The Packers and Vikings entered the regular season with five receivers apiece.
In Green Bay, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had played a combined 192 regular-season games with James Jones (74), Jordy Nelson (73), Randall Cobb (30), Jarrett Boykin (10) and Jeremy Ross (5).
In Minnesota, quarterback Christian Ponder had played a combined 19 regular-season games with Jerome Simpson (12), Jarius Wright (7), Greg Jennings (0), Cordarrelle Patterson (0) and Joe Webb (0 as a full-time receiver).
This does NOT IN ANY WAY suggest that Ponder needs only to play another 170 games with his current receiving corps to make people forget Brett Favre, win league MVP, hoist a Lombardi Trophy and have former teammates refer to him only as “No. 7.” It does, however, suggest that we all might want to hold off a little on the panicked “how come” questions. Questions such as …
“How come Jennings only caught three passes? … How come Cordarrelle played only five snaps? … How come they don’t use Joe Webb more?”
It caught everyone by surprise when Simpson was the go-to receiver with seven catches for 140 yards in Sunday’s 34-24 season-opening loss at Detroit. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. Simpson is a six-year veteran, he’s healthy after back and leg problems a year ago and he’s the only receiver on the roster who has played anywhere close to a full season with Ponder.
We caught up with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart on Thursday with our own set of questions. Here are four of them:
Patterson shows so much promise as a rookie. Why was he targeted only one time in five offensive snaps?
Stewart: “That was such a disjointed ballgame. Adrian Peterson scored from 78 yards on the first play and then we go three-and-out [three times] and turn the ball over twice and it’s halftime and we’ve run only 19 plays. Also, Jerome was making plays all over the field. And Cordarrelle is behind him [on the depth chart]. It’s hard taking Jerome out of the offense. It’s kind of like Michael Jordan shooting threes and then deciding to bring in the backup guard. But we’re going to get Cordarrelle more involved, obviously, this weekend.”
You’ve gotten to know Greg Jennings. After a game like that, how difficult will it be for him to not lose his patience when the only other quarterbacks he’s played with are Favre and Rodgers?
Stewart: “He understands that this is a team. He understands that everybody can’t marry Miss America. We have good players here. Really good football players. Greg understands that. He’s not trying to compare anybody to anybody. He’s trying to be the best receiver he can be for our quarterback, like he did for Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. It’s kind of like living in a house. One day, you may have a mansion and the next day you may have an apartment. Regardless of where you live, it’s home. He’s trying to make the best home he can make.”
Now that Simpson is on pace for 112 catches for 2,240 yards, what did you think of the acrobatic catch he made on that 47-yarder on Sunday?
Stewart: “That was a play we called for that particular coverage. Man, it was like a Willie Mays catch. Jerome is like Bambi. He’s like a little deer. He has unbelievable bounding ability. That’s Jerome Simpson’s game when he’s healthy. And he’s healthy.”
OK, now the bad. Ponder’s first interception wasn’t the best throw [a slant to Simpson] and only the penalty on Ndamukong Suh prevented it from standing as a pick-six. The ball did go off Simpson’s hands, but there also was contact from the defender at about the same time. Should Simpson have caught that ball?
Stewart: “It would have been a heck of a catch had he caught it. Maybe a couple of guys in this league would have caught it. But that’s the next step. He’s not there as a receiver. That’s the next step, being able to pull that ball in. We’re always saying regardless of where the football is, we want to make plays.”
Rhythm, Stewart said, is the key. And rhythm, he said, takes more than a combined 19 games with the guy throwing the ball.
“Greg is new, Cordarrelle is new, Jerome has been here less than a year, Jarius played less than half a year last year, and Joe was a quarterback,” Stewart said. “They’re still establishing a rhythm with Christian. As we go through this season, you’ll see our passing game take off.”