Stereotyping the Packers' Jordy Nelson

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
8:00
PM ET
Jordy NelsonMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson caught six passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- I'm sorry to disappoint you. We had it half-right last week on Jordy Nelson. He does fit a stereotype -- just not the one that seeped its way into national discussion.

The son of farmers and a Kansan, Nelson wears his hair in a crew cut and still squints in front of television camera lights. He physically recoils in the public spotlight and really means it when he says: "I just prefer to do my job every day in practice, and in the game, and then go home and hide out with the family."

Nelson is a blue-collar Midwesterner if there ever was one, a condition that will be increasingly difficult to maintain after a stretch of games that could catapult him to the Pro Bowl. Nelson caught two more touchdown passes Sunday in the Green Bay Packers' 35-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including the game-clincher, and brought his season total to nine with six games remaining.

How understated is Nelson? Discussing his performance Sunday, the best word that coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers could come up with was "consistent." Added McCarthy: "I wish I could be more complimentary: He is so consistent and he's the same guy every day, and that’s huge on a lot of different fronts... ."

Which is largely why Nelson seemed so out of place last week in a national discussion about the speed and perception of white receivers. We touched on the topic twice, wondering whether opponents were truly underestimating him because of race or whether they have made a schematic decision to focus on other players in the Packers' offense.

Regardless, Nelson said the issue made him "uncomfortable" as it played out last week. He said he laughed when an official, and even some Bucs players, referenced it on the field Sunday. But you don't have to know Nelson well to recognize he wasn't going to dip his toe into those social waters.

"I hate the spotlight," he said. "I don't like it. That's why, what happened last week, I did not like that one bit. … I don't even deal with race and anything like that. It's something we've discussed in the locker room here, and I hope it didn't offend anybody. … I'm not mad at anybody. I just don't like to be in the spotlight, and that kind of put me out there."

It would be insulting to the Buccaneers to suggest they underestimated Nelson, for racial or any other reasons. Sunday marked his third 100-yard game in the past five weeks, and here are his numbers during the Packers' 16-game winning streak, dating to last season and including playoffs:

Receptions: 67
Yards: 1,255
TDs: 12

"I really don't care how they think," Nelson said, "because honestly, if someone underestimates you, it's better [for me]. But everyone in this league has a job. They watch film. They see what they see. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and keep grinding."

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, including nine to Jordy Nelson.
I would think opponents are now fully aware that Nelson is not a stereotypical white receiver, if there is such a thing. He can run past anyone, as suggested by his average of 18.7 yards per catch over that 16-game stretch. But there is only so much that can be done while also defending against receiver Greg Jennings, tight end Jermichael Finley and the rest of the Packers' offense.

Sunday, the Buccaneers fruitlessly searched for ways to handle Nelson while not losing sight of the Packers' so-called heavy hitters. Nelson is a starting-caliber receiver whom the Buccaneers mostly tried to defend with backups. Ever heard NFL people talk about having players who can step up when the focus is elsewhere? Nelson hasn't been underestimated; he's the best example of how the Packers' offense is overwhelming opponents on matchups.

Sunday, the Buccaneers tried nickel back E.J. Biggers on Nelson. They rotated cornerback Ronde Barber on him a few times, and for some reason had little-used Myron Lewis matched up in single coverage on third-and-four at the Bucs' 40-yard line with 3 minutes, 1 second remaining in the game.

The Packers were clinging to a 28-26 lead. If you watch the replay, it appears that Nelson put a dirty double-move on Lewis to leave him in the dust for a 40-yard touchdown.

Not so, Mr. Humble said afterward.

Nelson said he thought Rodgers was going to feed him a shorter pass that would be a jump ball.

"So I slowed down a little bit to gather myself to get ready to jump," Nelson said. "And when it came out of his hand, I was like, whoa, that kind of took off. That little hesitation did help myself. The DB did think it was going to be to the back shoulder."

Come on. Nelson wasn't going to say so, but make no mistake: It was a big-time move at a critical moment for a team that is making a run at history. This season, Nelson has showed us that stereotypes can be true. You just have to make sure you've nailed him on the right one.

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