Mailbag: Dealing with Jimmy Graham

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Each week, I ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then deliver the answers over the weekend. This week, perhaps the biggest issue for the Green Bay Packers (5-2) is how they will defend tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints (2-4). We'll discuss that and some contract issues in this week's edition of the mailbag:

Demovsky: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers used to like matching up Charles Woodson against opposing tight ends, but the approach lately has been to use a variety of players from a variety of positions. Consider that last Sunday, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught passes against linebackers A.J. Hawk (three catches) and Jamari Lattimore (one) and safeties Morgan Burnett (two) and Micah Hyde (two). Cornerback Casey Hayward's interception came when he was in coverage against Olsen. That said, if Burnett doesn't play because of his hamstring injury, then you could see a fair amount of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on Jimmy Graham. Clinton-Dix has started to show his physical, aggressive style in recent weeks, which is why he has moved into the starting lineup.

Demovsky: You might see Davon House on Graham at times, but only when Graham lines up split out wide. The Packers don't use House inside or in the slot; he has been exclusively an outside cover player. But he might be the Packers' most physical cornerback, which could work well against an athletic player like Graham.

Demovsky: That's an easy argument to make but consider this: Maybe Randall Cobb wanted to bet on himself and wait to see how the season progressed before accepting a deal. It's the old bird-in-the-hand question. Remember when Cobb said this summer that he hadn't done enough to earn a contract. What he surely meant was that he had not done enough to earn the kind of contract he wants. Perhaps he's done that now.

Demovsky: Mike Daniels has quickly become one of those cornerstone defensive players that the Packers will want to lock up long-term. Again, much like Cobb, it depends on how the player views himself as to when he wants to do an extension. Daniels has continued to improve. The better he plays, the more money he's worth. The Packers surely will approach him about an extension at some point if they have not already.

Demovsky: If he's back next year - and that's still a significant-sized if - it will have to be under a restructuring unless he goes out and has, say, 10 sacks in the second half of the season. Otherwise, it's almost a given the Packers won't pay him the $8.5 million base salary (plus another $1 million in possible bonuses) that he would be owed next season. Even though it was a three-year contract, the structure of it essentially made it a one-year trial. Now, Peppers has been solid and he has given Capers the flexibility to use myriad packages, but you could make a case that Nick Perry has made as many impact plays as Peppers in the first seven games. If Perry can stay healthy, which has always been his bugaboo, then perhaps they won't bring back Peppers. 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was 13 yards away from Jerricho Cotchery when the Carolina Panthers receiver caught a swing pass at his own 48-yard line in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

In 1.4 seconds, Clinton-Dix had closed the gap.

The story would be better if the Green Bay Packers rookie made the tackle, but then safeties coach Darren Perry might not have anything to hold over the first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsRookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has become one of the Packers' surest tacklers.
In what was his first NFL start, Clinton-Dix led the Packers with eight tackles (including seven solo stops). That he missed Cotchery on what turned out to be a 9-yard catch-and-run actually sat well with Perry for one reason: Clinton-Dix was aggressive in his pursuit.

"Coach sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss the tackle or we make it, he can live with that," Clinton-Dix said Friday. "Once he sees us coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he really has a problem."

In just seven NFL games, the 21st overall pick went from the guy who was caught flat-footed on his open-field missed tackle that led to Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette's 33-yard touchdown in season opener to perhaps the most aggressive pursuer in the Packers' secondary.

Since the opener, Clinton-Dix has been charged with only one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, although it should be noted that it did not give him a missed tackle against the Panthers.

But the Packers coaches gave him one.

"He's a guy that once he sees stuff, he comes down hill and goes and gets it," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He doesn't hesitate. He shoots his gun so to speak. You saw him on Sunday, he had to cover space and made one really nice tackle, and then he missed one. But he's going after it aggressively. I think people, over a period of time, receivers know that when you've got a big safety coming downhill on them, it affects that middle of the field."

For the first six games, Clinton-Dix split time at free safety with second-year pro Micah Hyde, who started every one of them. But in the last three of those, Clinton-Dix actually played more snaps than Hyde, which made it only a matter of time before he took over as the starter and played every snap like he did against the Panthers.

"He's really come into his own and is starting to show that he can cover the field as well as fit within the run game and not only fit, but make big plays in space, which we haven't seen for some time since we lost Nick [Collins] and some of those veteran safeties and corners," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It's good to have a guy like that who you know you're going to be able to count on for years."

The Packers may have to count on him even more on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Veteran starting strong safety Morgan Burnett has not practiced all week because of a calf injury and was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Plus, Clinton-Dix might have his toughest matchup of the season if he's asked to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

But he will have capable help. If Burnett can't play, either Hyde or Sean Richardson would start at the other safety spot. The Packers like Hyde's coverage ability, which is why he moves to the nickel spot when the Packers employ five defensive backs, and Richardson is an up-and-comer who has contributed in spots -- like his tackle for no gain on Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on third-and-1 in the first quarter of Sunday's game.

It's an embarrassment of riches at safety, a position where last year the Packers could barely find one productive starter, and they have Clinton-Dix to thank for that.

"This is the way it's supposed to be," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the second straight week, the Green Bay Packers spent Friday facing the possibility of playing without two of their four starting defensive backs.

 Last Sunday against Carolina, they got one of them back -- cornerback Tramon Williams -- but played without cornerback Sam Shields.

A week later, they're again concerned about Shields, who has yet to practice because of the knee injury he sustained on Oct. 12 at Miami. The Packers listed him as doubtful for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Davon House would make his second straight start if Shields can’t play.

This time, the other issue is at safety, where Morgan Burnett has yet to practice this week because of a calf injury he sustained against the Panthers.

The situation might be more troublesome this week considering the Saints' high-powered offense, which ranks second in the NFL in yards.

On Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy expressed concern that Burnett's injury was not progressing as fast as he would have hoped.

But on Friday, there was a hint of optimism in his voice.

"Morgan was in here bright and early [going] through the treatments," McCarthy said. "He's obviously going through the Friday routine defensively with the walkthroughs and the classroom, so we'll give him every, plus it's a night game, too. We have more time."

The Packers have options if Burnett can't play. They could start Micah Hyde, who lost his starting spot to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last week, but still played as the nickel defensive back. Or they could go with up-and-comer Sean Richardson and leave Hyde as the nickel.

Defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) was ruled out even though he practiced on a limited basis Thursday.

"Datone, actually, he went for it yesterday," McCarthy said Friday. "I appreciate him out there pushing through it. Frankly, watching the individual work with Mike Trgovac, our D-Line coach, you could clearly see he's not ready. So he's not going to make it."

Here's the full injury report:
  • Out: DE Datone Jones (ankle)
  • Doubtful: CB Sam Shields (knee)
  • Questionable: S Morgan Burnett (calf)
  • Probable: RB James Starks (ankle)
As well as the Green Bay Packers have played during their current four-game winning streak, they did not handle two difficult road environments well earlier in the season. They bombed in the opener at Seattle and weren't much better in Detroit. Both times they played in front of loud, boisterous crowds. Now, they must play in another noisy, indoor stadium against a desperate New Orleans Saints team.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has 10 touchdowns in his last three games against Green Bay and although the Packers' are defending the pass well (ranking sixth in the league), if they can't continue to force the turnovers that they have the last five games, they could be in trouble. Either way, expect this game to be a shootout between two capable quarterbacks, Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Prediction: Saints 38, Packers 34
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Is it possible for a 38-year-old NFL player to actually get better?

"With Charles [Woodson], it is," Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He's getting better. There's not too many players that I can think of who get better at 38, but Charles has stayed young."

Woodson
Even the greatest NFL stars often begin to deteriorate around 35. However, Woodson, who turned 38 earlier this month, is still playing at a high level. One of Oakland's few bright lights in a 0-6 start, Woodson has been making plays all season, including a touchdown-saving tackle and an interception last week against the Arizona Cardinals.

"I really think he's getting better in the past few years," Tuck said. "It's something else. He is so physically gifted and then he uses his brain to figure things out so well, too. It's just a special combination."

Woodson returned to Oakland -- which drafted him in 1998 -- in 2013 after seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers. The Raiders were hoping they were bringing back a former star who could be an inspirational leader at the end of his career. Woodson has been so much more.

He is getting better at the safety position, which he converted to from cornerback in 2012. Tuck said Woodson never stops working at his craft. They sit near each other on flights and Tuck said Woodson is always studying the game.

"He's gotten better at the safety position," Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. "He's gotten better with his breaks, his angles, what we call 'eyes before feet,' because the further you are away from the ball, you find the angle with your eyes before your feet take you there. He's gotten better and better on that. The tipped pick last week was an example of that. He was a little deeper like he was supposed to be, maybe last year he was tighter, and now he gets the ball. He's gotten better ... It's amazing that he can get that much better."
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe it was Randall Cobb that Aaron Rodgers was speaking to when he said, "R-E-L-A-X."

The Packers receiver admitted Thursday that he was pressing early in the year and now finds himself in a much better frame of mind.

And it has shown in his production.

Cobb
The game after Rodgers' decree, Cobb had a breakout performance with seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a win at the Chicago Bears. In his last four games, Cobb has 21 receptions for 326 yards and five touchdowns. No receiver in the NFL has more touchdown catches in that stretch (teammate Jordy Nelson also has five), and only eight players have more receiving yards in the last four games.

For the season, Cobb has eight touchdowns, matching his career high in just seven games. No NFL receiver has more at this point. Only tight ends Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas, with nine touchdown catches each, have more than Cobb.

"The mental side of things is very important," Cobb said. "I think I was pressing a little bit too much early on this season, trying to do too much instead of just being myself and doing what I do. Just relaxing and playing ball."

Cobb said there could have been myriad reasons why he was pressing. Chief among them likely was his contract situation. He's in the final year of his rookie contract and knows a big year could mean big money either from the Packers before free agency or another team on the open market.

"I mean, it definitely had something to do with it," Cobb admitted. "But I think I found peace mentally, and that's the biggest thing, having that peace and being able to not worry about those things."

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Packers vs. Saints preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
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Recent history suggests we could be in for a lot of points in prime time when the New Orleans Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The past three meetings between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Packers counterpart Aaron Rodgers have averaged more than 70 points per game, with more than 2,000 total passing yards and a combined 19 touchdown passes.

For that trend to continue, the Saints need to recapture their missing mojo. While the Packers have been among the hottest teams in football during a four-game win streak, the Saints have been maddeningly up-and-down all season, even in their victories. New Orleans is 2-0 at home this year, though, and it has won 13 straight prime-time home games by nearly 20 points per game.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss this week's matchup:

Triplett: Rob, the Packers have always reminded me a lot of the Saints in that they look untouchable when their offense gets hot. Is their offense playing as well right now as it ever has in the Rodgers era?

Demovsky: It's close, Mike. But several players this week said they're still not quite to where they were in 2011 when, as offensive lineman T.J. Lang put it, they "could do whatever they wanted." But there's no question Rodgers is dialed in. His only interception, which came in the opener, went off the hands of Jordy Nelson. And here's why the offense might be close to resembling Rodgers' MVP season of '11: He's starting to spread the ball around more. The offense isn't just Nelson, like it was the first three weeks. In Sunday's win over the Panthers, Rodgers hit nine different receivers. That's the way he operated in 2011.

What's the difference with the Saints' offense right now than when it clicks like it has so often in the past?

Triplett: I'll give you the same answer. It's close. Brees and the Saints have still looked excellent at times, and they lead the NFL in yards per play. But they've shot themselves in the foot too much with a total of 12 turnovers and seemingly one bad stretch in every game. Sunday, Brees threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters at Detroit. Then they collapsed in the fourth quarter, including a really bad interception.

But all of the elements are still there. Brees has been mostly sharp and accurate with short passes, and he finally rediscovered the deep passing game Sunday. His biggest problem: He has thrown seven interceptions while under duress. The run game has been as good as ever during the Brees-Sean Payton era. They need Jimmy Graham healthy, but he's on the way. They need consistency more than anything else, and playing at home should help kick-start things.

What kind of a defense will the Saints be facing on Sunday night? Green Bay has reminded me of the Saints on that side of the ball with so much inconsistency over the years.

Demovsky: Up until Sunday against the Panthers, it was a defense that was reliant on taking the ball away. The Packers had 11 takeaways (including eight interceptions) in their four previous games but they finally played a solid defensive game where turnovers weren't the overriding difference. Yes, they did have one interception against Carolina, but it wasn't the reason they shut down Cam Newton & Co. The Packers forced three-and-outs on four of the Panthers' first five possessions. If there's an area where they're still a little shaky, it's against the run. They finally climbed out of last place in rushing defense, but not by much. They're 31st this week.

What's been the bigger issue for the Saints on defense: their secondary or their lack of a pass rush, which was supposed to be a strength?

Triplett: The two go hand in hand. The defensive line is a disappointment because, as you said, it was supposed to be a strength and the Saints are loaded with talent with outside linebacker Junior Galette and ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks. Instead, they've just been OK. But they remain the greatest reason for optimism, and they just played their best game last week at Detroit.

The secondary is a much bigger concern. Top cornerback Keenan Lewis remains excellent, but they've struggled badly at the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerback spots with a variety of players. They lost safety Jairus Byrd to a season-ending injury, and fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro has battled inconsistency and some uncharacteristic missed tackles. This matchup against Green Bay's offense is daunting, to say the least.

You mentioned that the Packers aren't relying solely on Nelson, which is interesting. The Saints have actually done an OK job keeping the most dangerous weapons in check (Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, etc.). But they've been in big trouble against deeper offenses like Atlanta's and Dallas' because they spread the Saints thin and burned them underneath. I know Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy could cause problems. Do they go even deeper than that?

Demovsky: The emergence of rookie receiver Davante Adams has gone a long way toward diversifying their offense. Even if teams want to sit back in Cover 2 and roll one safety toward Nelson and the other toward Cobb, they now have Adams, who has good size and speed. Rodgers has looked to him more often of late, and he has a touchdown catch in two of the past three games. If they can get their tight ends involved, then they might be virtually impossible to stop, but so far they haven't gotten much from that spot.

The Packers' two losses have come in loud environments -- at Seattle and at Detroit -- and the Superdome certainly fits into that category. Despite all of their struggles this season, why should the Packers be worried about playing the Saints down there?

Triplett: That could be the great equalizer for the Saints. They're much more dangerous at home -- and for some reason almost unstoppable in home night games. Obviously the atmosphere has a lot to do with it. It's truly one of the loudest venues in the league. And that helps both the offense and the defense quite a bit because of communication. Plus they've got the fast track to work with and no weather conditions, which suits their style (though it won't hurt Green Bay's offense). And players also said they get into the idea of playing in that prime-time showcase knowing everyone is watching. As Brees said, "You feel like you want to kind of back up the reason for them putting you on [that stage]."

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Cousin Sal makes his picks for week 8 in the NFL.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy came away from Thursday's practice encouraged about running back James Starks and defensive end Datone Jones, but safety Morgan Burnett was another story.

Unlike Starks and Jones, who returned to practice, Burnett was unable to go for the second straight day because of a calf injury, leaving his status in doubt for Sunday's game at the New Orleans Saints.

"My concern for Morgan is higher than it was yesterday," McCarthy said after Thursday's practice. "Hopefully with today and what goes on tomorrow, we'll see if he can do anything Saturday."

Both Jones (ankle) and Starks (knee) were limited participants in practice.

"I had a better look at James than Datone," McCarthy said. "I thought James, he looked pretty good."

If Burnett can't play, the Packers could be without two of their four starters in the secondary because cornerback Sam Shields (knee) also did not practice. He missed Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

The Packers likely would start rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and second-year pro Micah Hyde at the two safety spots. The two had been splitting time but Clinton-Dix, the Packers' first-round pick, took over as the starter last week against the Panthers.

"I think they'll be fine," safeties coach Darren Perry said of Clinton-Dix and Hyde. "I mean it's still early [in the week]. Morgan's a veteran guy and if he misses a practice or two, he'll still be fine. Every situation's a little bit different but we're preparing that if we don't [have Burnett], we've got two guys and Sean Richardson. He's ready to go. He's champing at the bit."

After a disappointing 2013 season, Burnett leads the Packers with 59 tackles (including 49 solo stops) according to the coaches' count based on film review. He also has a forced fumble.

"He's a lot more confident with the scheme, [and] the communication's been excellent," McCarthy said. "I think he's having a better year this year than he did last year."

Here's the full injury report:
  • S Morgan Burnett (calf, did not practice)
  • DE Datone Jones (ankle, limited participation)
  • CB Sam Shields (knee, did not practice)
  • RB James Starks (ankle, limited participation)
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The NFL Live crew make their picks for Green Bay at New Orleans.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don't tell Green Bay Packers safety Micah Hyde that Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints is going to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses.

Never mind that the last three meetings between the two teams have seen an average of 70.3 points scored per game.

"I think as a defense when you hear it's going to be a shootout, it's kind of disrespectful," Hyde said Thursday. "But it is what it is. They're going to say what they want to say and the media is going to say what they want to say, but we know we have a job to do, to go there and do what we're capable of doing and play tough defense. We know what we're capable of doing it."

In fact, they have proven that.

Without garnering much attention, the Packers' defense ranks sixth in the NFL against the pass, allowing just 214.9 yards per game through the air. They were fifth against the pass the previous week and had not ranked that high since Week 3 of the 2012 season, when they were No. 1. And then they played the Saints and a week later they were back down to sixth after Drew Brees put up 446 yards passing in the Packers' 28-27 victory.

"We like that there's not a lot of talking about us and giving us respect because that just means you've got to go out there and you've got to earn it," Hyde said. "It's going to be a big night on Sunday. We know they're going to be ready to go, and maybe it's our opportunity to go out there and play tough defense in front of a huge crowd."

Like Hyde, Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers wasn't willing to concede to a high-scoring game in New Orleans.

"What people expect is not necessarily what's going to happen," Peppers said. "We want to go in and limit their points and limit their opportunities. So that's where our minds (are) at, we're not expecting a shootout from our viewpoint."
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ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Green Bay at New Orleans.

James Starks, Datone Jones return

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe the Green Bay Packers won't have to ride running back Eddie Lacy after all on Sunday at New Orleans.

 His backfield running mate, James Starks, returned to practice on Thursday after sustaining an ankle injury in last Sunday's win over the Carolina Panthers. Starks was unable to practice on Wednesday.

The Packers have been splitting carries between Lacy and Starks the past three games. That's a change from early in the season, when Starks did not carry the ball in two of the first four games.

Defensive end Datone Jones also returned to practice on Thursday. He has not played since he left the Oct. 2 game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a sprained ankle. Jones practiced briefly in advance of the Oct. 12 game at the Miami Dolphins but experienced a setback and had been out until Thursday.

The Packers were still without two of their four starting defensive backs. Safety Morgan Burnett (calf) and cornerback Sam Shields (knee) did not practice during the portion that was open to reporters. Thursday's workout was in full pads.

The full injury report will be available following practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ask Eddie Lacy about his home, and the Green Bay Packers running back can't tell you much -- except what his family has told him.

That will change next week, when he returns to New Orleans to start his bye week. And he'll spend it in the house his family longed for ever since theirs was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His parents finally moved into that new house in August -- while Lacy was busy with training camp -- after living in a trailer for the better part of a decade since the disaster wiped out their home in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

"They sent me pictures," Lacy said this week. "They're excited to have their own house, their own back yard, pretty much everything is theirs. It's not a trailer. They've got a lot of room. It's crazy, but they're definitely more comfortable."

Lacy will see that soon enough.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEddie Lacy has seen his numbers drop in his sophomore season but could be in line for a big workload against the Saints.
First, he has business to take care of on the other side of the Mississippi, where the Packers play the Saints Sunday night at the Superdome.

In what can perhaps be described as a disappointing encore to his rookie season, Lacy is coming off his most efficient game of the season. Last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries. His 5.3-yard average was his second best of the season, behind only his 105-yard performance on 13 carries two weeks earlier against the Minnesota Vikings.

Lacy was in full grind-it-out mode against the Panthers. Unlike the game against the Vikings, when he had a long run of 29 yards, he did not have a gain longer than 11 yards against Carolina. He also matched his season high with three catches.

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with nine broken tackles on rushes and receptions combined, although the Packers' coaching staff said their total was well into the teens.

Despite a reduced number of touches this season -- an average of 13.1 carries per game this season compared to 18.9 last season -- Lacy has four rushing touchdowns in his last four games. During most of that stretch, he has split snaps with James Starks. But with Starks battling an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Lacy could go back to being the workhorse back he was last season, when he led all NFL rookies with 1,178 rushing yards.

"You want to score, you want to get 100 yards, you know, you want to do everything that makes you look good," Lacy said. "But I just want to be able to contribute, and that's pass blocking, getting out on the check-down, the whole nine yards. I may not have 100 yards. I may not even get 60, but you know, the yards that I do have definitely will contribute and make sure we're in a great position to win the game, which is the ultimate goal."

So if Lacy's trip goes according to plan, he'll travel with the Packers to New Orleans on Saturday, have a productive game in a victory on Sunday night, fly back with the team to Green Bay early Monday morning and then turn around and head back to New Orleans on Monday night.

And he'll finally see that house.

"It's a great feeling, especially for me coming home," Lacy said. "I don't have to worry about coming home, staying in the trailer and sleeping on the sofa no more. I get to come home to a house, air conditioning, everything's working, [a] sofa, my own bed. It's just a homely feeling now."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordy Nelson doesn't want you to know everything about the ins and outs of the back-shoulder play, except he's quick to point out one thing.

"First and foremost, it's not a play," the Green Bay Packers receiver said. "For us, it's a complete reaction."

There is no signal or pre-snap adjustment.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson; Aaron Rodgers
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers have the on-field chemistry necessary to execute the back-shoulder fade, one of the NFL's toughest passes to defend.
Not even Nelson, one of the NFL's best at executing the play -- check that, the pass -- knows it's coming until the ball sails off the hand of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"It's all on the quarterback and what they decide to do and where they want to place the ball," Nelson said. "For us, it's just, run our routes. The main thing would be to make sure you get your head around and are able to adjust to the ball."

If the receiver doesn't even know it's coming, what's a helpless cornerback or safety in coverage supposed to do about it?

"If you have a quarterback that can throw it, the quarterback typically throws it at the defender's head," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "So you never see the ball."

It goes against everything coaches like Whitt teach their defensive backs, whose first priority is always to take away the deep throw. The back-shoulder fade -- which is essentially a purposefully underthrown pass -- is the perfect counteraction to a defender intent on taking away the go, or fly, route.

"As a secondary player, you're always taught to be on top of a route, control the deep routes," Packers safety Micah Hyde said. "When you get on top, to have to react to a ball that's underthrown, that's the hardest thing for the DB."

But not just any receiver can pull it off. The bigger and longer the receiver, the easier it is to execute. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, Nelson might have the perfect build to do so. It's why you won't see Rodgers throw it very often -- if ever -- to his No. 2 receiver, Randall Cobb, who at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds is better-suited to play in the slot.

Then there is the experience factor. Someday, rookie receiver Davante Adams (6-1, 215) might see that throw from Rodgers. But until Rodgers knows Adams can react to the ball in the air the way Nelson can, it's not likely to happen.

"It comes with experience," Hyde said. "You've got to have chemistry with the quarterback, because it's a hard throw. To throw the ball before the receiver even stops, it's hard. I played quarterback back in the day [in high school]. It was hard then, and I'm sure it's 10 times harder now with these fast receivers. You've got to have a lot of chemistry, and I think some guys in the NFL, a lot of guys in the NFL, don’t have that experience that A-Rod and Jordy have."

As if it wasn't difficult enough to defend, oftentimes it comes with a subtle shove from the receiver.

"And boom, it's never being called," Whitt said. "It's a good play."

Except that it's not a play.

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