Coming into the week, Cobb had 14 receptions for 126 yards and three scores combined during the first three games of 2014. You'd have to go back more than a full season to find a game in which Randall Cobb produced as well yardage- and reception-wise as he did on Sunday.
It's no surprise that the previously 1-2 Green Bay Packers offense started out of the gate a little slow. With James Jones and Jermichael Finley gone from the 2013 squad, there were two large shoes to fill offensively.
Jones, who signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason, had 310 receptions, 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns in his career as a Packer. Finley, who's unemployed due to health concerns, flashed rare talent as a tight end, tallying up 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 scores.
At this point in the season, neither has been truly replaced. The third receiver role that was vacated by Jones has been filled by Jarrett Boykin, who started eight games in replacement for an injured Cobb last season, and Davante Adams, a second-round rookie out of Fresno State. Boykin was inactive this weekend due to a groin and a knee injury suffered during the week.
In the tight end role, Richard Rodgers, a third-round rookie tight end out of the University of California, is starting, but Andrew Quarless also got a co-start when the Packers came out in a two-tight end set to start the game this past weekend. Combined, they've totaled 10 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown four weeks into the season, not exactly game-changing numbers.
As seen in the excerpts from another piece I wrote, the replacement targets were clearly on different pages than Aaron Rodgers during the first couple weeks of the year. Targeted seven times in the two games following his decoy performance against Richard Sherman to start the NFL season, Boykin only caught two passes for 17 yards.
Play 4: Jarrett Boykin's turn to drop the ball
To the left was Jarrett Boykin. The third-year undrafted free agent ran an interesting route to free himself from the boundary cornerback. Running vertically for about 13 yards, Boykin initially turned to his right on the break. This caused the cornerback to roll his body in the same direction.
Continuing through the rotation, though, Boykin headed toward the sideline to the left, with a chasing defender behind him.
The former Virginia Tech Hokie couldn't keep a handle on the ball to finish, ending the play in its tracks.
The lack of chemistry between quarterback and receiver was evident on the surface level. Adams, while making different mistakes, also lacked the nuances that typical productive Packer receivers usually have with Aaron Rodgers. His youth and inexperience translate to the film.
Play 3: Rodgers' miscommunication with the rookie
With rookie second-round pick Davante Adams to the right with cushion between corner, he becomes an easy target for Rodgers. Taking one step, the quarterback fires it toward the Fresno State Bulldog.
Here's where the issue shows up. Instead of planting, catching the ball and running after the catch, Adams actually took a couple steps toward the boundary defender. Instantly, the ball could be identified as being thrown behind the receiver.
Unable to make the play after taking his initial steps up field, the ball with Adams' name on it fell to the turf. Even when moving up, then back, the corner was still about three yards off the target. Had Adams simply turned toward Rodgers at the snap, he could have gained yardage.
ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde believes Green Bay went with a more multiple, two-tight end-based offense because of the talent in the second tight end role relative to the third receiver spot. Essentially, he's stating that Quarless is a better base offense option than Adams at this point in their careers.
#Packers clearly believe without Boykin their best offensive group is Nelson, Cobb, R.Rodgers, Quarless and Lacy. Same group to start here.— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) September 28, 2014
As the day ended, the conversation was a bit of a moot point. Neither spot produced highly, with only seven of the potential 28 targets going to non-starting receivers. On top of Cobb's total, Jordy Nelson, who has played like a Pro Bowler in 2014, also recorded 10 receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Cobb's additional contribution above his season average not only had him single-handedly creating plays by himself, but opening up the offense for Nelson and Co. to make plays. With the focus on the receivers, the Bears allowed a chunk play to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers on the second play of the first offensive drive only a play after his first NFL reception.
There was also a nullified touchdown in which Rodgers dodged pressure frantically before sending it toward Adams, when the defense was again focusing on the more premier targets.
While the young members of the passing unit may not be featured talents, when defenses schematically compensate for the starting receiver tandem, the offense opens up opportunities for them to make plays. The attention the combo draws doesn't show up under their statistics, but it does translate to wins, the most important stat of all.
In 2012, Cobb, the former Wildcat, led the NFL in all-purpose yardage. In 2013, he missed 10 games due to injury, only totaling 35 touches on the year. To put it simply, it appears as though he's having a bounce-back season in 2014—conveniently for him, as he becomes a free agent in the spring.
For the Packers to efficiently move the ball through the air, it seems as though Cobb and Nelson are going to need to shoulder the load in the receiving unit until a young talent takes a jump.
The inexperienced players can't be trusted to make big contributions to this point. Nelson is though. For Cobb and the Packers alike, here's hoping that No. 18 on the Green and Gold is too. They're going to need it.