Since coming into the league in 2011 as primarily a kick return specialist for the Packers, Randall Cobb has been renowned as one of the league's best slot receivers. This was well before he was on the recipient end of a Hail Mary and making headlines for it. It was for the most part hidden under wraps how inefficient he was without a clear No. 1 receiver ahead of him on the depth chart.
When the Packers lost Jordy Nelson for the season in 2015, Cobb struggled. Both through a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason, but with finding ways to get open as well. Defensive coordinators had no problem scheming their players to picking Cobb up on his standard routes and limiting one of Aaron Rodgers' options. It's one of the reasons why the team struggled so much offensively down the stretch. A struggle so prominent, it carried over into the early stages of the 2016 campaign. The trust between Rodgers and his receivers were in a bind, and 2015 seemed as if it shell-shocked him.
He was antsy in the pocket, had a problem with scanning through his progressions and had an ongoing tendency to extending plays when they didn't have to be. Something he was praised for doing throughout his career ended up being one of his biggest weaknesses in 2016.
He can't revert back to that.
It'll take a formidable performance from Cobb and fellow receiver Davante Adams in Dallas on Sunday to avoid that from happening. The Packers didn't have a healthy, smarter Adams through a majority of the 2015 season due to an ankle injury he battled through, despite the chagrin of fans who preferred Adams find his rightful spot on the team's bench.
With the emergence of Geronimo Allison and Ty Montgomery's physicality, allowing him to play the boundary, Cobb can remain in the slot for a majority of the team's Divisional round match-up with the Cowboys. It should provide an outlet for him to find success against a Cowboys defense that, despite the team's 14-2 overall record, hasn't exactly been much to write home about.
Cobb, however, could do nothing but commend them based off of their performance in the first meeting between the two teams in week six.
"They're a great secondary," Cobb said after practice on Wednesday. "We played them earlier in the year. I think that gives us a better feeling for the play style that they have and the way that they play their coverages. But we were a different team back then when we played them, so we're looking forward to this opportunity."
Cobb had himself a day against that secondary in the first meeting, tallying seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. He caught 63.6 percent of his 11 targets.
Despite his big individual day, the Packers' turnover margin in that game was minus three - a possible, but looming factor as to why the Cowboys became the first team to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field this season.
"It changes the game, you don't know what happens with those turnovers... We always preach the importance of ball security and the turnover margin."
"It definitely could've been a different game."
Cobb has caught 60 of his 84 targets this season, putting together a 71.4 catch percentage. It was the fewest amount of receptions he's recorded since 2013, albeit he missed 10 games due to injury that year. He's been the only Packers receiver not to drop a pass this season with more than 29 targets. In fact, he hasn't dropped a pass since leaving the 2015 NFC Divisional game early against the Arizona Cardinals.
Sans Nelson, it's vital that the Packers somehow create a bigger role for Cobb, who is coming off of a performance in which he tied the NFL postseason record for most touchdown receptions in a game. Much like his colleague Adams has done in the last two seasons, some players naturally leap onto another level when January rolls around.
"We have the numbers where it can be a different guy any week. We all prepare the same way, and it kind of goes with the rhythm and the flow of the game."
A rhythm and flow will be something the Packers look to get into come Sunday. Their playoff lives - and likely several jobs - depend on it.
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