Is Greg Jennings Just a Product of Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre?
Playing for two star quarterbacks can unwittingly have an adverse affect on a wide receiver's reputation. It's understandable to ask if Greg Jennings is merely a product of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
However, the simple answer is he's not and for one equally simple reason. Jennings is a wideout who makes things easier for his quarterback.
Two examples from his best performance of a quiet 2012 season help illustrate this point. Jennings is up against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17, a game in which he would record eight catches for 120 yards and two scores.
In the first example, Jennings is lined up in the slot as part of the Green Bay Packers' five-receiver set.
What separates Jennings from many other receivers is the smarts and quality of his route-running. He is able to win at the snap and quickly outwit tight coverage.
This usually starts with one initial, subtle move that Jennings will use to bait a defensive back. In this case, it is a quick step to the inside.
This initial turn to the inside forces the defensive back to react and try to gain inside leverage. Once that happens, Jennings can make a quick cut back to the outside.
Now the defensive back is turned and trailing Jennings, who is running vertically at speed. The crafty flanker has used nifty, early moves to create an obvious mismatch against tight coverage.
Once he gets clear, Jennings is free to present his quarterback with an easy target. In this example, that means breaking off his route on a comeback and sitting down in the zone.
Jennings has headed for the clearest gap between the underneath and deep coverage. He is in the one place the defense can't reach him.
A view from the behind the line shows just how easy it is for Rodgers to find Jennings. In all honesty, even an average quarterback couldn't miss Jennings after the receiver has gotten himself this open.
That's just the point. Jennings has created his own space in the coverage. He has done it by executing quick moves at the snap and running a smart route.
This play is a perfect encapsulation of the best of Jennings. His initial moves are executed at almost frightening speed. As soon as the center's arm is drawing back to release the ball, Jennings is out of his break, making his first move.
There is always a sly intelligence behind those moves. Each one is designed to make a defensive back do exactly what Jennings wants.
Finally, that cerebral approach to the game extends to Jennings' understanding of zone coverages and how to exploit them. All of this makes things easy for a quarterback.
This next play is another fine example of how Jennings undermines zone concepts and makes his quarterback's job easier. It is from Week 15 against the Packers' fiercest rivals, the Chicago Bears.
This time Jennings is split wide and is faced with Chicago's standard Cover 2 look.
Against this coverage, Jennings has one gap to hit. It is the space on the inside, between the cornerback and the deep safety.
Notice again how Jennings' route is precise and smartly finds its mark. Not only does Jennings run his pattern to the first-down marker, he also wisely targets linebacker Lance Briggs.
Jennings knows he has a mismatch against Briggs and can quickly and easily beat him to the zone's soft spot. Once again, Jennings finds ample space in the zone and gives his quarterback an easy target to hit.
Jennings has given his quarterback an easy first down. Things like running a patter to a first-down marker and finding the hole in a Cover 2 may seem elementary to some.
However, plenty of receivers often neglect these basic, yet vital fundamentals and their quarterbacks suffer. A signal-caller can always rely on Jennings to do the smart thing on a play.
Taking a brief break from examining individual plays allows for an opportunity to debunk the Favre myth. There is no doubt that any receiver would have been helped by playing for Favre, but to argue Jennings is simply a product of that help isn't accurate.
Back in January, profootballtalk.nbcsports.com, reported some interesting figures from Jennings' time with Favre: "In two seasons as one of Favre's starting receivers, Jennings averaged 49 catches for 776 yards."
Granted, Favre may have had more weapons, or other favourite targets. Indeed, a younger Donald Driver did lead Green Bay's receiving corps for the latter stages of Favre's tenure.
However, those numbers still don't indicate a receiver being made by a quarterback. There's also the matter of the differences between Favre and Rodgers.
While Favre was a maverick, ad-lib quarterback, Rodgers has been the model of technical efficiency. That has demanded different skills from the Packers receivers.
Favre challenged Jennings to adjust on the fly to his sometimes scattered style. Rodgers has since demanded a greater level of precision and timing.
Another play from Week 17 against the Vikings shows Jennings combining what he learned with both quarterbacks to help Rodgers at the goal line.
He again takes up a position in the slot and is faced with tight underneath coverage with a safety behind it.
Once the ball is snapped, Jennings will make his customary initial fake, this time to the outside. He will then run an inside slant behind the slot defender.
However, when Rodgers is put under some initial pressure, the timing and precision of this play soon breaks down. With his first receiver covered on the outside, Rodgers must scramble to adjust.
Despite initially being wide open, Jennings sees the problem and makes a quick dart toward the run of his quarterback.
He is working hard to provide the frantic Rodgers with an escape from the pressure. Jennings does everything he can to get open again and help Rodgers spot the easy outlet he is providing.
Rodgers trusts Jennings to work his way open and that means he is able to simply throw to a spot.
Once Rodgers releases that throw Jennings is there to make the scoring catch.
This was a perfect example of the intuitive rapport that can be created thanks to the work of a smart receiver and an instinctive quarterback.
Rodgers saw his initial receiver taken away and was under some pressure. Jennings adjusted his position and worked hard to give Rodgers an open alternative.
That's the kind of help any quarterback needs. It's why any team with a struggling young quarterback, ought to break the bank for Jennings.
That's why the Miami Dolphins are making a mistake targeting Pittsburgh Steelers burner Mike Wallace over Jennings. Matt Rybaltowski of CBSSports.com reports that the Dolphins want Wallace because of his flair for going deep.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
However, with youngster Ryan Tannehill still finding his way as a pro passer, a more versatile and reliable target like Jennings makes more sense. Also, while Wallace knows no equal when stretching the field, Jennings is no slouch as a vertical threat.
A play from Week 2 of the 2011 season against the Carolina Panthers helps prove this statement.
Here the Packers use Jennings as their only wideout on a carefully designed play-action pass. He will target the deep safety.
Once the ball is snapped, Jennings makes a typically quick break to the inside. He is aiming for the deep middle zone at the inside of the deep safety.
When he gets to the safety, Jennings executes his familiar brand of subtle moves, intended to outwit his coverage. In this instance he utilises a sharp juke move to turn the safety the wrong way.
It is a sort of Barry Sanders-lite move that completely fools the safety and gets Jennings wide open to receive a 49-yard scoring pass.
Jennings getting himself wide open is something of a familiar pattern. He does it by combining the essential attributes of a quality wide receiver.
His moves at the line are executing at speed, taking Jennings out of his break instantly. This is often while the covering defender is still standing flat-footed.
His routes are precise and smartly run and his skills in the open field are almost criminally underrated. Teams may be put off by the 29-year-old's age.
However, those who are should simply visit Indianapolis Colts' veteran Reggie Wayne and be prepared to be served a tall glass of shut up juice. Receivers with the intelligence and skill of Jennings and Wayne don't ever lose their knack for getting open.
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Durability may be something of an issue, as Jennings has only started 16 games once in his seven-year career. However, 2012 was the first season where he missed major time. So he's worth the risk.
That's because teams won't find another receiver in free agency or the draft with the complete skill set Jennings offers. In his recent breakdown of AFC East free agency needs, NFL.com's Elliot Harrison said it best when he applied this description to Jennings:
They need a true perimeter threat who runs precise routes, makes as many plays in the first quarter as the fourth and occasionally gets vertical. Consistent, too. Answer: Jennings.
That's a perfect summary of one of the most technically accomplished receivers in football. Jennings is the product of no quarterback and if he does leave Green Bay, he can prove it.
All screenshots courtesy of Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass.
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