Judging from the comments section here at Cheesehead TV and from my Twitter feed, Jermichael Finley has replaced Jarrett Bush as the Packers player fans most love to hate. Which compels me to pass along a somewhat personal note to those of you who can't get to your keyboards fast enough to type such missives as "The sooner Finley is gone, the better" or "Finley cost us the game with his drops!"
You are all out of your minds.
Are Finley's drops frustrating? Of course. But if you think your frustration comes even close to how Finley himself feels about them, you are completely off the reservation.
Jermichael Finley is one of the most important players on the Packers offense after Aaron Rodgers, especially the way the offense is put together this year. Yes, as the popular saying goes, the Packers won a Super Bowl with Finley on the sideline. But Greg Jennings, as you may recall, played not only in the Super Bowl but in the stretch of games that Finley missed that led them there. With Jennings out of the lineup today, the Packers receivers combined for 10 catches for 106 yards. The longest reception from a receiver was 22 yards. Finley had receptions of 41 and 33 yards, both during touchdown drives.
Finley also had four mind-numbing, soul-crushing drops.
Today you saw more of what you've seen all season, only dialed up a notch - a young, strike that, very young playmaker who is pressing to make plays and who has been ever since he came into training camp.
Now, there are a lot of factors at work here. The biggest one, of course, is the fact that Finley is in a contract year. He wants so badly to prove his worth that he is fighting balls that in the past were never an issue for him. His previous years on the field, Finley displayed some of the softest and most natural hands I'd ever seen. Then, starting right at the beginning of training camp, Finley started dropping balls he never dropped before. Many people, both in and outside of the Packers, thought it was just a case of Finley knocking rust off from being out so long last season and then not having any offseason work due to the lockout. And to some extent that's true.
That brings us to another factor at work in Finley's drops - the amount of work he's been given this year. Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin conceded last week that after Rodgers, Finley has the largest amount of responsibility and the most to remember when it comes to the Packers offense. That's because McCarthy and Rodgers so often use Finley to try and get the defense to declare what it intends to do. Either by motioning him across the formation or by splitting him wide, how teams play Finley goes a long way in telling Rodgers what to expect. Then, when the ball is snapped, Finley and Rodgers must be on the same page regarding what they see coverage wise. It's a lot, and Finley has done well being a moving piece and a somewhat decoy.
But this was the week Finley was supposed to stop being a decoy and become a go-to receiver. While he didn't quite live up to that ideal, on a day when the rest of the Packers receivers were having a ton of trouble against the man press being played by the Chiefs (save maybe Randall Cobb on a few occasions) Finley was the one player getting consistent separation from his man.
Look at Jordy Nelson. Nelson is a good receiver and has made some big plays this year for the Packers - but he was downright invisible today. Yes, he was the victim of two completely phantom offensive pass interference penalties. But with Greg Jennings sitting at home and the defense able to leave a safety over the top of him and Finley, he was never a threat during the game.
Finley, despite his drops, was.
Here's the final thing I think most Packers fans miss when it comes to Finley. The kid is just that - a kid. He's only 24 years old. As good as he's flashed (and he has really flashed) he is going to keep improving and he is going to get better. He's an incredible talent, close to a once-in-a-lifetime player that the Packers can hold onto and mold into one of the most dangerous offensive weapons the league has ever seen.
I know he denies it, but Finley is simply pressing and trying to do too much. He needs to calm himself down and let the game come to him. It may not be this year, it may not happen until he's had another offseason, and it may not happen until sometime next season - but when the game finally slows down and he stops trying to fight the ball, Jermichael Finley is going to be a fan favorite once again.
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