After his first catch in the first quarter during the Packers Week 1 loss to San Francisco, FOX commentator Joe Buck revealed that Aaron Rodgers stated he expects receiver Randall Cobb to “add to the offense” this year. Eight receptions later Cobb was indeed adding to the offense, as he finished with 77 receiving yards, and he was generally a problem and an annoyance for the 49ers.
Cobb possesses exceptional short area quickness and the agility to create separation from defenders while also being able to shake them out of their cleats in their tackle attempts. That’s why he’s a very dangerous receiver after the catch, and why the San Francisco defense paid special attention to him.
When Cobb was on the field, he lined up primarily in two areas: the backfield, where he was often offset to one side of Rodgers, and in the slot, an area that saw him line up in many different ways including on and off the line of scrimmage. The 49ers had difficulty defending him in both areas.
Cobb’s usage isn’t by any means new to the NFL, as we’ve seen receivers in the past line up in the backfield and run routes. The likes of Terrell Owens and Wes Welker have aligned in these same exact areas over the last couple of years, but they’re a different kind of player. While Owens was more of a physically imposing receiver and Welker a quick-footed one, Cobb is much more explosive.
And Mike McCarthy and his staff know this, which is why they threw the ball short to Cobb from the backfield and let him pick up yards after the catch.
Cobb was given the ball after running various short routes that allowed him to do damage following a reception, such as screen passes, angle routes that we’ve seen Darren Sproles run so well, delayed releases following a “check-release” (the receiver checks for rushers to block then releases into open field) that are heavily attributed to West Coast Offenses, as well as option, swing and flat routes. The swing routes were particularly interesting because even when he wasn’t catching the ball, Cobb was still doing damage.
On first down with 10 yards to go and just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cobb aligned to the left of Rodgers in an offset position. Rodgers was in the shotgun, and four other potential pass catching threats were aligned with Cobb on the left; one was a tight end, who was inline, while two other receivers were equally split in the remaining real estate.
The tight end and the slot receiver released vertically, taking coverage deep with them while Cobb and James Jones, the outside receiver, worked together on a two-man concept that horizontally stretched the play-side defender, cornerback Carlos Rogers.
At the snap, Cobb ran a swing route which brought Rogers out wide to the flats. This was part one of the plan: stretch the play-side defender. The second part was simple: Jones had to run a route right behind Rogers and open up for the pass. That’s exactly what happened not only on this play — which went for nine yards — but also one play later that went for six points on a similar design and reaction. That time safety Dashon Goldson crashed hard and got beat by Jones’ inside route.
I noted earlier that Cobb had nine receptions in this game and that he was problematic for the 49ers defense because they couldn’t figure out how to cover him and what to call him (wide receiver or running back?). As a result of this, he carved up the defense with six of his nine receptions going for six yards or more. Five of them were 10 yards or more and there would have been a sixth if not for a holding call.
Some of those chunk plays came when Cobb was coming out of the backfield, where he usually ran flat and swing routes (as illustrated). But one option route was the most eye-opening, and it likely provided a glimpse of what we’re going to see as the Packers move forward this season.
On second down and with nine yards to go, Cobb this time lined up offset to Rodgers’ right and was going to be covered by 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox following the snap. When Rodgers yelled for the ball, Cobb stepped outside and took a vertical stem. He had a two-way go against a cornerback in man coverage, which is an underrated aspect of this play design.
Here’s why: receivers usually run option routes from the slot against a cornerback who is in press coverage, but not here. Cobb ran it out of the backfield, and the cornerback couldn’t get his hands on him because he’s too quick. If the corner misses, he is toast.
As a result, Cobb breaks outside, separates from the cornerback, and catches the pass. However, it’s not over yet. He’s caught the pass and now he can go two different ways again: continue running outside or break back to the inside — and he has daylight to work with in either area.
Knowing that the cornerback would be aggressively pursuing from a trail position, Cobb planted his outside foot in the ground and turned inside, where he would go on to pick up a first down to move the chains.
These are the types of play designs that are going to be important moving forward. The Packers’ staff does an excellent job of identifying the strengths of their players and putting them in position to make plays, which is what they did with Cobb here.
Cobb has exceptional quickness that enables him to separate from defensive backs at the top of his routes, and he has the foot speed to run away from them. He should be a significant contributor to the offense moving forward as Green Bay continues to find creative alternatives for a lacking running game. Their rushing offense has now gone from being a high percentage play akin to a basketball layup to a low percentage three-point shot due to a struggling offensive line.
Overall, the short passes to Cobb essentially serve as extended handoffs that are also high percentage plays which have potentially high rewards because of his dynamic ability after the catch.