Much has been made rightly so about Jermichael Finley’s injury; I won’t go too much in depth because it’s been covered by several of my fellow writers but I will add that it’s great to hear that indications point to Finley avoiding a life-changing injury; ultimately the injury may cost him his career as a professional football player but at least he will be able to live a relatively normal life afterwards. Going back to football, the question becomes “what do the Packer do now without Cobb, Jones AND now Finley?” Obviously Finley was more a wide receiver than a traditional inline tight end and therefore could compensate somewhat for losing both Jones and Cobb but now that Finley is also out for the foreseeable future, what does the Packers wide receiver and tight end cores look like and how will they operate? Keep in mind tight end is the joker of the Packers offense as tight ends often play inline, in the slot, as a fullback, as a move tight end and sometimes even on the outside; a lot of the Packers’ creativity, versatility and matchup problems come from moving tight ends around so seeing what they do with their tight ends is often a good indication of what their offense will operate.
I think the simplistic view is to look at body types and try to project players into Finley’s role. Andrew Quarless is naturally the first option as he has the most experience and receiving production of the remaining tight ends. Quarless is also a good blocker and thus likely would have seen time on offense even with Finley playing so playing him wouldn’t arouse as many suspicions as any other player. The second option would be Brandon Bostick, a former wide receiver in a tight end body that has been with the Packers since 2012 who might be the most athletically gifted of the backup pass catchers. The Packers obviously see something in him by keeping him this long and keeping him on the 53 man roster and his history as a wide receiver could help compensate for the more “wide receiver” like plays that Finley often made. However, just looking at body type and playing history is often misleading, Quarless has been in this situation before in 2010 when Finley was lost for the year with a torn ACL and did nothing with it and Bostick wasn’t even able to beat DJ Williams last year for a spot on the roster.
To answer the question of what the wide receiver and tight end core will look like without Finley more throughly, I’ve charted every play that included a tight end after Finley’s injury to see how the Packers were using their tight ends with such a limited pool of playmakers.
Drive 1: Packers 17, Browns 6 (10:03 4th quarter)
- 1st and 10 at CLE 41: Quarless and Bostick both align in trips formation; both block for a 1 yard Eddie Lacy run up the gut.
- 2nd and 9 at CLE 40: Quarless aligns inline while Bostick motions out to what would be a flanker; both block for a 39 yard pass to Jarrett Boykin that stops at the 1. Aaron Rodgers mentioned on his weekly radio show that this was a textbook example of “protecting the G” (because Rodgers was was standing right on the G at midfield) and Quarless has an exceptional block on the left side of the formation.
- 1st and goal at CLE 1: Quarless aligns at fullback while Bostick aligns inline; Rodgers calls timeout so it’s unknown what assignments the tight ends had but considering it’s assumed that Rodgers called the timeout because a player was out of position it’s likely that a tight end was the culprit.
- 1st and goal at CLE 1: Quarless and Bostick both align in trips formation; both block on a 1 yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson. My opinion was this was a run-pass option for Rodgers, who drilled the quick slant to Nelson instead of handing it to the running back as all the blockers appear to be drive blocking.
Drive 2: Packers 24, Browns 13 (6:07 4th quarter)
- 1st and 10, at GB 46: Quarless aligns inline; blocks for a 11 yard Eddie Lacy run off right guard.
- 1st and 10 at CLE 43: Quarless aligns inline; blocks for a -2 yard Eddie Lacy run off left end.
- 2nd and 12 at CLE 45: Quarless aligns inline; runs a 7 route and is double teamed. Rodgers incomplete passes to Jarrett Boykin on the other side of the formation, but Buster Skrine gets called for defensive passing interference for 21 yards. In my opinion Quarless runs a decent route and but Rodgers looks away after seeing Quarless being bracketed, but a “win” route for Quarless nevertheless.
- 1st and 10 at CLE 24: Quarless aligns inline; blocks for a 4 yard Eddie Lacy run off right end.
- 2nd and 6 at CLE 20: Quarless motions to trips; runs a 9 route and carries the safety away from the play which is a 20 yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin on the opposite side of the formation. Again, Quarless does his job and doesn’t allow the deep safety to cheat over to Boykin’s side so another “win” route.
Drive 3: Packers 31, Browns 13 (1:12 4th quarter)
- 1st and 10 at GB 7: Quarless and Bostick align inline on opposite sides of the formation; both block for a 2 yard Eddie Lacy run off left end.
- 2nd and 8 at GB 9: No tight ends on the field, 2 yard Eddie Lacy run off left end
- 3rd and 6 at GB 11: Quarless aligns inline; 4 yard John Kuhn run off left end.
I would essentially disregard drive 3 since at that point in the game the Packers are only looking to burn off clock, but during drive 1 and 2 the Packers were still looking for big plays and points as evidenced by two long Jarrett Boykin receptions, so it’s not like the tight ends were in only as run blockers. Overall, the Packers have been shifting to a more conservative offense after losing Jones and Cobb so it wasn’t a ground breaking changing when Finley was injured, however often times on passing plays it’s just Nelson and Boykin running routes, which would lead to squeezed coverages and more double teams in previous years. Luckily a healthy dose of Eddie Lacy forced the Brown to respect the run which in turn gives more separation for the receivers (notably Boykin). Perhaps most interesting is that Quarless only ran two routes through out the entire play set while Bostick, supposedly the more natural pass catcher didn’t run a single route. Also interesting is that at no point did any of the tight ends align anywhere that would be considered “non-traditional” for a tight end; both Quarless and Bostick spent most of their time inline with the offensive line, hence it’s likely that neither Bostick nor Quarless will be working as a wide receiver either out wide or in the slot in the future. While the sample size is admittedly small, the play calling shifted to a more bunched, run oriented approach than the spread out, empty backfield formations that we’ve seen from Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers in previous years, which shouldn’t be all that surprising considering the circumstances. Rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, something that has happened in previous seasons), McCarthy and Rodgers are wisely rolling with what works and thus their offensive philosophy has shifted to a more balanced approach.
However it is important to point out while the tight ends aren’t seeing as much production in replacement as Finley, both routes that Quarless ran should be considered victories as they opened up the field for other players, and naturally as defenses start keying in on Jarrett Boykin more, other pass catchers such as Quarless will have their opportunities. Overall, I don’t think the Packers will be able to replace Finley’s production as a matchup nightmare/hybrid tight end but that shouldn’t be a dig at Quarless or Bostick. I think they will be able to contribute some sneaky production ala Tom Crabtree while giving the Packers some flexibility and unpredictability on offense. While it sucks that Finley isn’t on the field to help the Packers, it should be remembered that the Packers managed to win a Super Bowl with Finley on the side line and it’s possible that they could play at a high level again with Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.