Jermichael Finley Missed?


Don’t get me wrong, with my first Blog I don’t plan on throwing one of the most talented Tight Ends in the NFL under the bus, in fact I’m a huge Jermichael Finley fan and think he has the potential and raw talent to pass up other spotlight tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. When healthy and rolling, Jermichael Finley is nearly impossible to stop. Linebackers can’t cover him, cornerbacks can’t cover him, safeties can’t cover him, it’s just a mismatch all around the field. The only way I have seen Jermichael Finley effectively taken out of a game was game one of this year against the Philadelphia Eagles, where they were bumping him off routes and sliding all kinds of coverage in his direction.

His stats in the Eagles game were hardly Jermichael Finley-esque as he caught 4 passes for 47 yards for an 11.8 average. Now while that might not be up to his standard of play, that’s more than serviceable production from a run of the mill NFL tight end’s perspective. What we’ve come to expect from the 23 year old is his production in the next two games against the Bills and Bears, where he tallied up 4 receptions for 103 yards and 9 receptions for 115 yards, respectively. Only three games into the season he had marked up 17 receptions for 265 yards, even while playing against defensive schemes catered specifically to counter his incredible threat. After a statically off game against the Lions (4 for 36 with 1 TD) due in part to the heavy focus on the running game, disaster struck, and Jermichael Finley was removed from the Redskin’s game with what was originally speculated to be a knee injury, but was reverted to a hamstring injury after more detailed analysis was performed.

The Redskins game and the three after (Dolphins, Vikings, and Jets) saw a plummet from Aaron Rodgers, who consistently seemed to miss Finley’s large frame, especially with throws in traffic. He seemed to take longer to make decisions and at some points even seemed uncomfortable in the pocket without his go-to man. His interception woes continued and after game 7 he was tied with an NFL high 9 picks. Up until game 8, he wasn’t performing nearly up to the standard he set for himself last year, and after a gritting but offenseless win over the Jets his passer rating for the season was a paltry 86.5. That’d be remarkable for the Rex Grossman’s of the world, but definitely not Aaron Rodgertastic. (Yes, I just said that.)

Rodgers seemed out of sync with his receivers, and I kept asking myself what was missing. Jermichael Finley was my first guess, but considering how talented Aaron Rodgers is I saw no reason for his excessive dip in production when he had arguably the best top-4 receiving corps in the NFL and a serviceable replacement in Andrew Quarless, who though is still green, has the same raw talent, ability and frame of Jermichael Finley.

I don’t know if it was a sudden re-emergence of Greg Jennings, or if something simply clicked for Aaron Rodgers, but after the offensively crude game against the Jets, something drastically changed. Perhaps he started using Old Spice and riding horses backwards, but more likely it was simply an innate confidence that stirred fire inside Rodgers – because from that point forward he has been nothing short of brilliant.

His stats are absurd, but just watching the games you can tell the difference, he seems poised, confident. He knows exactly how the defenses are going to attempt to counter him, checks plays effectively, pokes holes in the tightest of coverages; his play has raised the bar for the receivers as well and they have responded valiantly to the challenge with a significant cut in dropped passes and mis communications. More than that: he has put up a phenomenal streak of 177 pass attempts without an interception, completely turning around his habit from the beginning of the season in which he threw nine in 222 attempts.

My first instinct to that statistic is to assume that he hasn’t attempted throws downfield, but his average per attempt through these four games is an impressive 9.49, whereas through the eight games prior it was an uninspiring 7.75. All in all, in the past four games his stats are beyond ridiculous – a 73.7% completion rate for 1232 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, and an unbelievable quarterback rating rating of 130.6. Those stats are put up with an off-and-on Donald Driver, and without his arguably best passing catching weapon in Jermichael Finley. In fact, the tight end position in general has been mostly non-existent over these past four games, only accounting for 7 receptions for 57 yards.

I began to wonder what kind of numbers Aaron Rodgers could put up if Jermichael Finley were still in the line-up, and considering how heavily he seemed to rely on Finley in the early games I had a partial epiphany. I believe that without the injury to Jermichael Finley, Rodgers wouldn’t have gotten as unified with his receivers, and it’s quite possible he would have put up better overall numbers throughout the season in general, but never have clicked as well as he has currently, reaching the apex of his potential at the perfect time as the season winds down to some grueling matches against the Patriots, Giants, and Bears.

As much as Packers fans like to turn a blind eye to it, Rodgers is still a young and developing quarterback; he has a firm grip on the West coast system but he is still learning and growing from game to game, which makes me consider the possibility that losing Jermichael Finley for the season was a necessary point in the 27 year-olds maturation as a top-tier NFL quarterback.

Many developing quarterbacks rely heavily on a single player who they feel most comfortable throwing to, and Rodgers seemed to fall under that category early in the season with Finley, getting out of sync with his other explosive targets as consequence. However, Rodgers has exploded over that hurdle and become completely comfortable throwing to the plethora of talented receivers and running backs at his disposal.

So when Finley returns next season, Rodgers will be at the top of his game, and adding him back into the line-up could vault Rodgers into the discussion to be honored alongside Tom Brady, Payton Manning, and Drew Brees as the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He certainly has the talent and tools to do so.