Cobb's versatility ignites Packers offense
LANDOVER, Md. - His first carry was forgettable. It looked innocent. Randall Cobb, the Green Bay Packers receiver-turned-running back, took the handoff from the backfield.
He got one yard.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t always been patient with running backs this season. When it’s a receiver playing running back? When that receiver playing running back gets one yard? Yes, it would’ve been easy to move on.
Instead, McCarthy sent Cobb to the backfield on the Packers’ next possession. Gave him another handoff. This time, Cobb found open space to the left for seven yards, picked up a first down. Here was the beginning of a spark.
Cobb was not the Packers’ leading receiver when they entered the locker room at halftime Sunday. With eight yards on two carries, he was the team’s leading rusher. His versatility — running and catching all over the field — helped stir a stagnant Packers offense that desperately needed its top perimeter playmaker to play like it.
“He was the one that gave us the original boost there in the run game,” right guard T.J. Lang said after the Packers' 35-18 win in their NFC wild-card playoff game at Washington. “After that, it felt like we did a good job.”
Cobb saved one of his most impactful games this season for the playoffs. He caught three passes for 38 yards, including the Packers’ first touchdown of the game. He added five carries for 24 yards. It was only the second time this season Cobb scored a touchdown and touched the football more than five times in a game, and his first since September.
The Packers have been trying to figure out how to maximize Cobb without the presence of top receiver Jordy Nelson all season. Without Nelson, Cobb hasn’t had the usual open space to make plays with his herky-jerky quickness. Opponents have crowded the line of scrimmage for weeks, sticking with their press-man coverage.
They may have found a solution Sunday. The Packers moved Cobb all over the field, not unlike a college football team does with its best player. He was more than a slot receiver, more than a running back.
Cobb was simply a playmaker.
“I was able to break a few more tackles this week,” Cobb said, “and the offensive line blocked great and gave me some big holes. Some creases to be able to make some plays.”
Cobb didn’t finish as the Packers leading rusher. In the second half, Eddie Lacy and James Starks got rolling. It might not have happened without Cobb loosening Washington’s defense.
Lang said Cobb’s speed forced Washington to improvise from its stout, 3-4 base defense. Washington went with more nickel looks instead, Lang said. With an extra defensive back on the field, the Packers traditional running backs found more room.
“I think we tried to mix up our personnel a little bit,” Lang said, “to get them out of their heavy base, that 3-4. That was one of the personnel that we had a formation with him in the backfield, and got them into their nickel defense, which makes it not as tough to run the ball. Yeah, I think we did a good job of adjusting and giving them some different looks. Obviously, getting them in our pass formations and running the ball helped us kind of get back in a rhythm.
“Randall is a guy, I think he’s obviously more quick-twitch than those guys. He’s able to hit some holes and explode through them. It’s just a good changeup for us to have.”