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Finley's role should increase with Packers receivers out

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 18, 2013

GREEN BAY--It's third and 3 late in the fourth quarter and a 5-foot-10 safety is covering 6-5 Jermichael Finley one-on-one?

Don't expect to see that again anytime soon.

It happened with just under 2 minutes to go in the Green Bay Packers' 19-17 victory over Baltimore Sunday and the result was a 52-yard punch in the face to the Ravens' chances.

When Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones are in the lineup with Finley, someone is going to be left one-on-one. Why the Ravens decided Finley would be the one with Cobb (broken leg) and Jones (knee) over on the sideline is anyone's guess.

As the Cleveland Browns prepare to face the Packers, you can bet their third-and-3 defense doesn't feature a one-on-one against Finley. It definitely won't happen with Cobb, and most likely Jones, in street clothes for the Sunday affair at Lambeau Field.

Finley has lived comfortably in the offense this season with lots of no-huddle and a triumvirate of receivers putting pressure on opposing secondaries. He still gets doubled some, but the overall result has been another fast start for the fifth-year tight end.

In five games, one of which he played only six snaps due to a concussion, he has caught 20 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. At this pace, he'll break his career-high of 61 catches and finish about 40 yards shy of his career high in receiving yards.

The problem Finley might face is that without Cobb and Jones, he becomes the No. 1 or No. 2 target of opposing defenses on a down-after-down basis. The Browns probably aren't scrambling to figure out ways to double-team Jarrett Boykin or Myles White, the two guys who are next up on the receiver chain.

“Every year it's like that,” Finley said. “It's part of the game. If you're a football person, you'll know why you're not getting open or not getting the ball because it's a double-team. It's a way to get other guys open.

“It's all about doing what I can do to help the team win, not do too much.”

Finley has some history with exaggerated expectations, most notably during his contract year of 2011. Instead of letting the offense come to him, he pressed and became frustrated that he wasn't getting the ball enough.

When he did get the ball, he dropped it too often, seven in the first 12 games, five of them on third downs. The harder he tried, the worse it got and the more the fans got on him.

Last year, even though he vowed to play trouble-free, the first eight games were more of the same. It wasn't until a bye-week break that he ditched the weight vest he had been carrying around and just played football.

From that point on, his focus has been on playing carefree and without preconceived ideas of how many passes should come his way.

“That's just something I have to do is keep my head level, do what I'm supposed to do, do it the right way and do it fast,” he said. “That's what I'm about right now. That's what's helping me, that's what's making me play well.”

It's logical to wonder whether some of the ghosts of Finley past will resurface with Cobb and Jones out and the offense in need of someone to stretch the field. Finley has been more tight end than receiver this season and has played off the success of the receivers.

Now he could be one of them.

Most of those around Finley seem to think he's past worrying about how many balls he's getting and posting extraordinary numbers. No one with the Packers has said anything this week about Finley having to play like a wide receiver or pick up the slack for the injured wideouts.

They want him to continue doing what he has been doing.

“I definitely think there were times when he put unnecessary pressure on himself,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We've all been encouraging him to just be himself. We need Jermichael feeling confident, comfortable, being himself.

“When he does that, he makes some big-time plays. He's been on a roll since last year midseason and it's because he's comfortable with who he is as a Green Bay Packer in this locker room.”

Maybe privately the coaches are worried about Finley remaining grounded, but publicly they're not fretting about it.

“I never thought about it until you brought it up,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said.

“I think he just knows that his confidence level is pretty high, he knows that he's going to get opportunities and he feels like he's been given a fair shake,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “And as long as we continue to produce, he'll get more opportunities. That's no secret.”

Finley's more cordial relationship with Rodgers seems to have played a role in accepting a complementary role. In the last two games, Finley has been targeted 13 times, second only to Nelson's 17 and if he's open there's no reason for those numbers to drop.

The question that remains is, will opposing teams decide to take him out of the equation by being physical with him at the line of scrimmage and devoting a second defender to his area? With the Browns able to match talented cornerback Joe Haden on Nelson, they might be free to put two guys on Finley.

“I would think whatever Jermichael gets, they're going to try to disrupt the flow of him running routes,” Fontenot said. “That's not a secret. I think most teams in the NFL if you tried to shut down any one receiver that's probably how you're going to do it.

“Double-team is a good way to do that. Putting your best defender on that kid can be another way to do it. There are tools to beat those things. That's what we're focusing on.”

Rodgers has another answer to the doubling of Finley, something he thinks can take the pressure off him.

“The thing that is different about our offense this year is that if you choose to double Jordy or Jermichael now, we're going to run the football. We've been running it pretty well. They want to double one of those guys, they're going to have to stop the run. I'm more than happy to call it.”



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