Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was having a quiet day as a receiver Sunday, but Cobb found another way to spark the Packers in the third quarter of their 22-9 victory over the Detroit Lions.
On the first play of one drive, the Packers sent three wide receivers and two tight ends out onto the field. But instead of spreading all five players across the line of scrimmage as receivers, they caught the Lions off guard by lining up Cobb in the backfield next to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was in the shotgun. Rodgers handed the football to Cobb. Sixty-seven yards later, the Lions finally tracked him down.
The Ravens know they have to account for Cobb at all times this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium. Then again, the Lions probably felt the same way and Cobb got loose. Still, whether he is in the slot, in the backfield or somewhere else, Cobb is a playmaker the Packers use all over the field to create mismatches.
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“He’s a versatile player. He does everything,” safety James Ihedigbo said. “Just call him ‘Slash’ because he’s everywhere on the field and they do a good job of getting him the ball.”
The Packers have a pair of dangerous outside receivers in Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but Cobb is the one that Rodgers has targeted most. He has a team-leading 25 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
Cobb has done most of his damage out of the slot. He leads all NFL players with 316 receiving yards as a slot receiver, according to Pro Football Focus, and only three have more touchdowns out of the slot.
He is a threat no matter where he lines up, though. He has rushed for 78 yards on four carries and as a wide-out he is a big play waiting to happen in the screen game.
“He’s very quick. He’s elusive,” said cornerback Corey Graham, who could spend Sunday afternoon chasing Cobb around the field. “He can pretty much do anything. He’s like Percy Harvin, man. You can put him at running back and he can run the ball. You can use him in screen plays. He can do it all. He’s a very good receiver.”
And the Packers coaches know how to use him properly.
Like New England and New Orleans, Green Bay is one of the NFL’s savviest teams when it comes to use their personnel in different formations to create mismatches. They will use athletic tight end Jermichael Finley split out wide, put all three wide receivers on one side of the formation or use Cobb in the backfield in some packages.
Against the Lions, the Packers took advantage of Cobb’s positional versatility for the whole series that started with his 67-yard run. He ran for five yards on the next play. He was in the left slot on second down. He motioned out of the backfield on third down to stack behind Nelson on the right side of the formation, but the Packers had to take a timeout as the play clock wound down. After the timeout, Cobb was back in the backfield. Rodgers faked the handoff to him before rolling right to throw a pass.
That was just a few plays, but it provided a snapshot of how the Packers can keep defenses guessing by using Cobb in a few different ways when they go no-huddle. Picking up the pace prevents the defense from substituting and forces them to make adjustments on the fly.
“You’ve got to be alert pretty much with these guys all the time,” Graham said. “They do a lot of different things. They put their guys in position to make a lot of plays and you just have to make sure that you have your eyes open and you’re paying attention to all the little things.”
And as the Lions learned last week in that one third-quarter drive, if you aren’t paying attention to all the little things at all times, Cobb and the Packers can quickly make you pay.