontenot, in his first year coaching Finley after taking over for now-quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, said he hasn’t had any problems with Finley complaining or not working hard because of his frustration.
“So far I really haven’t seen any blowups. He is an emotional guy, because he wants to win, wants to play well, wants to contribute. He wants all those things. So I’m sure that he has been frustrated. Have I seen it? Anytime I’m around him professionally, he’s on point,” Fontenot said.
“Emphasizing positives, he’s played through an injury, played through pain. He continues to work. He’s got a great work ethic, he’s got great enthusiasm. The more he’s able to bring that enthusiasm to practice and the more energy he has in a positive way, it’s going to benefit him.
“When the opportunities come, we have to make the best of them. You’re not always going to get the opportunities that you want. But during those times, you’ve got to be able to stay steadfast in your approach, stay steadfast in your preparation, and he has. And those opportunities will come back. It’s the way the ball falls, so to speak. There are a lot of options on the field, the quarterback is going to take the best one. And as a result, (his) targets are down.”
Indeed, during his five-game stretch of minimal productivity, Finley has been targeted just 18 times, according to ProFootballFocus.com. For comparison, in the first four games, he was targeted 27 times, including a whopping 11 times in the season opener against San Francisco on Sept. 9, when he caught seven passes for 47 yards and his lone TD. While he has been charged with seven drops on the season, three have come during the past five games – one each against the Colts, Texans and Jaguars.
Finley hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since Sept. 27, 2010, when he caught nine passes for 115 yards in a loss at Chicago. In the 28 games he’s played since, his most productive performances have been a seven-catch, 85-yard, three-TD game against the Bears on Sept. 25, 2011 and a six-catch, 87-yard, one-TD game against the New York Giants last Dec. 4.
And yet, defenses are paying attention to him. Against the Texans, who gave up six touchdown passes to Rodgers, the perfect illustration came on Rodgers’ second of three TD passes to Jordy Nelson, a 21-yarder that made it 21-7. (For a brilliant breakdown of the entire play, read ex-Packers safety Matt Bowen’s piece on National Football Post. Bowen is as good as it gets when it comes to explaining complex NFL concepts to the rest of us.)
On the play, Finley is bracketed on the opposite side, carrying two defenders away from Rodgers’ intended target. While it didn’t show up in the stat book, which had Finley catching two passes for 12 yards on four targets, he played a vital role on the play.
“I’ve been getting that (attention) since I got on the stage, not my first year but my second year, when guys started catching on,” Finley said. “There are some guys who don’t have to put up any numbers and defenses know that if that guy gets off, the whole offense clicks. A smart defensive coordinator, like Wade Phillips in Houston, knows that.”
In fact, Finley said when Phillips saw him warming up before the game and learned he would play, Phillips gave Finley a thumbs-up from across the field.
“That game, I wasn’t supposed to play, and he was like, ‘Thanks for telling me, because now we have to go switch some things up (in the defensive game plan),’” Finley said. “So it’s a compliment, but when I come out of the game with one (catch) for 6 yards (like against Arizona), I get that sense (of disappointment).”
And yet, Finley hasn’t expressed that disappointment in a way detrimental to his team. He’s hoping things turn around soon, though.
“It could (change) Sunday,” Finley said. “It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve never been through this. It’s hard for me. It’s just hard for me to grasp it all.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 540 ESPN on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.