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Outside the numbers: Where Jordy Nelson will be most difficult to replace

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Can the Packers beat the Cowboys without Nelson? (2:04)

Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman agree that the Packers can still defeat the Cowboys in the NFC divisional round on the back of Aaron Rodgers, even if they're without the services of Jordy Nelson. (2:04)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordy Nelson's rib injury came on just the kind of play that made him so effective this season, and if the Green Bay Packers' leading receiver can't play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to find someone else who could work the sideline as effectively.

Nelson lined up wide to the left and ran by New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple in zone coverage. Rodgers rainbowed a pass to Nelson, 22 yards down the left side. Nelson then got drilled in the ribs by safety Leon Hall, knocking him out of the wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Nelson wouldn't even try to practice until Saturday, and if he can't practice, he won't play in the divisional playoff game.

That kind of play became a staple in the Packers' offense this season, upon Nelson's return from missing all of last year because of a torn ACL. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no receiver in the NFL caught more passes outside the painted numbers on the field than Nelson did this year. Of his 97 catches in the regular season, 59 came outside the numbers. Seattle's Doug Baldwin (53) and Oakland's Amari Cooper (51) were the only other receivers with more than 50 catches outside the numbers.

Nelson was particularly effective outside the numbers on the right side of the field, where he made a league-high 43 catches, 12 more than second-best Michael Crabtree.

In the Week 6 game against the Cowboys, Rodgers completed 16 of 17 passes (including 4 of 4 to Nelson) with a touchdown outside the numbers.

It's where Davante Adams will have to step in.

Adams caught 45 of his 75 passes outside the numbers, which tied for 11th in the league, and Adams' yards per catch on those receptions (13.7) actually was higher than Nelson's (11.7). Adams also caught six of his 12 touchdowns outside the numbers; Nelson had eight of his 14.

On Sunday against the Giants, Adams caught eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Three of those catches for 54 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown when Rodgers stayed alive in the pocket for 8 seconds, came on throws outside the numbers.

To be sure, Nelson has played in the slot more often than he did before he missed all of 2015, but the ability to move him around also has helped the Packers' offense. Adams may be able to replicate some of that.

"You saw Davante wide left, wide right and slot right, slot left," Rodgers said after the Giants game. "That makes it difficult [to defend]. We also moved Randall [Cobb] outside and inside. Tried to get some matchups with Jared [Cook]; he had some catches for us, which was good. He's a tough guy to defend. He made some nice plays for us, tough guy to bring down as well. Those guys got going."

Still, it will be difficult to replace Rodgers' connection with Nelson. Rodgers has completed 80.4 percent of passes thrown to Nelson during the Packers' current seven-game winning streak. But even without Nelson for the final two-plus quarters against the Giants, Rodgers thrived. Cobb finished with five catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns, and Cook added five catches for 48 yards.

"It tells you just the way our offense works, the way we're situated, the next guy has to jump in," McCarthy said. "You look at the numbers Davante and Randall put up, and obviously Jared Cook did a lot of good things for us.

"Hey, it takes everybody to win these games. ... That's a reflection of our offense and how we've been playing all year."