Cobb making end zone his domain
Randall Cobb laughed at the notion that his role mattered at all. On a team with Aaron Rodgers, a receiver merely holds on for the magical, sometimes historic, ride.
No. 12's greatness makes everything else possible.
"He gets me the ball, and he gives me those opportunities," Cobb said.
And so it was Sunday, when Rodgers tossed his 18th straight touchdown without an interception this season. In a 38-17 win against the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers pieced together another otherworldly performance. The Green Bay Packers have won five games this season, and Rodgers has tossed at least three touchdowns with no interceptions in all of them.
But to undervalue what Cobb is doing on a weekly basis through the season's opening two months isn't fair, even if he's doing the undervaluing.
On a day when several streaks showed how good life has become in Green Bay, Cobb contributed his share. In his seventh game of the season, the Packers' fourth-year receiver tied a career high with his eighth touchdown catch. Cobb has caught at least one touchdown in six of his seven games, including four straight.
His eight touchdowns in seven games? Not since Billy Howton caught nine touchdowns in the first seven games of the 1956 season has a receiver done what Cobb's accomplished.
"He's on a great streak with those touchdowns," said fellow receiver Jordy Nelson, who's making plenty of plays himself. "I gave him a hard time today. I'm trying to catch him, but he keeps following me up with one. It's fun to watch. He made some big, explosive plays today, got in the end zone."
The end zone has been Cobb's domain this season. That's where he's been most dangerous.
Cobb is Rodgers' primary red-zone target, especially on broken plays. Seven of his eight touchdowns have come within the 10-yard line. His longest is just 22 yards.
Four of Rodgers' touchdown passes have come outside the pocket. Each have been caught by Cobb.
It happened again Sunday. Three yards from the end zone, Rodgers rolled right. Cobb sprinted to the pylon. Touchdown.
"Just finding a way to get open," Cobb said. "Finding a way to beat my man or find a zone, and being able to sit in a zone and make plays. … Every situation is different. It's a feel thing. It's just kind of being lost in the moment, and being able to make the play when it presents itself."
No matter what, Cobb seems to find a way to find a crease in the end zone. All the 5-foot-10, 192-pound veteran needs is a sliver. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams can empathize with the plight of opposing defensive backs. He sees the Rodgers-to-Cobb, goal line connection every day in practice.
It's unstoppable then, too.
Cobb is quick, explosive and smart. On the goal line, playing in tight corners and limited space, Williams said, his teammate has a unique ability to get open.
"Tough to deal with in the slot, also can play outside," Williams said. "You put a quarterback who knows where to put the ball, and it's tough. Guys don't understand how tough it is when you have a quarterback like that and a receiver like that, who has the chemistry and the physical tools.
"Only thing you have to do is make sure everyone else is on the same page and success is staring you in the eye."
To Cobb, being on the same page with his quarterback is nothing new. He said his chemistry with Rodgers formed quickly as a rookie in 2011, and it never left. Their connection is honed every day in practice. Yes, one of Cobb's favorite drills with Rodgers is the goal line.
There's a reason most of Cobb's plays have come in limited space, especially early. Cobb said it took some time to shake the rust of missing 10 games last season with a fractured tibia in his right leg. His slow start hit rock bottom in Detroit, when Cobb caught only three passes for 29 yards.
Now, he's making up for lost time. Detroit was the lone hiccup this season. On Sunday, he caught six passes for a season-high 121 yards, including a 47-yard catch-and-run from one side of the field to the other.
"Just a little sidestep," Cobb said, "and off to the races."
His explosiveness is back. Gradually, Cobb should start making even more plays, in all parts of the field. For opposing defenses, that's the scary part.
Cobb said he hasn't thought about how many touchdowns he'll catch this season. But he's set himself up for a special, potentially record-breaking second half of the season. Green Bay's single-season touchdown catch record is 18, set by Sterling Sharpe in 1994.
Cobb is on pace for 18, exactly. And he has Rodgers throwing him the football.
"The key is No. 12. That's the key," Williams gushed in the locker room. "That's a universal key. You can get into anybody's house with that key."
Rodgers and Cobb present the eternal debate when it comes to NFL passing offenses. Does a great quarterback make a great receiver, or is it the other way around? Maybe it's both. The great quarterback hands out opportunities. The great receiver cashes them in.
Cobb isn't the only Packers receiver making plays. Nelson entered Sunday leading the league in receiving yards. Still, Cobb likely will enter Week 8 leading all NFL receivers in touchdowns.
And he's not satisfied.
"I want more," Cobb said. "I think I'm more hungry than I've ever been. It's not enough for me. I feel like my ceiling is a lot higher, and I'm going to keep reaching for that ceiling."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.