GREEN BAY, Wis. – Under coach Matt LaFleur, the Green Bay Packers are 27-7 when Davante Adams is in the lineup.
Oddly, they’re undefeated when he’s out.
With Adams missing four games with an ankle injury in 2019 and two games with a hamstring injury last year, Green Bay went 6-0.
How is that possible?
“I don’t know. We’re not a better team without him, that’s for sure,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Tuesday, two days before the red-hot Packers (6-1) will play at the Arizona Cardinals (7-0) with Adams on the COVID-19 list.
“I’d have to look at each of those games, but we’ve just found a way in those games.”
Of course, it helps that Rodgers is the among the best finder of ways to win games in NFL history. He’ll have to be especially resourceful this time. Not only will Adams be out on Thursday but so will Allen Lazard, who was added to the COVID list on Tuesday.
Lazard is a tremendous role players and would have been especially useful with Adams out on Thursday. But it’s Adams, who set franchise records for receptions and receiving touchdowns this season, who is the straw that stirs the drink.
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Nonetheless, in beating Dallas (34-24), Detroit (23-22), Oakland (42-24) and Kansas City (31-24) in 2019, and New Orleans (37-20) and Atlanta (30-16) in 2020, Rodgers threw 17 touchdowns vs. one interception. Rodgers threw two-plus touchdowns in five of those games. The exception: Rodgers had zero touchdown passes at Dallas but Aaron Jones rushed for four touchdowns.
The schedule also helped, too. The Packers played two teams that finished with winning records. In 2019, Kansas City finished 12-4 but the reigning MVP, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, was out with a knee injury. In 2020, New Orleans finished 13-3 but star receiver Michael Thomas joined Adams on the sideline for that game and the decisive play came when Za’Darius Smith forced a fumble by backup quarterback Taysom Hill.
Thinking back to last season, Rodgers remembered the focal points of the passing attacks in the two victories. Against New Orleans, Lazard caught six passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. Against Atlanta, tight end Robert Tonyan grabbed six passes for 98 yards and three touchdowns, and Rodgers recalled hitting on two “hole shots” to running backs for gains of 29 yards to Jamaal Williams and 23 yards to Jones.
“Other guys just got to step up,” Rodgers said.
Surprisingly, the Packers scored 6.9 points more per game without Adams involved. Rodgers was fantastic and resourceful. He completed 70 percent of his passes for an average of 311 yards and the aforementioned 17-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio without Adams, and 66 percent of his passes for an average of 247 yards with 72 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions (6.55 touchdowns per interception) with the All-Pro.
The passing games benefitted from playing four lousy pass defenses but the Chiefs finished fifth in opponent passer rating in 2019 and the Saints were fourth in 2020.
Fortunately, the Packers are coming off back-to-back wins over Chicago and Washington in which Adams wasn’t the dominator of Rodgers’ targets. In Games 3, 4 and 5 against San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, Adams was targeted 45 times – an average of 15.0 per game. The last two weeks, Adams was targeted 10 times – just 5.0 per game. Against Washington, Allen Lazard caught five passes for 60 yards and one touchdown and Tonyan caught four passes for 63 yards and one touchdown.
“It is good to get those guys going,” Rodgers said before the Packers placed Lazard on the COVID-19 list. “That was important, I think, for both of their confidence. Not that it wavered, but it’s always good to be able to ball out like that and be able to watch that back. I think there’s a lot to be gleaned to be able to watch back your film of positive plays and you having success.
“We all need it. We all, at different times, need that confidence boost and to be able to go back so recently and see yourself making plays the plays that you know you’re capable of making that you haven’t maybe had the opportunities or made those plays as many times the first six weeks was really good for those guys. But we still have a lot of talent in the backfield and a lot of guys who can get open, so we’ve just got to keep finding a way to get them open and hopefully we’ll get 17 back after this.”