In slot, Cobb makes Sea­hawks pay

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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.

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Pack­ers wide re­ceiver Ran­dall Cobb se­cures one of his nine re­cep­tions on Sun­day. He saw a game-high 13 tar­gets against Seat­tle’s de­fense.

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