MINNEAPOLIS -- If it wasn’t decided before the injuries to James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley, it’s certainly clear now that Jordy Nelson is Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 target.
While the Green Bay Packers quarterback still insists his favorite receiver is the open one, he continues to lean on Nelson, who finished with seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers 44-31 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome.
While the production itself is the norm for Nelson – through seven games, Nelson has caught 39 passes for 649 yards and seven touchdowns – where Nelson lined up in the formation, however, was a different look from coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers offense.
Both Nelson’s 11-yard touchdown catch and his 76-yard catch-and-run scoring play came while he was lined up in the slot receiver position. Nelson, who previously had lined up almost exclusively outside, certainly looked natural in the slot.
“I like Jordy everywhere,” McCarthy said after the game. “Jordy just does it right all of the time.
“He can play any position, he can run any route. His body language is something that young receivers should take note of. He’s an excellent target for a quarterback to throw to. You can see obviously on the corner throw where Aaron puts the ball, there’s a lot of trust there.
“Jordy’s opportunity really came in the slot frankly due to the injuries, but he can play anywhere as far as all of the four (receivers) on the field.”
Nelson acknowledged he hasn’t seen much game action as an inside receiver, but felt it was an easy transition for him.
“We rotate quite a bit through practice and had some reps at it, and it wasn’t that hard of an adjustment,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s key plays weren’t limited to touchdowns. He helped Rodgers and the Packers extend drives five different times by converting on third or fourth down.
“He’s just a smart player,” Rodgers said. “He can play anywhere. He can play inside, outside. He understands all the route concepts. We tried to get him in positions where we could get him singled up. We like those matchups when we can get him one-on-one, whether that’s inside or outside. He’s such a valuable resource to our team, to the young guys we’ve got in that room. Just really proud of him.”
Nelson has been the epitome of consistency this season. He’s started all seven games for the Packers this season and is averaging one touchdown catch per game. His 123 yards marks the third time this season he’s eclipsed 100 yards and the 11th time in his career.
This reliability helps Rodgers to count on him in big game situations. Nelson was heavily counted on in third and fourth down situations Sunday night. Five of Nelson’s seven catches were on either third or fourth down.
“Consistency,” replied Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin when asked about the most important thing he can learn from Nelson. “He’s a really fundamentally sound guy. He’s smart, also. Anything about the game that you can take from Jordy is just (important) day in and day out.”
Jones, who was sidelined for the second straight week with a knee injury, knows the importance of moving Nelson around with the multiple injuries.
“We know with Randall and I being down, and J-Mike being out, all of the attention is going to go to Jordy,” Jones said. “(McCarthy is) just moving him around so he doesn't get so much double coverage and so that he's able to make some plays and get some opportunities.”
The two big plays that Rodgers and Nelson capitalized on required the two of them to be 100 percent on the same page. Both passes were thrown into tight coverage. Nelson’s first touchdown came from the right slot on a corner route where Rodgers put the ball on him with pinpoint accuracy and Nelson caught it despite being well covered by Josh Robinson; the second came from the right slot when Rodgers got him the ball quickly before linebacker Chad Greenway rotated over to him during a blitz.
“We’re two guys that communicate a lot to one another. I think we’re students of the game and enjoy the knowledge of the game,” Nelson said his relationship with Rodgers. “We try to be real detailed in what we do and make sure we’re on the same page so that when we get opportunities like tonight, we are on the same page and are able to make plays.
“My mindset going into every game is just doing my job. I can’t do anything else but what I’m supposed to do. I want to run good routes and get open. If you have an opportunity to make plays you have to make them across the board. We were able to connect and make some plays tonight.”
Nick Bornheimer covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nickbornheimer.