Thursday, January 2, 2014
Randall Cobb completes Packers' offense
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The game-planning meetings this week must have been like none the Green Bay Packers' offensive coaching staff has conducted in months.
Short of a return by tight end Jermichael Finley, which can't happen because he's on season-ending injured reserve from his Oct. 20 neck injury, coach Mike McCarthy could not have more options on his play-calling sheet than he will for Sunday's NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.
The final piece was receiver Randall Cobb, who got clearance last Saturday and returned to action on Sunday for the first time since he broke the tibia in his right leg on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.
With Randall Cobb healthy and back in the slot position, Jordy Nelson moves back outside.
Neither Cobb nor Aaron Rodgers, who returned last week from his broken collarbone, was even listed on the Packers' injury report this week. In fact, the only offensive player on it was running back Eddie Lacy, and his sprained right ankle appears to be in better shape than it has been the past few weeks. He was expected to practice on Thursday. The past three weeks, he had not practiced until Friday.
“I think we're definitely a pretty dangerous team, just when you look at our rushing attack and when you look at our passing attack, we're pretty balanced now,” Cobb said. “That's something that we haven't had around here in the past. Going into the playoffs, it's going to be tough for defenses to play us, the way they're going to approach the game as far as are they going to try to take the pass away, or are they going to try to take the run away? So, we propose a pretty obvious threat I think.”
So how does that change things for McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements? They're probably counting the ways.
In Cobb, they have their preferred slot receiver back, although Jordy Nelson performed well in that role during Cobb's absence. In his return on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Cobb caught both of his touchdowns -- his only two receptions of the game -- out of the slot position, while playing 37 of 78 snaps. Clements said Cobb was originally supposed to be limited to about 15 snaps. Given how much he played against the Bears, there's not likely to be any restrictions on him this week.
Nelson, who played all but one snap last week, began to move back to his natural outside receiver position. He split his 10 receptions evenly between the two spots, but had 95 of his 161 yards receiving from the outside spot, according to Pro Football Focus.
James Jones had all six of his catches for 41 yards from the outside spot and was effective catching hitches and receiver screens, some of them with Cobb serving as his primary blocker.
“It allows me and Jordy to stay on the outside and do what we do best on the outside and let Randall work the middle,” Jones said. “He's a lot quicker than us in there and more elusive than us. That's where he belongs. They have to focus on him in there so it creates a lot of one-on-one matchups for me and Jordy on the outside. We have to make sure we do our job and win on the outside.”
The full complement of receivers combined with a Lacy-powered running game that ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per game -- the Packers' highest rushing ranking since 2003 -- should give 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio plenty to think about.
“We want to be an up-tempo team, we want to get a lot of plays run, we want to try to wear the defense down a little bit,” Rodgers said. “We have a different type of attack now that Eddie is playing so well and James Starks is playing so well. We're going to get our best players on the field and find a way to get them the ball in space.”