GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy has always maintained that the Green Bay Packers offense is more dynamic and productive when Randall Cobb gets the ball in his hands. That’s why the Packers’ longtime coach and his staff want to make sure there’s no replay of what happened Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cobb wasn’t targeted once by quarterback Brett Hundley during the 26-20 overtime victory over the Buccaneers, marking the first time since a 2011 win over the San Diego Chargers his rookie year that Cobb didn’t have at least one ball thrown his way. It was also only the fourth game of his seven-year NFL career in which he didn’t catch a pass.
“Anytime you have a player of Randall’s caliber,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said, “you definitely want to get him the football.”
Cobb’s production has dropped precipitously since quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota — although he’s not alone. He enters Sunday’s game at Cleveland having caught just 43 passes for 463 yards and two touchdowns, but fellow veteran receiver Jordy Nelson has also been underutilized, as he has 43 receptions for 410 yards and six touchdowns.
At the time of Rodgers’ injury, Nelson had caught 20 passes for 240 yards (and all six TDs) in essentially four games, having played only seven snaps at Atlanta in Week 2 because of a thigh injury. Cobb had caught 23 passes for 218 yards and one of his touchdowns before Rodgers went down, and Cobb missed the Packers’ Week 3 win over Cincinnati because of a chest injury.
Since Hundley, who’ll be making his seventh NFL start against the Browns, took over as the starter, Cobb’s most productive game was a Nov. 6 loss to Detroit (five receptions, 58 yards, including a 46-yard catch-and-run). With Hundley throwing for just 84 yards against the Buccaneers, Nelson caught five passes, but he gained only 17 yards. It was essentially a rerun of Hundley’s first start Oct. 22 against New Orleans, when he threw for 87 yards and Cobb (two catches, 15 yards) and Nelson (one catch, 13 yards) were targeted a combined nine times.
“Randall and Jordy, all of the above, we’ve got to get the ball to our perimeter,” McCarthy said. “There’s been two games this year that really stand out where we didn’t get that done. The run game has been productive. Obviously, (the Browns) are watching the same tapes that we watch, so you can clearly see that the demand will be for them to stop the run and put the challenge on us getting the ball to our perimeter. And we need to deliver on Sunday.”
McCarthy also pointed to the offense’s failure to convert third downs and keep drives alive, resulting in low snap counts. The Packers ran 53 plays against the Buccaneers, their second-lowest play count under Hundley. (They ran only 50 plays against the Saints.) Bennett said the offense’s target play number is 70 — a number the Packers have yet to reach with Hundley at the controls.
“(It’s) not having a lot of opportunities,” Bennett said when asked why Cobb wasn’t more involved. “We’re at (53) official snaps coming out of the game. We hit a point in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter where we had those consecutive three-and-outs. That can’t happen. We have to continue to put ourselves in a favorable down-and-distance and give us more opportunities.”
For his part, Cobb said he’s willing to do whatever is asked — he even picked up a blitz while playing running back, which might’ve been his most impactful play of the game — but also acknowledged that he believes he can help the offense if given the opportunities.
“You kind of just control what you can control, do what you can do,” said Cobb, who has one year remaining on the four-year, $40 million deal he signed in 2015. “What kind of competitor doesn’t want to be involved? So I think that’s (true of) everybody in this room. They want to be a part of it, they want to contribute in whatever way they can. And I try to contribute whether it’s with the ball in my hand or run blocking or whatever’s called for me to do in any given moment.”
Down on the corner
With rookie Kevin King having been placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that finally forced him to undergo surgery and veteran Davon House missing his second straight day of practice with a shoulder injury that occurred against Tampa Bay, the Packers could be in dire straits at cornerback Sunday.
King became the third cornerback on injured reserve, joining Herb Waters (shoulder) and Quinten Rollins (Achilles’), and having cut LaDarius Gunter back in September, the Packers’ options at corner are limited. Damarious Randall would be the only clear-cut starter, with youngsters Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown the next men up. Safeties Jermaine Whitehead, Josh Jones and do-everything veteran Morgan Burnett can also cover receivers, with Whitehead and Burnett having worked the slot positions against the Buccaneers.
“Kind of like we’re been doing all year … we’ll have our game management meeting and see who’s available to us,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Making matters worse: Veteran Demetri Goodson was activated off the physically unable to perform list this week but hasn’t practiced because of a hamstring injury and appears unlikely to play. That might force more safeties to coverage spots.
Cobb said Rodgers, who took part in his first in-pads practice Thursday, looked good. “It’s nice to see him back on the field, having his leadership back out there definitely helps. But at the end of the day, it’s about his health and him being fit and ready for that moment. I think that’s on him and our training staff to make that decision. So I look forward to him getting back out there but I don’t want to jeopardize his future either.” … Outside linebacker Nick Perry missed a second straight day of practice because of foot and shoulder injuries. Perry was on the injury report last week with a foot injury but apparently hurt his shoulder against Tampa Bay. … Inside linebacker Jake Ryan, who sustained a neck injury Sunday and didn’t practice Wednesday because of the flu, was a full participant Thursday. .... Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (back) and defensive tackle Quinton Dial (chest/knee) increased their workloads.