In slot, Cobb makes Seahawks pay
Green Bay — The Green Bay Packers have two receivers coming off double-digit touchdown seasons, a pair of veteran additions at tight end and a converted receiver expected to provide a new brand of versatility at running back.
It’s no wonder Green Bay’s oft-injured slot receiver flew under the radar to start the 2017 season.
Nine catches and an important Week 1 win over the Seattle Seahawks has put Randall Cobb right back in the spotlight for the Packers offense.
“He’s sometimes a forgotten guy in the mix, especially with the way Davante (Adams) played in training camp and Jordy’s (Nelson) pedigree and the stuff he’s accomplished, but Randall is a great football player,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s very reliable. He ran a number of great routes (on Sunday) to get open, and he just made some really heady plays for us.”
The Packers talked all offseason about creating more opportunities for Cobb, who set three-year lows in catches (60), targets (84) and receiving yards (610) in 2016. Coaches insisted that when healthy, Cobb is still a dangerous target capable of creating big plays whenever the Packers put the football in his hands. They pointed to his production in the playoffs – 18 catches, 240 yards and three touchdowns over three games – as evidence.
The re-commitment to Cobb was obvious from the start against the Seahawks.
He caught three passes on the Packers’ opening drive, including a 14-yard catch on a designed rollout play for the slot receiver and a 29-yard catchand-run created after he sat down in the soft spot of the Seahawks’ zone coverage and then raced down the field after the catch.
Later in the first quarter, Rodgers did something rare against Seattle’s defense: he challenged Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Cobb left him no choice after he burnt Sherman on a quick out route. The 10-yard completion moved the sticks on 3rd-and-5.
“I thought Randall was great tonight, made a lot of catches for us, conversions,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers targeted Cobb on a game-high 13 attempts. Of his nine catches, four created first downs, including a vital thirddown conversion on Green Bay’s final drive of the contest. Cobb beat Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman from the slot on a simple crossing route, picking up 10 yards on 2ndand-8 and giving the Packers a first down with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Green Bay’s offense drained the rest of the clock to seal the victory.
Cobb was instrumental as Packers emphasized a quick passing game to neutralize a Seattle rush that caused Rodgers plenty of trouble in the first half. Cobb played 63 snaps, with Green Bay’s game plan requiring more receivers on the field to counter the Seahawks’ defensive looks and threaten Seattle’s lack of depth at cornerback.
“Frankly, (the quick passing game) was part of the plan. We really didn’t have to make a whole lot of adjustments,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “They were playing their base defense on first down. They were going to load up against the run. We just went to more of a spread game and attacked the corners. That was really the re- sult of that.”
The Packers will have the freedom to adjust their plan of attack on offense from week to week, especially after adding Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks at tight end this offseason. It’s possible the versatile opportunities presented by two-tight end sets could eventually cut into Cobb’s snaps and targets, starting this Sunday in Atlanta.
The Packers will find it difficult to keep No. 18 off the field if he continues to produce.
It’s easy to forget Cobb is just three years removed from catching 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 scores in 2014. His body has failed him at times in the past two seasons, with a preseason shoulder injury in 2015 bothering him throughout the year and a lingering ankle injury causing him to miss three games late last season. He’s played through injury, often times to his own detriment. But when injuries aren’t a factor – like on Sunday against Seattle – Cobb has dynamic qualities the Packers can’t replace in the slot.
His career catch percentage over 82 regular-season games is 70.1 percent. He’s slippery and elusive after the catch. He can return punts and handle snaps at running back, and he’s not afraid to stick his nose into the action and block in the run game. Cobb has all the qualities most teams covet when looking at a slot receiver.
Now, he just needs to stay healthy.
Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb secures one of his nine receptions on Sunday. He saw a game-high 13 targets against Seattle’s defense.