By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) Respect is earned in the NFL.

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For wide receivers, there’s no greater sign of respect than drawing deep safety help over the top, which has become the only way to defend Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson. After watching Nelson have his way with virtually every secondary he faced over the first seven weeks of the season, the New Orleans Saints’ defensive game plan centered around eliminating him. Nelson drew the Saints’ top cornerback (Keenan Lewis) and deep safety help over the top, and the plan worked, as Nelson was shut out of the end zone and had his lowest yardage total of the season (25) in New Orleans’ big win.

Nelson has evolved into one of the league’s premier receivers. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, he has ideal size to play physically and present a target with a wide catching radius. He’s an explosive leaper who times his jumps well to high-point 50/50 balls and has deceptive speed to separate and stack on top of defenders. Against press coverage, he’s adept at using his inside arm to work free of a jam and keep a defender’s hands off of his body. Against off coverage, he’s quick to eat up a cornerback’s cushion to get them on their heels so he can win in the move area at the top of his route stem.

After reviewing all of Nelson’s 50 receptions this year, a few elements of his game stood out. Nelson plays with excellent body control, and there are no wasted movements in and out of his breaks. Nelson quickly diagnoses coverages to make the proper in-route sight adjustment, and his chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers is second to none.

“It’s got to be a reaction, two guys on the same page,” Rodgers said about Nelson. “Jordy and I have played a lot of football together, we talk about a lot of those things that can happen on the field — coverages, matchups, different route concepts and how I want to throw them.”

There’s nothing exotic about the Packers’ route combinations or formations. Nelson is primarily lined up as the No. 1 receiver (closest to the sideline), more often than not to Rodgers’ right, and runs the standard curls, slants, outs, digs, verticals and posts you see every Sunday. But his back-shoulder stop and comeback routes have become the go-tos in the Nelson-Rodgers arsenal to move the chains, while the double move (corner post route) off of play-action has become the home run ball.

Let’s go to the film room to take a closer look at how Nelson attacks a secondary.

The first example is from the Dolphins-Packers game. The Packers come out in their preferred 11 personnel grouping, with Nelson lined up as the No. 1 receiver on the frontside of a 2-by-1 slot left formation. The Dolphins respond with nickel personnel in Cover-1 man free.

(All images courtesy of NFL Game Rewind)

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Nelson quickly releases up field to make the cornerback respect the deep ball and get him leaning up field, only to stop on a dime and snap off his route on a comeback, creating separation back towards the sideline.

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In doing so, Nelson both creates a clean throwing lane for Rodgers and a barrier with his body to shield the still-recovering defender from the ball. With perfect ball placement, the only way for a cornerback to defend this throw is to commit a penalty.

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The Packers can seemingly throw the comeback route on longer down and distance situations and the stop route in shorter down and distance situations at will, given the timing between Nelson and Rodgers.

The next example is an illustration of the explosive element of Nelson’s game, predicated off of play-action.

Against the Vikings, the Packers come out in 12 personnel, with Nelson lined up as the Z (flanker) receiver in a unit formation. The Vikings counter with their base personnel in a presnap Cover-2 shell.

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The Packers sell an outside zone run to the left. The key to any successful play-action play is the quarterback, running back and offensive line working in concert to sell the run action, which the Packers do. In turn, they get the Vikings’ linebackers to bite and drive downhill, creating a gap between the underneath and deep defenders.

Nelson releases inside, stemming as if he’s running a post route.

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In the move area, Nelson briefly stems his route back to the corner and sets safety Harrison Smith up with the double move. Once Smith opens up his hips to defend the corner route, Nelson breaks back toward the post to create separation over the top.

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With Smith out of position, and the other safety bracketing Randall Cobb over the top, Nelson is all alone to haul in a 66-yard touchdown.

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Defending Nelson is a chore, as he’s truly become a coverage-dictating wide receiver. Nelson had his way with the Bears back in Week 4, racking up 10 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bears have talked about being better with matchups in the second half of the season, which means they may be best served to have Kyle Fuller follow Nelson all game with safety help over the top, as the Saints did to slow Nelson down.


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Dan Durkin covers the Bears for and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.