If there was anything positive that came out of the Green Bay Packers' 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, it was the surprising role receiver Randall Cobb played when the Packers had the football.
Cobb, a second-round pick in 2011, lined up at X receiver, slot receiver and running back, while playing a total of 38 offensive snaps.
By the end of Sunday's game, it was clear Cobb was the only player on the Packers' offense that could consistently get open against an elite 49ers defense. He finished catching all nine of his targets for 77 yards.
In the following screen grabs, we'll demonstrate how the Packers used Cobb Sunday as another weapon in their multi-faceted offense.
Note: All screen grabs courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.
Cobb's first tangible contribution on offense came on the Packers' second drive. Facing a 3rd-and-3 from their own 27-yard line, Green Bay lined up with four receivers, one tight end and an empty backfield. Cobb positioned himself in the slot to the left of the formation.
The Packers are expecting man coverage, and the route concept with Cobb and Jordy Nelson shows that. Nelson is running a clear out to push the corner and safety deep, while Cobb works an inside-out move on the dime corner, who won't receive any help.
Cobb's foot speed makes the play and he leaves the cornerback trailing as the ball is thrown. Once the ball is secured, Cobb quickly turns up field and picks up 6-7 more yards by splitting the on-coming defenders.
His quickness was simply too much to handle for a lesser athlete in this one-on-one situation.
On the Packers' first touchdown drive, Cobb's role continues to expand. Now, Green Bay lines him up in the backfield alongside Aaron Rodgers.
On this 3rd-and-1 play, the Packers run a play that might as well be impossible to stop with man coverage on Cobb underneath.
The Packers clear out the right side of the play by sending James Jones on a go-route. That leaves Cobb open to run what Troy Aikman called an "H-Post," or what I'd call an angle route to the inside, which is a very difficult route for any defense to cover in man coverage.
The 49ers either don't assign anyone to Cobb, or there's a major communication breakdown. Cobb runs free out of the backfield, and Rodgers has an easy throw underneath for a first down. But even if the 49ers had positioned a linebacker or safety in one-on-one coverage here, it's a matchup that favors the Packers heavily.
Watch some film of the New Orleans Saints' offense, and you'll realize what the Packers did with Cobb here is much like what New Orleans does with Darren Sproles. It's all about matchups and getting your best playmakers into space.
On the next play, Cobb again lines up in the backfield of the shotgun formation. The Packers run a down-field passing play, with Cobb leaking out underneath as a safety valve.
The 49ers back-off coverage and attempt to stop the big play—something they did all afternoon Sunday. Cobb is open as he leaks out, and Rodgers makes the safe throw. Once again, Cobb has acres of space to work with as the ball arrives.
The 49ers impressively converge on the football quickly, especially the cornerback playing Nelson on top. But against a lesser or slower defense, this has the makings of a big gain.
Here, Cobb picks up only a handful of yards. But the gain serves to replace what the Packers gave up when the offense stopped running the football early in this contest.
This next play is something I expect to see much more of moving forward, even if the Packers didn't pick up many yards with it Sunday.
Cobb begins the play in the backfield, but then motions out to the right slot before the snap. No defender appears to motion with Cobb, so Rodgers gets a pretty good idea that the 49ers are playing some kind of zone defense.
It turns out to not be a zone defense as the play unfolds, but Cobb is still afforded space on the outside with a quick swing screen. There are blockers ahead—two receivers for two cornerbacks—and the Packers expect Cobb to make one of them miss to turn this into a big gain. He doesn't accomplish the goal, but again, most games he won't be asked to make a player like Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman miss.
A running theme here: The Packers trying different ways to get Cobb the ball in space.
Two more examples.
On this 2nd-and-9 play in the second quarter, the Packers keep Cobb in the backfield. He does a simple out route in the flat as the Packers clear that side of the field. He has another cornerback shadowing him here.
Cobb gains just enough separation from the defender for Rodgers to make the throw. Once the ball is caught, Cobb makes a slippery spin move to the inside, leaving the defender to grasp at air. Cobb then makes another defender miss as he picks up 11 yards and another first down.
How do you defend that? Cobb is very difficult for one man to bring down in the open field.
The final play I'll diagram may be my favorite.
Cobb again motions out to the right slot, this time tighter to the formation. The 49ers bring no one with him as he makes himself a receiver.
When the ball is snapped, Cobb chips the outside pass-rusher before settling into the middle of the field. The middle screen is successfully set up.
Cobb makes the catch near the line of scrimmage with a bevy of blockers in front of him. In fact, the only 49ers defender you can see in the picture is a linebacker who has a lineman bearing down on him.
Cobb makes the catch, accelerates up field and picks up 16 of the easiest yards he's had in his NFL career.
Overall, the Packers needed to get creative on offense to crack one of the best defenses in football. Cobb, the most versatile of the Packers' offensive weapons, was able to play a big role in attempting that goal.
It should be interesting to see how the Packers continue to use Cobb, especially out of the backfield. He creates so many matchup problems wherever he lines up, but playing him at running back may give Green Bay the most options, which we saw a few of on Sunday.
While its only been one week, it appears the role Cobb is expected to play in this offense will be a big one. No longer is he just a special teams weapon.