The bittersweetness of Davante Adams’ career night against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday came with a nasty, lingering aftertaste for the Green Bay Packers, who will look to rebound for their first loss of the season without their star wide receiver.
Adams did not practice Wednesday or Thursday after suffering a turf toe injury against the Eagles and was earlier in the week considered unlikely to play in Sunday’s road game against the Dallas Cowboys at 3:25 p.m. C.T., depriving the Packers of one of the most essential playmakers in their offense. He caught 10 passes for a career-high 180 yards before limping to the sideline and missing most of the fourth quarter in a 34-27 home loss.
Adams became the far-and-above leader of a young Green Bay receiving corps when the Cowboys signed former Packers wideout Randall Cobb to a one-yard, $5 million deal this offseason. He had earned the trust of the Packers after producing the first 1,000-yard receiving season of his NFL career in 2018, catching 111 passes for 1,386 yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns.
Yet, he entered his sixth year with at least two seasons more of experience under his belt than the rest of his pass-catching cohorts with fourth-year slot receiver Geronimo Allison the next closest. The remaining options — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd and Allen Lazard — are all either in their first or second pro seasons.
“Davante is a competitor,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett told reporters Thursday. “He changes the game, that’s who he is. You saw it a little bit last game. He pretty much took it over. Whoever is up there (filling in), whoever’s got an opportunity, you want them to step it up and do the same if they can.”
Here is a breakdown of several players who are best suited to fill in as the go-to receiving option for Aaron Rodgers on Sunday in Dallas.
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The most obvious choice to make up for Adams’ missing production is a second-year guy who has done a modest job opposite him as the team’s other starting wideout. Valdes-Scantling was a single yard shy of a 100-yard performance in Week 3’s win over the Denver Broncos and caught his first touchdown pass of the season, though he did cool off Week 4 with 47 yards on three catches.
Rodgers’ gifted throwing arm has a habit of making things easier on developing receivers, and more attention against the Cowboys could finally see him take a breakout step.
Allison, too, could benefit from more attention in Adams’ absence and has better scoring numbers through the first four games than Valdes-Scantling, catching a touchdown pass in two of the Packers’ last three games. A former standout at the University of Illinois, Allison entered his fourth pro year this season having yet to play a full, 16-game season for the Packers due to a myriad of injuries.
But Allison has stayed clear of the injury report through the season’s first quarter and has a longer rapport with Rodgers than the rest of the team’s skill players. He is also coming off his best outing of 2019 against the Eagles, making a crucial third-down catch near the end of the second quarter that helped set up a touchdown pass to him two plays later.
Making more step-up plays against the Cowboys would certainly help him keep his momentum.
The only other player on the roster with two receiving touchdowns? That would be the veteran tight end in Graham, who rebounded from two no-catch games to haul in six for 61 yards against the Eagles along with a touchdown grab.
Graham has not quite played up to the league-leading level of his glory days with the New Orleans Saints since arriving in Green Bay, but a heavier reliance on him in the offense could be the push he needs. At the same time, he makes mistakes at times veterans should not be making — most recently, trying to one-hand what would have been a 1-yard touchdown against the Eagles that could have tied the game in the fourth quarter.
As Packers tight end coach Justin Outten said Wednesday via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Graham knows he should have used two hands, but the 32-year-old could earn back some trust with an effective Week 5 performance.
Maybe none of them?
Look, the Packers have a tendency to use a diverse toolkit when grinding away on offense. Eleven different players have caught passes this year, and more than half of them have been tight ends and running backs with the latter group hauling in 28 of Rodgers’ 91 completions this season. LaFleur and Hackett like to mix it up — at least most of the time.
The Cowboys also have the 10th-best passing defense — behind the Packers defense at third — to complicate the plan further, but they haven’t faced a quarterback of the same caliber as Rodgers yet this season. It is possible matchups against Eli Manning, Case Keenum, Josh Rosen and Teddy Bridgewater will have softened them for a better passer.
Either way, the Packers are looking to get back on a winning track after their first loss of the season and face three of their next five opponents on the road, beginning with the Cowboys. Expect LaFleur and Rodgers to mix it up to get the job done without their star receiver.