Odd Man Rush: Loss of Jennings won't slow down Packers
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There aren't many teams in the NFL that can overcome the loss of their No. 1 wide receiver without seemingly missing a beat.
Then again, not many teams in the league have the depth of the Green Bay Packers, and even fewer teams have a quarterback the caliber of Aaron Rodgers to mask the impact of the injury.
Star Packers wideout Greg Jennings has missed four the past six games and was limited in one other over that span due to a groin injury that will finally force him under the knife next week. Jennings said on Thursday he is opting for surgery over an injection that would have relieved the pain but kept him at less than full strength.
"An injection would have masked most of the pain, but there was still no guarantee that I would be able to go out there and still hit that last gear," Jennings said. "And that's the one thing I have to have, trying to create more separation than I would be able to create. There's no sense, to me, in taking a shot that may or may not work."
Such an injury would normally be a big blow to a team with high expectations looking to dig itself out of a 2-3 start. But Green Bay has won its last two games -- both without Jennings -- to get to 4-3 while scoring 72 points in that time.
Rodgers is the biggest reason, but someone still has to catch the ball and Green Bay has left its franchise quarterback with no shortage of options. Jordy Nelson, a breakout star in 2011, is leading the club in receptions and yards, sixth-year wideout James Jones already has a career high-tying seven touchdown grabs (six in the last four games) and Randall Cobb is transforming into a solid receiver during his second season.
"They've done an outstanding job," noted Jennings of his supporting cast. "There was no doubt in my mind. I don't think there was any doubt in anyone in this locker room's mind that the team wouldn't thrive and continue to have success. There's a lot of guys in here that can make a lot of plays, a lot of impact players.
"When your number's called, you have to make the plays, and when your number is called, you have to be ready to play."
The stats support these guys are ready, and having a veteran like Donald Driver in the mix is an added plus. Jones has been scooping up touchdown grabs like Bryan Cranston does with Emmys and Cobb is morphing into a duel threat who gives other teams nightmares.
A second-round pick a season ago, Cobb made a splash in his NFL debut by matching an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a score against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 8 of last year. He also caught a touchdown pass in that meeting, but it would be the last time he would find the end zone despite appearing in 15 games.
However, the 22-year-old has already grabbed 37 passes with three touchdowns this year while still averaging 27.3 yards per kickoff return. Cobb also returned a punt for a score in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Kentucky product, who has 26 receptions and 339 receiving yards in his last four games, credited a new approach this offseason to getting him ready for a bigger role.
"The mind-set of feeling like I'm supposed to be here," Cobb said of one of the things he changed. "I felt that way when I came in (last year), but I felt that midway through the season I felt comfortable with my position instead of being hungry for more and continuing to try and have success and try and get better at my craft everyday. This offseason, I took a different approach and tried to get back to the old me."
Rodgers has certainly noticed and hasn't been shy of throwing some praise Cobb's way as well. Something like that could put some added weight on the shoulders of such a young player like Cobb given Green Bay's Super Bowl aspirations, but the wide receiver is taking it in stride like a veteran.
"I love pressure. I've always loved pressure. But it's a humbling thing, especially when you have a quarterback like Aaron, who is a potential Hall of Famer one day," Cobb confessed. "That shows that he has a lot of confidence in me and he trusts me. That's very important as a receiver to know that your quarterback has trust in you like that."
Rodgers has shown trust in all of his passing targets as Green Bay is the only team in the league to have four players with at least 26 catches this season. And despite the absence of Jennings and starting running back Cedric Benson (out since suffering a foot injury on Oct. 7), the Packers lead the NFL with a 76.2 touchdown-conversion percentage in the red zone. In their last four games, the Pack have scored touchdowns in 12 of their 14 chances inside the 20.
Though Rodgers admitted the team hasn't been very balanced in the red zone -- leaning more toward the pass -- he said the offense has done a good job of making good and quick decisions with the ball.
"We've made some big plays down there, some big-time catches," he said. "We've been on the same page and it's been fun to cash in a lot of those into touchdowns. We've got to keep doing that."
Green Bay has a pair of games left before its bye week, hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals. With Rodgers and the likes of Cobb and Jones raising their play, there will be no need for the Packers to rush back Jennings, who refused to give a timetable on his return.
This also could be a glimpse of next season because Jennings is set to become a free agent, something the 29-year-old isn't worried about just yet.
"It's a little far down the road," Jennings said of free agency. "It's kind of like a game of chess. Everybody plays and you have to strategically know your next move, set your next move up. I've definitely thought about it. For me, personally, this would be the best situation for me, knowing that I'm not putting myself in harm's way to make it worse or just play and know that I'm not 100 percent. Free agency will take care of itself."
"Right now I have to take care of myself."
And so do the Packers.
10/26 11:23:39 ET