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One of NFL's best makes rare visit to Lambeau Field

Packers will have their hands full with Chargers WR Keenan Allen

Chargers Keenan Allen
Chargers Keenan Allen

GREEN BAY – The word choice was a bit unusual for Matt LaFleur, but then again totally appropriate.

"Keenan Allen's a monster," the Packers' head coach said earlier this week of the Chargers receiver on his way to Lambeau Field.

Nickel corner Keisean Nixon, who may or may not line up across from him at some point, was equally blunt and brief.

"First-ballot Hall of Famer," he said. "It ain't even close."

Allen will visit Lambeau for only the second time in his career Sunday. Previously, in 2015, he was just a third-year pro with a 1,000-yard rookie season to his name, and he wouldn't get his second until two years later.

But that's when his career really took off. From 2017-19, Allen was just a dozen yards shy of 3,800 receiving yards over those three seasons, and followed up by nearly hitting 1,000 yards in '20 and topping 1,100 yards in '21.

He's well on his way to another big year with 73 catches for 895 yards and six TDs in just nine games this season. In part due to injuries elsewhere within LA's offense, he has 50 more receptions than anyone else on his team.

On an explosive, high-scoring Chargers offense, he's a huge task defensively for the Packers, who are hoping to get All-Pro corner Jaire Alexander back from a shoulder injury (he's questionable on the injury report), but otherwise will be turning to rookie Carrington Valentine and Corey Ballentine to try to keep him in check.

Allen himself is officially listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, but reports out of LA indicate there's optimism he'll be able to play.

The key to defending him? "Patience," said Packers defensive passing game coordinator Greg Williams, who was with the Chargers when Allen was a third-round draft pick out of California back in 2013.

"You have to have patience. Keenan has some of the best body control I've ever seen, as far as a receiver goes. He knows how to tempo his routes, change speeds. He looks like he's going fast, but he's really setting up something. He's very deceptive on how he sets up his routes. I don't know if there's anybody in the league who does it better than him, because he plays above-the-neck football all the time, and it's impressive to watch."

Earlier this season, Allen joined the 10,000-yard club for receiving yards. He's the 54th player in league history to make the list, and only six of them are active – Julio Jones (13,640 yards), DeAndre Hopkins (11,889), Mike Evans (11,162), Travis Kelce (10,941), former Packers star Davante Adams (10,296) and Allen (10,182).

Allen is the first of those active 10,000-yard club members (other than Adams, of course) to visit Lambeau Field since Evans in the 2020 NFC title game. The best game of that bunch turned in at Lambeau was by Jones in 2014, on a Monday night, when he torched the Packers for 11 catches, 259 yards and a TD in an Aaron Rodgers-Matt Ryan shootout that Green Bay won, 43-37.

That still ranks as the most receiving yards by any opponent against the Packers and the most receiving yards in a single game at Lambeau. (As an aside, Kelce will make his first visit to Lambeau since '15 in two weeks.)

Allen's previous Green Bay outing in '15 wasn't too shabby, as he caught 14 passes for 157 yards on a day Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw for 503 yards. Again, the Packers won a wild one, 27-20, on a last-second pass breakup at the goal line.

Allen caught just about everything Rivers threw his way that day – the 14 catches were on 15 targets – displaying the same range of abilities he currently has at age 31.

"He's one of the best against press coverage in the league," LaFleur said. "He's got unbelievable release ability and short-space quickness. He can make contested catches. There's nothing he can't do. There's a lot of elements to his game that remind me of Davante."

At 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, Allen's body type resembles that of Christian Watson's (6-4, 208), so it was no surprise to hear this week Watson ranks Allen as one of the top three receivers he admires, along with Jones and Evans, who are similarly taller than the average receiver.

"I definitely loved watching him," said Watson, who added he might try to take a moment to meet him during pregame. "It's his consistency. He's found a way to be really good at what he does. His footwork, route-running ability, his ability to make plays in space. Teams are obviously trying to find ways to stop it and he's found ways to not let them stop him."

The Packers take their shot Sunday. It's just the second visit to Lambeau for the Canton-bound Allen but likely his last. Eight years ago, the Packers were wearing throwback uniforms, and they will again Sunday.

Probably fitting against a throwback player who would succeed in any era.

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