The Green Bay Packers will likely go to Arizona to play the unbeaten Cardinals without starting receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard on Thursday night.
Adams, an All-Pro, and Lazard, a trusted role player, have combined for 67 catches, 928 receiving yards and four touchdowns during the first seven games. Together, they represent a significant amount of the snaps and production from the Packers receiver position this season.
How can the Packers get by at receiver against the Cardinals? Let’s break down the candidates for a bigger role.
The veteran: Randall Cobb
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Aaron Rodgers generally favors what he knows in adversity situations, and not many receivers know the Packers quarterback better than Cobb. He’s been mostly a complementary player in 2021, but Rodgers hasn’t been afraid to go to him in big situations. Of his 14 catches, seven have come on third down. And his targets have yielded efficient results; Rodgers’ passer rating when targeting Cobb is 141.9. Can the 31-year-old slot receiver go back in time and be a high-volume target for Rodgers against a great defense? Cobb’s highest number of targets in a game this season is just six. He could easily surpass that number on Thursday night.
The dark horse: Equanimeous St. Brown
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St. Brown has only one catch for zero yards this season, but Aaron Rodgers likes him and trusts him, and a few plays over the last few weeks hint at the possibility of a bigger role in this situation. He had an impressive touchdown catch on third down taken away by a bogus penalty in Chicago in Week 6. Last week, Rodgers went to him on a deep ball but he couldn’t get both feet in bounds, and Matt LaFleur dialed up a well-timed jet sweep for 13 easy yards. Rodgers and the Packers have always liked his size and movement ability from the slot. If there’s a breakout candidate going into this game, it might be St. Brown.
The rookie: Amari Rodgers
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
This could be a huge spot for Rodgers, the Packers’ third-round pick. He has only two touches on offense this season, and only one over the six-game win streak, but the Packers moved up to draft him because they thought he could be a versatile playmaker in this scheme. He’s been on the field more as of late, but mostly as a decoy. If Matt LaFleur has a few plays waiting in the playbook capable of getting him touches in space, Thursday night might be the time to unleash them. Jet sweeps, bubble screens and any other manufactured touch could be on the table for Rodgers against the Cardinals.
The returnee: Malik Taylor
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Taylor came off the COVID-19 reserve list after two weeks on Tuesday. Could he be a factor after missing so much practice time lately? Taylor caught two passes for 14 yards in the Week 1 blowout, but he played just nine offensive snaps in the next four games. Keep this in mind: Last season, when the Packers didn’t have Davante Adams against the Falcons, Matt LaFleur dialed up a play for Taylor on fourth down. It gained 20 yards and set up a touchdown. Also, Taylor flashed his receiving ability during the preseason, when he led all players in receiving yards. Putting him into a featured role in the game plan might be a stretch considering he only just returned to the team.
The practice squared: Juwann Winfree
(AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Winfree, a sixth-round pick of the Broncos in 2019, has been on the Packers practice squad for the better part of the last two seasons. The Packers have called him up for three games since arriving in Green Bay last October, including during the Week 6 win over the Bears. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in Winfree, and he has the experience in the offense to step in and play a role right away. Keep in mind, Winfree was a standout of the offseason workout program and an early favorite to be the No. 6 receiver on the roster, but he lost most of training camp to a shoulder injury and ended up back on the practice squad. Maybe this is his opportunity to finally get targets in a complementary role.
The unknown: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
As of Wednesday morning, Valdes-Scantling remains on injured reserve. He hasn’t even practiced with the team since hurting his hamstring in Week 3. But his return could be huge for a team that needs both his experience and speed. Valdes-Scantling, if activated, would be the de facto No. 1 receiver in Arizona. A couple of explosive plays – or a couple of plays where Valdes-Scantling’s speed opens up a big play for a teammate – would be huge for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. In the first three games, Valdes-Scantling caught six passes for 76 yards and a score. Last season, he led the NFL in catches of 40 yards and yards per catch.
The running back: Aaron Jones
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Who is second in targets and receptions for the Packers this season? Running back Aaron Jones. He’s obviously not a receiver, but Matt LaFleur’s scheme often splits him out wide in an attempt to expose favorable matchups against linebackers or safeties. A win over the Kansas City Chiefs from 2019 highlighted how the Packers could use Jones in the passing game as a quasi-receiver. He caught seven passes for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns during the primetime win at Arrowhead Stadium. Like that night in Kansas City, screens and quick passes to Jones from the backfield and out wide could provide an answer to the Packers’ receiver problem. Finding creative ways of getting Jones the ball could be a make-or-break factor for the Packers offense in Arizona on Thursday night.