Seven games into the 2012 season, the “Cobra” formation is no longer a secret for Randall Cobb and the Green Bay Packers. But that doesn’t mean the look—which lines up Cobb in the backfield of the shotgun alongside Aaron Rodgers—doesn’t continue to be a productive option for the Green Bay offense.
Run five times against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, the Packers got positive plays from Cobb on three different kind of concepts.
Here’s a look at how the right calls from the Cobra formation and Cobb’s versatility as a football player helped contribute to two scoring drives in St. Louis Sunday:
Play No. 1: Three factors make the run
Our first look at the Cobra comes just two plays after the Packers successfully executed their onside kick in the first quarter. On second-and-8 from the Rams’ 47-yard line, a simple run is called for Cobb. He gains 19 yards using patience early in the run, vision to find a crease and foot speed to get there. The first screen grab shows the defensive front moments after Cobb receives the handoff.
The blocking upfront, save for right tackle Bryan Bulaga getting blown into the backfield by Kendall Langford (93), isn’t all that poor. Langford’s penetration throws off the timing, but there’s a hat on a hat inside, where Cobb’s initial read appears to be headed. No. 58 Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the weakside linebacker on the play, is free and also reading Cobb to take this play inside. Note Marshall Newhouse’s consuming block on the backside of this play. Here’s where Cobb’s patience pays off.
Cobb, who doesn’t panic when the penetration enters the backfield, finds a seam outside the double team and inside of Newhouse when Dunbar crashes inside. From there, it’s all footspeed for Cobb. He explodes through the crease vacated by Dunbar and picks up 19 yards, turning a potential negative play into one that helps set up Mason Crosby’s 47-yard field goal. Cobb now has three rushes for 67 yards this season (22.3/carry), with all three going for first downs.
Play No. 2: The shovel
The second play comes late in the fourth quarter, during the Packers “win it” drive after the Rams pulled within seven points. It’s a call—the simple shovel pass—that head coach Mike McCarthy should think about calling every week. Here’s the screen grab following the snap.
The Rams rush just three, which is both good and bad. While limited pressure comes with three one-on-one blocking matchups, the Packers would probably prefer defenses to bring an extra player or two on the blitz. The more players Green Bay can get coming after Rodgers—especially off the edge—the better for Cobb once this play gets into motion. Still, the play works because the Packers execute. Rodgers makes the simple flip to Cobb, who cut inside once the defensive end advanced up field. Guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang both release to provide Cobb a line of blocking ahead. Here’s how it looks after Cobb breaks the line of scrimmage.
Sitton and Lang only do an average job out front of this play, mostly whiffing on engaging either linebacker. But they do enough for Cobb to slip between the tackle attempts and pick up the first down. We’ve now seen this play work on a couple occasions this season, and hopefully there’s more.
The play is effective for a number of reasons. One, it gets Cobb into the open field with blocking in front of him, which replicates much of what Cobb does in the return game. He can set up blocks and find creases with linemen out front. Second, it helps negate the pass rush. Teams still want to pin their ears back and rush Rodgers off the edge, but plays like this neutralize that mindset. And as long as it’s sold effectively, a shovel can completely eliminate the pass-rushing defensive ends. Robert Quinn and Chris Long are non-factors in this look. The Packers get a first down here to move the chains and keep the fourth-quarter clock running.
Play No. 3: Setting up the dagger
Of course, at the end of this drive, Cobb catches a 39-yard touchdown that stuck the dagger into the Rams’ comeback bid. But that play doesn’t happen unless the Packers convert on a critical third down prior to the touchdown.
With 6:45 left in the fourth quarter, Green Bay faces a third-and-7 from its own 34-yard line. What is the formation McCarthy goes to on possibly the game’s most important play? The Cobra. And Cobb is really Rodgers’ first and only read in McCarthy’s design. Here’s the screen grab of the post-snap look and the routes run on the play.
McCarthy guesses he’ll get Cover-2, and he’s right. The play called is designed to attack as such.
James Jones, split out left of the formation, runs a short drag route across the field. The idea is to get the weakside linebacker on the play to trail Jones, so Cobb can sneak in behind and have some open-field space. The cornerback on Jones’ side is expected to retreat on the snap and sit in his zone. Jermichael Finley, inline on the right side, runs down the seam to hold the safety and drop the middle linebacker. Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver run mostly meaningless go routes off the right to occupy three other defenders.
Things go mostly to plan. Bradley Fletcher (32) retreats, taking himself out of the play. The linebacker briefly follows Jones but smartly hands him off to the next zone. Below is the screen grab of Cobb right as he is making the catch.
Despite Green Bay’s route concept, the Rams have this play snuffed out. The linebacker, safety and cornerback are all in position to seal off Cobb and prevent the first down.
But here’s when special players make game-changing plays. Again, Cobb uses elite foot speed to elude the linebacker to the inside, where the defender should actually have the leverage. Missed tackle, first down Packers. The drive continues.
Five plays later, Cobb helps turn a free play into the game’s highlight score. But without this concept on third down from the Cobra, and Cobb’s individual effort, the Packers have to punt and the defense is forced back onto the field in a one-score game. As is the case in 100 percent of football games, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
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Per Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, the Packers have run the Cobra with Cobb on 25 plays this season. 13 in Week 1, three in Week 2, two in Weeks 3 and 4, zero in Weeks 5 and 6 and five in Week 7. 13 is probably too many, but five a game seems like the perfect snap total for this package.
There’s so many concepts that McCarthy can incorporate into five plays, whether it be an inside run, shovel pass, angle route, slip screen or swing pass. Conceptually, the possibilities are endless. And when you have a player as gifted as Cobb as the conductor of the plays, making those calls becomes that much easier.
Production typically spurs continued opportunities, and the Packers continued to get impact plays from Cobb out of the package Sunday in St. Louis.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.