Green Bay – There hasn’t been a ton of production anywhere on offense through the first two games, so it’s hard to point to one aspect and say it is the sole reason for the Green Bay Packers ranking 29th in yards, 18th in points and 24th in first downs.
Fans have criticized coach Mike McCarthy for being conservative and unimaginative because he has mostly used Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams at wide receiver.
But even while leaving Jared Abbrederis and Trevor Davis on the bench, he has used his three receivers in countless formations, often in conjunction with tight ends Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers, and often in different combinations.
One package McCarthy has dipped into frequently is three wide receivers with one of them, Cobb or Ty Montgomery, lining up in the backfield as a running back. It’s not new to the offense, but since Week 12 of last season, it has become more of an emphasis in the weekly game plan.
In two games this season, McCarthy has used it 20 times. Despite the team’s comfort level with it, its effectiveness has not been nearly as great as at times last year. The longest gain of any play run out of that package this year is eight yards and when Cobb has run the ball, he has averaged 3.0 yards per carry.
McCarthy said it’s way too early to make a judgment on its effectiveness.
“I don’t think you really have enough opportunities of Randall in the backfield to give you a clean analysis,” McCarthy said. “How all that fits together over the long term is part of the process that we look at.
“Randall is a very effective player whether he’s in the backfield or the slot, and just like anything, you want to get the ball distributed to all your perimeter players, and definitely to Randall.”
It may very well be that the ineffectiveness of the package – the Packers have averaged just over three yards per the 15 non-penalty plays in which either Cobb (14) or Ty Montgomery (one) was used in the backfield – is a symptom of the overall offensive performance. There have been only six plays of 20 or more yards all season and the Packers are one of only seven teams that have yet to complete a pass of 40 or more yards.
When asked about the production when he’s in the backfield, Cobb first responded by asking what a reporter’s “agenda” was. When asked about it again, he said it couldn’t be separated from everything else going on with the offense.
“Our production hasn’t been great in a lot of different packages, so it doesn’t really matter where we line up, we haven’t been great,” Cobb said. “We have to be better.”
Cobb’s overall production in the passing game has reflected the offense’s struggles. He has 11 receptions this season, but his 9.0-per-catch average is second-worst among the 27 NFL receivers who have at least that many catches.
Dating to Week 13 of last season and including two playoff games, he has averaged 8.48 yards per catch. Three times he has averaged 14 yards or more per reception during his career, but his decline in yards per catch began last season when Nelson was injured and he received more double coverage.
Nelson is back, but it’s obvious the offense hasn’t returned to its 2014 effectiveness. He is averaging just 9.5 yards per catch, although two of his 11 receptions have been for touchdowns from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
One of the reasons the Packers like having Cobb in the backfield is that it allows them to run the ball when the opposition has only two linebackers on the field. If the opponent plays its base defense, effectively treating Cobb like a running back, Cobb can move to receiver and have a favorable match-up against a linebacker.
On the other hand, it also means that running back Eddie Lacy generally is not on the field.
Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said he didn’t think there was anything the opposition was doing better in countering the package and said it was really about the Packers trying to make the defense react to what they’re doing.
“Certainly any time you put Randall in certain situations to get him the football, it helps, because he without a doubt is a very instinctive, explosive player for us,” Bennett said. “And he is another guy who has been consistent.
“At different times, as far as certain coverages or certain looks they throw at us, (they) try to get us out of that package. But again, it’s really more about who we are and what we do from the tempo and dictating to the defense instead of the defense dictating to us.”
Against Detroit on Sunday, the Packers will be searching for their old offense. How much of it includes Cobb in the backfield undoubtedly will depend on whether they can find the production they once had with it.