GREEN BAY — Davante Adams flung the ball away in disgust.
No, Adams correctly pointed out Tuesday afternoon, he did not chuck it with such force that it landed in the (almost) completely empty Lambeau Field bleachers. But it was abundantly clear after his irritated toss — in the wake of the second of two back-to-back 2-yard, go-nowhere catches on screen passes — the Green Bay Packers star wide receiver had finally had enough of being a virtual non-factor during last Saturday night’s unimpressive 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
“I was pissed. I was definitely pissed off,” admitted Adams, who caught seven passes (on 10 targets) for just 42 yards against the Panthers — his lowest yardage output for a full game this season and the second-lowest yards-per-catch average in a game over the past four seasons. “I was just hot, all around. I wasn’t a huge part of the game at that point. It was just frustrating.
“Obviously, I’m a competitor, a high-level competitor. I’m going to be pissed off many more times — probably next game at some point, too. I’m sure you’ll see that again at some point.”
That’s fine. Nothing wrong with playing with emotion. But what Adams, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coach/offensive play-caller Matt LaFleur hope they don’t see again this year — in Sunday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field or in the Jan. 3 regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field or in the NFL postseason leading up to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida on Feb. 7 — is another game where Adams is taken out by a defense hell-bent on not letting Adams take over the game.
“(No.) 17 is so dynamic to what we do on offense. He’s going to be the focus of a lot of teams’ plan each week,” Rodgers explained after the Packers (11-3) practiced on Tuesday in preparation for the Titans (10-4) in what LaFleur called a “measuring-stick” game earlier this week. “So we’ve just got to keep finding ways to move around and get him involved.”
At the same time, Rodgers said, if a defense makes shutting Adams down its top priority, choosing to play so soft against the run that halfback Aaron Jones will be able to gash them the way Jones ran through the Panthers on Saturday night (20 carries, 145 yards, one touchdown), then more power to them.
“If we’re going to control the line of scrimmage like we did, and they’re going to give us those running holes, we’ve just got to keep sticking with it. If they want to die a slow death giving up chunks on the ground, we’ve just got to keep with it,” Rodgers continued. “When you win, that’s really all that matters in this league. If there’s some sort of silver lining of holding my numbers and 17’s numbers down, I just don’t think that’s the way a competitor looks at a game.”
Of course, if a competitor can keep Rodgers and Adams in check and win the game — like, perhaps an NFC playoff opponent might in January — that’s going to be a problem. And no one is suggesting the Packers should just stop making Adams, who enters Sunday with 98 receptions (tied for fourth-most in the NFL) on 131 targets (sixth) for 1,186 yards (seventh) and 14 touchdowns (second), the top priority in the passing game.
The Panthers weren’t the first team to focus on stopping Adams; they just did it better than others have this year, using quarters coverage to take away some underneath routes and focusing on eliminating one of Adams’ most game-altering abilities: To go down the sideline for explosive down-the-field throws.
“They definitely were flying around, very, very urgent to make sure I wasn’t being a part of the game,” Adams explained. “They obviously had a plan, which was to come in and make sure ‘17’ was not a part of it.
“It really was just the whole pass game all together. We couldn’t get a whole lot going there. We did run the ball well early, (but) then when we needed to be able to pass, it was tough because we hadn’t really established any type of rhythm. I hadn’t been on a million routes at that point, so it was tough for me to communicate with Matt and let him know what I was seeing and what (routes) I thought would be advantageous for us.“
If focusing on limiting the productivity of one of the NFL’s best receivers seems like an obvious game plan, it is. But in the aftermath of the game, LaFleur admitted he did not do a good job as a play-caller of moving Adams around to different locations at the snap or sending him in motion to make it harder for his assigned defender to pinpoint where he might be headed.
“They did not want us to throw the ball to him,” LaFleur said. “Now, we can get more creative in terms of just making sure we’re moving him around and putting him in different positions. But ultimately, that was a game where they were going to not take away the run — they were going to take away the pass. So, they did a good job.”
Adams disputed the notion that the Panthers had provided any sort of blueprint for shutting him down that others teams could follow, praising ex-Packers defensive backs coach Jason Simmons (now on the Panthers’ defensive staff) and pointing out that with so many teams running variations of the Packers’ offense (Tennessee, Atlanta, San Francisco, the Los Angeles Rams) that the challenge for LaFleur, Rodgers and himself is to execute even when the defense makes it difficult.
“Obviously, it’s something that we had experienced before, that type of coverage, but I think just based off of how it was executed, that’s what (was the problem),” Adams explained. “You look at offenses around the league — us, the Titans, the Falcons, the Niners — we all have the same, for a lack of a better word, the same playbook. But the way you execute it, the way you decide to go about having (your No. 1 receiver) run different routes, there’s a lot that can go into it.
“It really comes down to the execution of it at the end of the day. Another team can try to copy what they did, but … all it takes is a game of inches. And a good part of that is me making sure every opportunity I get, that I’m still applying pressure and getting open, doing my part. Aaron’s going to continue doing what he’s been doing all year, and Matt obviously will make sure he knows the situation and what they’ll be in.
“Everybody has a job to do. I just look myself in the mirror and make sure I’m running my routes to win and let those other guys do their job.”
Veteran center Corey Linsley, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury suffered against Chicago on Nov. 29, returned to practice and has been designated for return from injured reserve, meaning he could play against the Titans. Safety Will Redmond (concussion), tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion) and running back Jamaal Williams (quadriceps) were not seen at practice. Although the Packers practiced in order to let the players have a quasi-off day on Friday for Christmas, the team wasn’t required to issue an official injury report. … Protecting themselves in case of an injury or a COVID-19 outbreak that impacts veteran kicker Mason Crosby, the Packers signed ex-UCLA kicker JJ Molson to the practice squad. Molson, an undrafted rookie who was teammates with rookie inside linebacker Krys Barnes with the Bruins, spent time on the Los Angeles Chargers’ practice squad earlier this year. The Packers released center Anthony Fabiano from the practice squad to make room for Molson.
Photos: Packers' 2020 season so far in pictures