After two seasons away from the team, Randall Cobb is back with the Green Bay Packers, and it feels like he never left.
With the news that Marquez Valdes-Scantling was being placed on injured reserve last Friday, Packers fans were wondering which wide receiver would step up in his absence. No one on the roster could replicate MVS’s speed, but someone needed to step up to take some of the pressure off of Davante Adams to keep the offense moving.
Enter Randall Cobb.
The 31-year-old wide receiver was brought in just as training camp began, reportedly to appease Aaron Rodgers amid his ongoing frustrations with the front office. Although Cobb hadn’t had a massive impact the first three weeks of the season, his number was called multiple times in key moments against the Detroit Lions.
Cobb ended up having a much bigger impact on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although he was only on the field for 33 of Green Bay’s 72 offensive snaps, he finished the game with five receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns. He also helped the Packers offense continue to move down the field my making plays on a handful of third downs to move the sticks.
The chemistry between Rodgers and Cobb has been discussed ad nauseam during and after the game, but the coach’s film shows that the Packers veteran wide receiver still has plenty left in the tank, and is capable of winning in a variety of ways.
The Steelers didn’t have a ton of tape to work with on Cobb when developing their defensive gameplan for Sunday’s game. The Packers receiver had only played 48 snaps in the team’s first three games, and had only been targeted five times all season.
Pittsburgh’s defensive backs likely weren’t expecting a veteran receiver like Cobb to have the kind of play speed that he still has. Cobb seemed to embrace that, doing a good job of setting up the defense by changing speeds several times.
On his first third-down conversion of the game, Cobb did a great job of casually releasing off the line of scrimmage, setting up the defender who was giving him plenty of space before turning on the gas and cutting inside to get the first down.
First big 3rd down conversion from Randall Cobb on 3rd and 5 at end of first quarter.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
I like how he changes speeds here. Releases casually vs off coverage, then dials it up and cuts for an easy first down. pic.twitter.com/e330zwr32H
The more impressive example of Cobb shifting gears came on his first touchdown of the day. After initially pausing on his release, Cobb quickly shot upfield before cutting inside on a 10-yard “in” route.
The play speed threw off the safety, who had his hips turned towards the near sideline. He wasn’t able to recover in time, and Cobb was able to separate enough to make the catch. At that point, the safety had no chance of making a play, and Cobb finished the play by driving himself into the end zone.
Cobb setting up DBs again by changing speeds.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
That's some pretty damn good play speed for a 31-year-old slot receiver. pic.twitter.com/1h1A7r3ZqC
Cobb was quietly still productive as a slot receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, catching 93 passes for 1,269 yards and six touchdowns over two seasons. He may be getting older, but he’s still more than capable of creating separation with solid play speed.
As SpongeBob SquarePants knows, it’s all about the technique.
The intricacies of the wide receiver position can take time to master, but Cobb has had plenty of time to work on his craft. There were a couple of plays that he made on Sunday that highlight some of the finer points of the position.
Let’s start with yet another third-down conversion. Cobb is running a simple slant route, but look at the decisive footwork to make his cut, followed by the recognition that it’s zone coverage. He slows down and sits in the soft spot of the coverage, in between three defenders knowing that as soon as Rodgers sees him it will be another easy completion.
Second third-down conversion for Cobb on the same drive.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
Love the footwork here. Such a smooth cut on the slant, sits in the soft spot of the zone coverage.
Randall Cobb: Definitely not washed. pic.twitter.com/RmfsY4Rd6G
Understanding the coverage and where you can make a play is an under-appreciated aspect of playing receiver. Cobb understands his role and has great instincts to recognize and react to what’s developing in front of him.
The second play was a great example of how a receiver can manipulate the secondary to get open. Cobb cuts up the field with the cornerback using inside leverage to try and push his route to the sideline. Before he commits to the route, Cobb subtly flashes his head and shoulders towards the sideline, which causes the safety to pause just long enough to give him separation to make a clean catch.
Another savvy veteran move by Cobb on third down.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
Watch the way he subtly turns his head/shoulders outside before cutting in. It causes the safety to hesitate just a hair, but it gets him open for a big play. pic.twitter.com/IGabzanJhw
The technique that goes into play receiver is so much more advanced than the casual fan realizes. Cobb is one of the more savvy slot receivers in the league, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why he’s had consistent success over his 11-year career.
During FOX’s pregame broadcast this past Sunday, Jimmy Johnson had an interview with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. When asked what trait makes a great NFL player, the legendary head coach emphasized the important of competitive toughness, both physically and mentally.
For receivers, continuing to fight through contact is a perfect example of competitive toughness. Cobb was able to score his second touchdown of the day doing exactly that.
Just a couple yards away from the end zone, the Packers drew up a nice pass concept, getting Rodgers to roll out of the pocket. The concept had Davante Adams running a rub route that ends up getting in the way of three different defenders to clear some space for Cobb.
Although Cobb draws contact multiple times throughout the play, he continues to fight towards the pylon and makes a catch in bounds for the TD.
Second Cobb TD of the day.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
Fights through contact, doesn't give up on the play. Knows where he needs to get to with Rodgers rolling out. pic.twitter.com/4jJOEzkmEI
It isn’t the flashiest play from Cobb, but it’s one that helped get the Packers in the end zone to put away a relatively stress-free win.
Bonus: WRs Blocking
I wanted to give a bonus shoutout to all of the Packers receivers, not just Cobb, for their effort as blockers on Sunday.
This isn’t something new to Packers fans, who have watched players like Allen Lazard pave the way as blockers. However, not every NFL team has a group of skill players willing to put in the work to block for their teammates, and it showed up once again this week.
A shoutout to the #Packers WRs.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) October 5, 2021
Their collective effort as blockers does so much to open up Green Bay's offense.
Lazard, EQ, Cobb and even Amari Rodgers (1-on-1 vs Watt?!) made some great blocks on Sunday.
Huge credit to players and coaching staff for emphasizing blocking. pic.twitter.com/jw8NG4KyAo
Rookie Amari Rodgers deserves some credit as well. He only saw the field on a handful of snaps, but his effort as a blocker could help him see some more of the field if that continues. Heck, he was even tasked with blocking T.J. Watt one-on-one in pass protection and did a surprisingly good job.