At a juncture when Randall Cobb is lost for at least a month and probably more, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be looking for reliable and open targets as the Green Bay Packers begin to make a playoff push.
The time is now for Jermichael Finley to start being a difference-maker in the Packers offense, especially if James Jones is unable to play in this upcoming weekend’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Even if the Packers make a roster move to obtain a new wide receiver in the next day or two, they’ll still be low on depth among perimeter receivers, particularly those that are intimately familiar with the Packers’ schemes and game plans.
Finley is going to be needed to be flexed out in a two-point stance perhaps more often than usual as the Packers try to weather the storm without the services of Cobb and possibly Jones. For that matter, so might fellow tight end Brandon Bostick as well.
But more important than where he lines up, Finley needs to start making an appreciable impact whether he’s out wide, in line, or in the backfield.
Through five games, Finley has made a play here and there, but he’s been far from so much as a top 10 tight end in the NFL as his talent suggests he could be, the same problem that’s plagued him pretty much his entire career.
Finley currently ranks 44th among NFL tight ends that have played at least 25 percent of their team’s offensive snaps with a negative rating of 2.6, according to ProFootballFocus.com (premium content).
The biggest reason for Finley’s subpar grade has been his blocking, both in the running and passing game, which isn’t exactly his calling card. But he’s been merely marginal as a receiver as well, ranking just 23rd at his position with a positive rating of 0.7.
As things currently stand, Finley ranks 15th among NFL tight ends with 20 receptions that have covered 228 and has two touchdowns. His 45 percent of catches that have gone for first downs is among the worst in the league.
For the time being, Finley is getting the benefit of the doubt mostly because of a concussion that knocked him out of the Packers’ Week 3 game in Cincinnati, but he only has two catches this season that have covered 20 or more yards.
Perhaps Finley will be on an upward trend after his critical 52-yard catch and run during the fourth quarter of the Packers’ victory on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens that helped Green Bay run out the clock and preserve a mere two-point lead.
The Packers need more of those types of plays moving forward as they adjust to life dealing with the challenge of having very little depth at receiver.
Forget the rumors a season ago that Finley would be let go in the offseason. He’s here now and he’s being depended upon, whether he lives up to those expectations or not.
Finley is entering a contract year and his play now is going to influence the next deal he receives. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Packers that offer him an extension or he decides to test the open waters of free agency.
The better Finley plays now, the better deal he’s going to receive. For the season at hand, it’s a win-win situation for both the Packers and Finley as long as he plays well: Finley’s value is inflated and the Packers reap the rewards.
If Finley wallows in mediocrity, however, he won’t be doing either himself or his current employer any favors.
When the Packers take on the Browns this upcoming Sunday at Lambeau Field, it’s incumbent upon Finley to help put the team’s injury woes behind them.
The good news for the Packers is that the injuries incurred to Cobb and Jones, even those on the defensive side of the football to Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, don’t appear to be season-ending. Soon enough, they’ll be back.
But Finley has to help this team keep it’s head above water, such as they did a year ago when Greg Jennings missed eight games, Jordy Nelson missed four, Matthews missed four and there were any other amount of players on injured reserve.
It’s been nice that Finley seems to have matured off the field, keeping his mouth quiet and staying out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s been that way ever since the offseason. But more important than the off-field issues is his play between the lines.
Packers fans would probably trade a few cocky comments if it means Finley scores 10 touchdowns by season’s end. Ideally he’d maintain a low profile and find the end zone too.
But if there’s ever been a moment for Finley to start living up to his considerable talent and hype, it’s now and for the balance of the season.