Marquez Valdes-Scantling swore the Tweet was not football-related. But given the way the Green Bay Packers second-year wide receiver has disappeared from the offense in recent weeks, the four-word digital prediction he posted could certainly apply to Valdes-Scantling’s hopes for the final four games of the regular season.
Better days are coming.— Marquez V-S (@MVS__11) November 27, 2019
“Better days are always coming,” Valdes-Scantling replied when asked about the Tweet earlier this week, as the Packers began preparations for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field. “There’s always a reason to feel that better days are coming.”
It’s good Valdes-Scantling is able to take that approach, because the past month couldn’t have gone much worse for him in terms of his role in the offense.
For the season, he’s still played 495 of a possible 796 offensive snaps (62.2 percent), but his playing time — and, in turn, his production — has dropped precipitously over the past month.
In the past four games, Valdes-Scantling has played only 91 of a possible 260 snaps (35 percent). He played a measly 11 of 64 snaps (17.2 percent) against Carolina and just 18 of 67 (26.9 percent) in last Sunday’s 31-13 victory over the New York Giants.
That stands in stark contrast to his playing time earlier in the year, when during the four-game stretch from Week 2 through 5 he was on the field for a whopping 245 of the Packers’ 276 offensive snaps (88.8 percent).
“It’s all about getting opportunities again,” said Valdes-Scantling, who enters Sunday’s game sixth on the team in receptions (23) but second in receiving yards (427) and first in yards per catch (18.6) on the season. “Going out there in practice and competing and going out and playing well in the games. It’s one of those things where you have to be ready when the opportunity comes back around. Other guys have stepped up and made plays and give them the credit. That’s where it’s at right now.”
Indeed it is. While his own playing time has dropped, Allen Lazard has moved past him on the depth chart and appears to be the team’s No. 2 receiver. Geronimo Allison, who ceded snaps to Valdes-Scantling during training camp, also is ahead of him, and former UW-Whitewater standout Jake Kumerow has played nearly as many snaps over the past four games (70) as Valdes-Scantling.
“I think for him, this is the first time he’s actually been in some adversity,” wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “He’s battling through some stuff. He’s got some ankle and a knee injuries and he’s just fighting to try to get back to himself.
“He’s done a good job of really working through that stuff in practice, fighting through it in the games, but he’s just slowly getting back to himself. He’s in his second year, he’s never really faced adversity like that, but this is the National Football League. You have to be able to play when you’re not 100%. This is a really good learning experience for him.”
Valdes-Scantling injured his knee and ankle during the team’s Oct. 14 victory over Detroit on “Monday Night Football,” when he was bent backward but somehow avoided what looked at the time like possible season-ending injuries. Although he finished the game, he scarcely practiced the following week and was listed as questionable for the Oct. 20 game against Oakland. He was a game-time decision and wound up playing, catching a 59-yard deep ball to start the second half and a victory-clinching 74-yard touchdown catch-and-run up the left sideline on a short pass from Rodgers.
In the five games since, however, Valdes-Scantling has been targeted for just 10 passes, catching just two for 11 yards. He didn’t have a catch last week against the Giants, the third time in four games he failed to record a reception. In the Packers’ 37-8 loss at San Francisco two weeks ago, he had a chance to make a 36-yard touchdown catch at the end line early in the fourth quarter but appeared to not know where he was on the field.
While coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged afterward “you’d like to have some awareness right there,” he has been publicly supportive of Valdes-Scantling and has insisted he and the other offensive coaches need to do more to keep Valdes-Scantling involved.
“We’ve got to look critically at ourselves and what we’re asking him to do, and making sure we’re putting him in position to get some of those balls. Because he does have a great talent,” LaFleur said. “Shoot, he’s a guy that when he comes off the ball, he’s tough to defend, because he can run so well. So we have to make sure we put him in positions where he can use that to his advantage. You can’t coach or teach that speed.”
Added Whitted: “He’s a guy who has a unique skill set, and we’re going to make sure when he’s back to himself that we get him out there as much as we can.”
For his part, Valdes-Scantling knows he must re-earn Rodgers’ faith. Late in the game last Sunday, the two appeared to be on different pages on a pass where Valdes-Scantling ran inside and Rodgers threw outside. Valdes-Scantling said Rodgers changed the play at the line of scrimmage with a verbal cue — instead of a hand signal — and that he didn’t get the call from the quarterback, resulting in the miscommunication and Rodgers appearing irritated.
Even so, Valdes-Scantling said his recently reduced opportunities haven’t created a crisis of confidence for him.
“My confidence is never shook,” he said. “I always believe in myself. That’ll never change — no matter what the circumstance is. That’s how I got here. I’m in a position where I have to prove myself again. I have to prove myself every single day. That’s what this business is all about.”