Lacy and Franklin are Finley's new best friends
Tight end Jermichael Finley. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Jon Meerdink. CREATED Aug 18, 2013
Though Jermichael Finley may have bulked up in the off-season, improved his run blocking, and worked on his chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, the biggest change to his game may have come in the form of two rookie running backs: Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
Thought it’s easy to point at the stat sheet and Finley’s four catches for 74 yards Saturday night as evidence of his improvement, the real changes came away from the ball.
Finley was targeted with five passes in Saturday's 19-7 Packers win over the St. Louis Rams, and four of those five passes came on play action, starting with the Packers’ very first offensive snap.
Finley held his block on the back side as Rodgers carried out the run fake to the right, then released into the left flat, snagged a pass, and shook off a defender for an eleven yard gain.
After a thundering Lacy run off right tackle, the Rams stacked the box on second and short. Rodgers went play action again, and found Finley up the middle for 25 yards.
The Packers settled for a field goal after the drive bogged down, but the tone had clearly been set both on the ground and through the air.
On the Packers’ second drive, Finley snagged a short pass off a three step drop for a nine yard gain, then found himself wide open on the very next play after yet another play action fake, this time to Franklin.
Had Rodgers not been ever so slightly off target with the throw, Finley might have bulldozed his way into the end zone for a 29 yard touchdown.
But Finley’s best play came on the Packers third drive. A
fter a two yard plunge by Lacy on first down, Rodgers faked hard to Lacy on second and eight, then dumped the ball over the heads of two linebackers to Finley, who raced 33 yards down field on his fourth catch.
The two St. Louis defenders bit hard on the fake, leaving Finley all by his lonesome in the middle of the field.
Finley has long been billed as a great decoy in the pass game, and to a certain extent, that’s true.
He commands attention from linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field, which in turn opens things up for other receivers on the outside.
But without a solid running attack, Finley has little room to operate up the middle, which makes it almost impossible to attract any attention away from his fellow receiving threats.
As we saw Saturday, with a power running attack now a viable threat in Green Bay, Finley may be a big beneficiary.
The more Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin work themselves into the running game, the more Finley’s numbers and impact on the game may expand. His 74 receiving yards in a little over a quarter of work on Saturday may just be a taste of what he could accomplish this year.
And when Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson return to full health, the Packers may just find themselves with a very potent offensive unit.
Jon Meerdink is a news anchor and reporter for 620 WTMJ. He is also the founder, editor and lead writer of PackerPerspective.com.