Breaking Down Randall Cobb's Key Role in Green Bay Packers' Offense
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With a touchdown on each—including his electrifying and NFL-record-tying 108-yard touchdown in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, for which he was awarded the NFL's Play of the Year—Cobb set the stage for what would be an expanded role in his second season as a professional.
Cobb still maintains his kick-return duties on special teams, but he's becoming a bigger and bigger part of the Packers offense seemingly every week.
To identify Cobb's key role on offense would simply be to say his versatility. Whether as a receiver or a running back, the multiple looks Cobb provides is enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing.
From the Slot
The most damage Cobb has created has been from the slot position on the field, not unlike that of Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, who gets a lot of credit for revolutionizing the slot-receiver position in the modern NFL.
To be sure, Cobb isn't quite at the level of Welker yet. But perhaps that's only because a reputation is gained over time and because there's so many other talented targets in Green Bay that the ball must be spread around.
Cobb currently leads the Packers in receptions with 42 on the season, and the majority of those have come from when he lines up in the slot.
His most impressive touchdown of the season came in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 with the Packers nursing a seven-point lead.
Facing a 3rd-and-9 situation, Aaron Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket to avoid the oncoming rush and lofted the ball to Cobb between two defenders for a 39-yard score, which put the game out of reach for the Rams and secured the win for the Packers.
Following the game, Rodgers spoke glowingly of Cobb.
"He's a star in the making," Rodgers said. "He's a big-time player. He has the right approach for being a professional. He takes his job very seriously. He sees the game through the eyes of a quarterback."
Cobb's game-clinching touchdown was only one of several plays he made that afternoon, finishing with eight receptions for 89 yards on his way to finding the end zone twice.
In the aftermath of the Rams game, Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, "Over the last four games, he has caught 26 passes for 339 yards. Only three players in the NFL have more receptions during that span, including teammate Jordy Nelson with 27."
Those statistics speak to Cobb's emergence as one of the NFL's elite weapons, both in the slot and elsewhere.
The Cobra Formation
A new wrinkle to the Packers offense was one they unveiled during the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, when Cobb lined up in the backfield as a running back, which they like to call the Cobra formation.
The Packers used Cobb more heavily in the backfield that afternoon than any other time since, but that particular game showed just how versatile Cobb can be and how much of a matchup nightmare he can cause for a defense.
In his weekly analysis of the 49ers game, Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel wrote:
The major development was McCarthy's decision to use Cobb on the majority of passing downs after the first series. Cobb lined up in the backfield 20 times and then motioned out to receiver on seven. In all, four of his catches came from out of the backfield; four came as a WR, and one came when he shifted outside.
The Packers have had so much success with Cobb running the football when lining up in the backfield; it's hard to believe they don't attempt to do it more often. On just three rushes, Cobb has 67 yards on the season for an average of 22.3 yards per carry, including a 19-yard scamper against the Rams in Week 7.
Up 7-3 in the first quarter, Cobb takes a handoff at midfield on 2nd-and-8 and displays patience as he waits for the blocking to develop ahead of him.
When things get clogged up in the middle, Cobb bounces the play out to the left for a long gain, helping to set up a field goal for the Packers.
Cobb lined up in the backfield on five plays that afternoon, as noted by Bleacher Report's own Zach Kruse over at CheeseheadTV.com, where he goes onto describe the threat Cobb poses.
"There’s so many concepts that McCarthy can incorporate into five plays, whether it be an inside run, shovel pass, angle route, slip screen or swing pass," writes Kruse. "Conceptually, the possibilities are endless."
Adding to His Repertoire
The Packers are realizing they just can't afford to keep Cobb off the field. Over the course of the past month, in each of the past four games, Cobb has set or tied a career high in terms of number of snaps played, according to ProFootballFocus.com (premium content).
The reason the snap count reached as high as it did against the Jaguars was because both Nelson and Greg Jennings were out with injuries and placed on the game-day inactive list.
For the first time in his career, Cobb was asked to play a high number of snaps as a perimeter wide receiver lining up near the sidelines.
The production was modest. Cobb totaled five receptions against the Jaguars for a modest 28 yards.
Early evidence might suggest Cobb is more effective as a slot receiver, where he has more room to operate and can break either to the inside or the outside on his pass routes.
Even though he's still feeling his way out, Cobb's most impressive play of the day came on his touchdown, when he lined up as a perimeter wideout in the first quarter of Sunday's game as the Packers were down 3-0.
Working his way to the middle of the field, Cobb had to double back when Rodgers was forced to buy time with his legs. Cobb snaked his way along the back of the end zone and cradled a pass from Rodgers to give the Packers a lead they would never relinquish.
Playing the perimeter and scoring a touchdown was just one more step in the development of Randall Cobb, a process that doesn't have many steps left.
He's proven to be one of the Packers' most dangerous weapons this season and is on the precipice of becoming one of the more valuable players the NFL has to offer.
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