Randall Cobb rewards Aaron Rodgers' faith in him with two-touchdown breakout in win over Steelers
GREEN BAY - The play wasn’t designed for Randall Cobb, but the down was tailor made. It was third-and-10 early in Sunday’s second quarter, the Green Bay Packers trying to break a tie as they knocked on the red zone, and as Aaron Rodgers dropped back from center, he had nowhere to throw.
Rodgers wanted to target Davante Adams – he always wants to target Davante Adams – but the Pittsburgh Steelers were no fools. They had seen the NFL’s best receiver torch defenses over the past two weeks. Their entire game plan was to take Adams by any means necessary.
“There were very few times,” Rodgers said, “when he was singled up. Probably the times he was singled up, I threw the ball to him.”
On this third-and-10, the Steelers immediately sent a safety to double Adams. Everyone, from CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz to Steelers defensive coordinator John Butler to the Steelers secondary, knew Rodgers was looking for Adams. He had no window. As Rodgers continued his drop back, scanning with his third, fourth, fifth steps, Cobb finally entered his field of vision.
Cobb started his route from across the formation, the play’s back side. Seven yards downfield, he reached safety Terrell Edmunds and broke inward. Cobb worked the crossing route, keeping the play alive, giving his quarterback another option.
“Cobby just flattened his route,” Rodgers said, “and kept coming, second hole, third hole. The protection held, and I was able to get up in the pocket. I knew I had to put a little steam behind it, but it was fun to watch him turn that corner and lower his head and get into the end zone.”
The 23-yard score gave the Packers a lead they never surrendered, cruising to a 27-17 win Sunday against the Steelers inside a soggy, overcast Lambeau Field. Cobb lowered his head 3 yards from the goal line, plowing through safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as he crossed.
It was the first big play upon Cobb’s return to the Packers, and the veteran knew what to do. After flexing in the end zone, Cobb raced to the stands, leaping for the first time since Dec. 9, 2018.
That’s the last time Cobb scored a touchdown inside Lambeau Field.
“It’s been a while,” Cobb said. “It’s been a while. It was a lot of fun just to be out there with the fans again. The atmosphere was unbelievable tonight. Had a lot of fun.”
Cobb was met with plenty of skepticism when general manager Brian Gutekunst adhered to Rodgers’ demand before camp, sending a sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for the 31-year-old receiver. Cobb is not the game-breaking Pro Bowler he once was. He knows his limitations as well as anyone. In 2018, his last season with the Packers, Cobb scored only two touchdowns – both on the road – in nine games.
He’d only gotten two years older since then. More mileage. More wear and tear.
It’s becoming clear why Rodgers so earnestly wanted Cobb back in his offense. Beyond their friendship, there’s a clear connection between the aging quarterback and receiver. That chemistry surfaced when the Packers needed it most. Cobb led the Packers with 69 receiving yards on five catches, four of them converting third downs.
There was a 25-yard catch on third-and-17. Twelve yards on third-and-4. Eight yards on third-and-6. The 23 yarder on third-and-10.
Together, those catches either finished or extended drives that led to 17 points, matching what the Steelers put on the scoreboard.
“He knows how to run routes," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "He’s a veteran guy, and they were running a lot of two match-type coverages. I think they were certainly concerned with Davante, and so that provided opportunity for other guys to win their one-on-ones. He certainly did that, especially in the slot. I know there’s great chemistry with him and Aaron.”
Cobb entered something of a perfect storm for Sunday’s breakout. The Packers needed someone to emerge in their passing game after Marquez Valdes-Scantling was placed on injured reserve because of an injured hamstring this week. The Steelers made sure that wouldn’t come from an Adams eruption. The All-Pro got his catches – six for 64 yards –but didn’t find the end zone.
On the season, six of Cobb’s nine catches have converted third downs. It isn’t a coincidence he’s been most effective moving the chains. On third down, defenses are especially aware of Adams. The coverage leaves holes elsewhere.
Naturally, Rodgers has turned to a receiver who goes further back with him than anyone.
“I pride myself,” Cobb said, “in being a third-down guy throughout my career. I don’t know where I rank, or where I am, but I think I do have a lot of catches on third down. That’s kind of the money down. We always talk about keeping the chains moving, and that’s a very important down for our offense to be able to stay on the field and put points on the board.”
If Cobb only ever becomes a situational receiver in his return to the Packers offense, a veteran who makes big play when needed but otherwise has sporadic production, that could be enough. He was never expected to be a primary weapon in his second act with the Packers. It’s clear, though, Cobb can be more than a placeholder on the roster. There’s tangible value to adding another receiver Rodgers trusts.
Like on Cobb’s lone reception Sunday that didn’t convert a third down. On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line late in the third quarter, the Packers hoping to break open a 20-10 game, Rodgers rolled right. He held onto the football all the way near the sideline as Cobb mirrored him, working to free himself against Fitzpatrick. Finally, at the last moment, Cobb got enough space to give Rodgers a chance.
The 1-yard touchdown was the 420th of Rodgers’ career, tying Dan Marino for sixth in NFL history, a mark that was once hallowed in the game. No doubt the touchdown was extra special because it was vintage Rodgers to Cobb, an extended play the two have worked so many times, continuing to produce all these years later.
“He’s still a really good player, for one,” Rodgers said. “There’s a knack to playing in the slot, and Davante is an All-Pro inside or outside receiver, but to have another guy in there who can get open like that and just have the feel that (Cobb) does, it just gives us a lot of flexibility in the offense.”