NEW ORLEANS – Before R-E-L-A-X worked its way into everybody's vocabulary, Randall Cobb was embarrassed by his play.
The numbers were underwhelming and so were the results. Facing a contract year, the Green Bay Packers' fourth-year receiver had only 126 receiving yards during the team's 1-2 start.
After his two dropped passes in a 19-7 loss to Detroit on Sept. 22, Cobb's frustration was apparent.
"We did nothing for them," said Cobb in the post-game locker room. "It was kind of embarrassing as an offense, embarrassing myself the way I played."
A month later, that moment seems like a distance memory. As the Packers ready to play the New Orleans Sunday, they've won four consecutive games with Cobb pulling down 21 catches for 326 yards and five touchdowns during that stretch to get his season back on track.
Like Jordy Nelson and James Jones before him, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound receiver currently leads all wideouts with eight touchdown catches in seven games, a credit to Rodgers' improvisational skills and Cobb's second effort when plays break down.
The Packers are using him more on punt returns, as well. He has eight returns for 86 yards (10.8 yards per return) since the coaching staff changed its mind about trying to keep him off special-team units.
"I think Randall, he's back," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He had a great off-season. You could see that right away. He's getting more opportunities. That's why it's important for him to do the punt returns. Randall needs to touch the football. That's a focus of mine each and every week as we start the game-plan process and it doesn't matter how you get it to him."
If his health holds, Cobb is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season and could challenge Sterling Sharpe's 20-year-old franchise record for receiving touchdowns in a single season (18).
He's just happy to be back in a groove. Early on, Cobb admits the contract weighed on his mind. It's not abnormal. It seemed to have a similar effect on James Jones in 2011 and Greg Jennings in 2012.
The important thing was being himself.
"I mean, it definitely had something to do with it," Cobb said. "But I think I found peace mentally, and that's the biggest thing, having that peace and being able to not worry about those things."
Cobb has scored in six of Green Bay's seven games this season. The only shutout came in the disappointing loss to the Lions where he was limited to three catches for 29 yards.
Since then, he's been able to draw more separation from opposing corners. Pro Football Focus still has him with a dropped pass in each of the past two games, but his ability to create a big-play has kept the ball coming his way.
In last Sunday's 38-17 win over Carolina, 89 of Cobb's 121 receiving yards came after the catch. That was an important icebreaker considering he had only 107 yards after the catch in six games before that.
Cobb seems to be finding his rhythm again like he was before breaking his tibia last October.
"You just kind of get in a zone," Cobb said. "It's kind of like a runner's high or writing an exam paper and you're on page 7 and next thing you know you're on page 12. So it's just one of those things where you continue to press on and things happen."
Still No. 2
The Packers are sticking with Matt Flynn as their No. 2 quarterback despite two shaky relief appearances over the last three games.
Flynn has fashioned an 11.9 quarterback rating after throwing an interception in the Packers' 42-10 win over Minnesota earlier this month and two more incompletions last week against Carolina, though one was dropped by tight end Brandon Bostick.
Third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien has been inactive for all seven games this season and it's likely to stay that way based on the testimonies of offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.
Van Pelt admits Flynn "didn't have a great day" last week, but believes it would be a mistake to read too much into Flynn's 22 offensive snaps this year.
Aaron Rodgers handles nearly all the snaps in practice. When Flynn's been summoned during mop-up duty, he's came in cold. A long-time NFL backup himself, there's an art form to jumping in and running a successful four-minute offense.
"That's the beauty of that position: You've got to be like 'The Microwave,'" Van Pelt said. "You've got to come in and heat up quick, and not miss a beat. That's part of the challenge of being a backup."
The Packers like to be versatile with their secondary, which could mean third-year safety Sean Richardson being called upon against the Saints if Morgan Burnett sits with a calf injury.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde likely would start, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes sliding Hyde down into the slot of the nickel and dime subpackages.
McCarthy said the coaches have been looking for ways to get the 6-foot-2 safety on the field and his four tackles and three stops in 19 defensive snaps against the Panthers showed exactly why.
"Sean has the most energy I've ever seen – besides Jarrett Bush," Clinton-Dix said. "When his time is called, that guy is going to go in and make plays, regardless whether it's the fourth quarter, first quarter, third-and-inches, he's going to give max effort every time. He's very physical."
Physicality is one of Richardson's most appealing traits. It was questions about his coverage ability that played a role in him going undrafted two years ago. Still, his hybrid body type makes him an intriguing option playing in the box at strong safety.
One of his three stops came in stuffing Jonathan Stewart for no gain on third-and-1 in the first quarter with the Packers' defense operating in a jumbo package with four defensive linemen.
The Packers' improvement at safety has limited his chances, though. While he's seen only 35 defensive snaps, Richardson has made an impact on special teams. McCarthy and coordinator Shawn Slocum say he's been the MVP through the first seven games.
According to the team's coaching stats, he leads the unit with seven tackles in 147 snaps.
"I know he's playing at a high level on special teams," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "Until your role changes, when your number is called in whatever role it is, you have to go out and perform. To his credit, he's done that, which is what we expect when we get into a situation and we have to move some guys around and Sean has to play for us, he'll be ready."
JC Tretter will be eligible to be activated off temporary injured reserve during the team's bye week. Players who are designated must sit out eight games and are eligible to practice after six.
Tretter hasn't had any known setbacks, but it's been tough to get him any meaningful snaps in practice with the Packers needing to get their eight active offensive linemen ready for game days.
Tretter, who came into camp as the starting center, might find it difficult to get the job back from rookie Corey Linsley when he does return. The coaching staff also seems to be very high on Garth Gerhart, who was promoted to the active roster when Tretter was placed on injured reserve.
Whatever role awaits Tretter leading up to the Packers' Nov. 9 home game against Chicago, the past two weeks have been dedicated to getting the second-year offensive lineman ready once he's returned to the roster.
Tretter is track from what offensive line coach James Campen has seen.
"It's his second day in pads, so you want to make sure he gets all his football movements in place whether that's playing, guard, center, whatever," said Campen on Thursday. "He's been taking them all kind of round robin going around just to get him as much exposure as you can as quick as you can with the anticipation of him being OK to come off that deal."
From rehab to meetings to workouts, there's plenty of things to keep B.J. Raji busy during the week.
Except on game days.
Throughout the ups and downs, the one constant for the sixth-year defensive lineman always has been his ability to stay on the field. Prior to tearing his right biceps in the Packers' third preseason game, Raji had played in 76 of a possible 80 NFL games to start his NFL career.
Getting used to not suiting up on Sundays has taken some getting used to.
"Man, it's been a new experience," Raji said. "You look at things differently. You find a new appreciation for things, just little things. The whole pre-game, game-day experience. Now, I'm experiencing it a little bit more being a spectator on the sideline. It's definitely given me an appreciation for both sides of the ball and special teams."
Raji said everything is on track with his recovery from surgery to reattach the biceps. He's facing a 6-to-9 month recovery.
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