Packers receiver Donald Driver was rendered a part-time player by a quadriceps injury for nearly two months.
At no time this season have the Packers fielded a running game that required extra attention from defenses.
That combination of events left the Packers one proven playmaker in their offense. Typically, NFL defenses can successfully game plan against a single threat. But in the past seven games, receiver Greg Jennings has produced the best statistical rampage of his career.
As the chart shows, Jennings is averaging an NFL-high 108.7 receiving yards per game over that stretch. He's scored eight touchdowns, caught 43 passes and in many ways rescued the Packers from their injury debacle this season. Jennings refuses to promote himself, and so you probably haven't heard much about it from a national perspective. But you would be hard-pressed to find a better receiver over the past two months.
Greg Jennings in 2010
*Avg. of 108.7 ypg leads NFL over that span Source: Packers
"[It's] just pretty much how things have been working out," Jennings told Wisconsin reporters this week. "Probably a little bit more eye-balling from the head guy over there [quarterback Aaron Rodgers], trying to get me the ball a little more. When guys go down, you have to increase your play and that's pretty much what we've been trying to do."
It made perfect sense to re-focus on Jennings after Finley's injury, but why didn't defenses make the same adjustment? It seems that every week you see Jennings running down the sideline against single coverage. That trend has come even as defenses rarely, if ever, bring an extra man into the box to defend the running game.
"We're not seeing a lot of eight-man box," Rodgers said this week. "We're having to find ways to be effective and move the ball against a lot of two-high safety. But we've done a good job with that."
How have they done it? I wish I had a blueprint, but obviously the Packers would like to guard those secrets. A few things seem obvious, however.
First, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is getting as many receivers on the field as possible -- to flood the zone, so to speak. The Packers lead the NFL in five-receiver sets, and they've used three receivers on 423 of their 732 plays this season, the eighth-highest total in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Second, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. suggests the Packers have excelled at "attacking different levels" -- intentionally varying how far downfield they throw in order to keep defenses off balance. Indeed, according to ESPN research, Rodgers has achieved a nice balance on the types of routes he's targeted.
He has thrown 268 passes that travel 10 yards in the air or less, the 12th-most in the league. Another 78 of his passes have traveled between 11 and 20 yards, also the 12th-most in the league. But Rodgers has also worked to stretch defenses, throwing 53 passes of 21 or more yards -- the fourth-best in the NFL.
Finally, Williamson and I agree, some credit should go to the individual skill sets of Jennings and Rodgers. The 57-yard touchdown Jennings caught Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, for example, was the result of a perfectly-placed ball from Rodgers and elite ball skills from Jennings.
When you watch the replay, you see Jennings get a half-step on cornerback Shawntae Spencer and then intentionally make a basket catch so he could continue using his left arm to ward off Spencer until the latest possible moment.
I suppose there could be some point where defenses find a way to track Jennings better in coverage. Lately, however, the Packers have offered a clinic on how to get the ball consistently to your best player.