Nelson, Cobb combining for record pace
They bring different skills to the passing game. Jordy Nelson is 6-foot-3 with straight-line speed that would make a sprinter jealous. Five inches shorter, quick and shifty, Randall Cobb has the video game moves.
Defensive backs never catch Nelson from behind, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements gushes. The seventh-year receiver has four touchdown catches longer than 50 yards this season, more than any receiver in the NFL.
Leaguewide, Cobb may be the most effective red zone target this season. He's the only NFL receiver with 10 touchdowns through the first 10 weeks. Eight have come within 10 yards of the goal line. Only one longer than 25 yards.
Clements doesn't focus on the separate skill sets. What has made Nelson and Cobb the NFL's most dynamic receiver tandem this season is not how they contrast, he said. It's how they blend on the field.
"I think they're both effective in the red zone," Clements said. "Randall is a shifty guy, so he can catch the ball and make guys miss and get yards after the catch. Jordy can do that as well. He's fast, he can get behind people. Jordy never gets caught from behind.
"So they're both outstanding players."
They're both having outstanding seasons as well. Of course, they're doing it in their own way.
Nelson ranks fifth in the league with 889 receiving yards, and his 56 catches are tied with Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant for seventh. Only Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (12) has more touchdowns than Cobb. He's caught a touchdown pass in six straight games, becoming the first Packers receiver to do that in two decades.
With Green Bay developing a No. 3 receiving option, Nelson and Cobb have also been asked to do more in the passing game. Both are on pace to exceede career highs in targets. It's what they're doing with their opportunities that has been most impressive.
Nine games into the season, Nelson and Cobb are on a collision course with history. Together, they're on pace to finish with a combined 177 catches, 2,736 yards and 32 touchdown catches. That would be more catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than any pair of teammates in Packers history.
The last pair of Packers teammates to each have 1,000 receiving yards in the same season was Greg Jennings (1,113) and Donald Driver (1,061) in 2009.
It also would be the most combined receiving touchdowns by a pair of teammates in NFL history, surpassing the 31 combined touchdown catches former New England Patriots teammates Randy Moss and Wes Welker had in 2007. (Moss had 23 of those catches that season, an NFL record.)
"Jordy and Randall have been big-time playmakers for us," Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "They've gotten a lot of the targets. To see those guys continuing to put up numbers is really impressive."
None of the milestones would be possible without Rodgers, or at least a quarterback with similar talent level. The Packers' seventh-year starter is midway through another remarkable season. Rodgers is on pace for 44 touchdowns and six interceptions, almost identical to his 45-touchdown, six-interception MVP season in 2011.
Clements appreciates what Rodgers brings to the most important position on the field. His brilliance was on full display Sunday night when he tossed six touchdown passes in the first half against the rival Chicago Bears. Less than 24 hours later, Clements said he was used to those kind of performances. Nothing could surprise him.
But Clements cautioned against assuming the talent in Rodgers' right arm is the only thing leading to Nelson's and Cobb's numbers. This is more than a great quarterback shading the success of his receivers, he said.
"They each contribute to each other's success," Clements said. "Obviously, Aaron's a great player. He has all the tools. He can put the ball wherever the ball needs to be put. But Randall and Jordy work hard at getting open, and they make outstanding catches.
"They're smart players. They're where they're supposed to be all the time. They can communicate what's happening out there to Aaron and make adjustments when need be. Then, when they have the chance to make the play, they make the play."
Trust is the key.
Nelson has worked with Rodgers since he entered the league in 2008. Cobb steadily has become a bigger part of the offense since breaking into the league as a special teams force in 2011.
Clements sees their chemistry with Rodgers on tape.
"They work a lot together," Clements said. "I think (Rodgers) understands that they're going to be where they're supposed to be. Given the opportunity, they're going to make plays for him. He just has a lot of confidence in him, and they have confidence in him. It keeps growing."
There's still a long season left. A lot can change in seven games. But these past 10 weeks, Nelson and Cobb have played as well – if not better – than any pair of teammates in franchise history.
Clements doesn't expect that to change.
"We have a lot of confidence in them because we see them day in and day out," Clements said. "We know what they can do. We're thankful that they're both being productive, but it's not surprising."