Tag Archives: Packers offense

The Missing Play-Action Threat

One of the most exciting plays in football is a well-executed play-action deep ball. Packers fans have been spoiled in recent years in watching Rodgers do exactly this. Despite the cannon arm, Rodgers has shown an unbelievable touch to drop one in over the shoulder as if he were handing it off to the receiver. It’s simply a thing of beauty.

His primary target on these plays since the 2010 Super Bowl has been Jordy Nelson. Not a true blazer, Nelson has enough speed to open-up-the-top on the defense. And when necessary, he can go up and get the ball in traffic. The latter was on full display on this ridiculously tough and clutch grab at NYG last season.

Together, they formed a hell of a pairing in 2011. On 96 targets, Nelson had 68 receptions (good for a 71% completion percentage), 1,263 yards, 15 TDs, and an average of 18.6 yards-per-reception. Fast forward to 2012. Nelson has 43 receptions on 63 targets (68%), 577 yards, 5 TDs, and 13.4 yards-per-reception. With 7 games remaining, the numbers are down. And the numbers mask his inconsistency – for example, he had 3 TD’s in one game.

What’s the cause of this drop-off between the two? The loss of Jennings isn’t the cause because Jordy played well last season without Jennings in the lineup. Cobb’s emergence has been huge for the offense, but he is more or less getting Jennings-type production.

The Packers’ inability to establish a play-action game has frustrated Jordy and the Packers offense.

The drop-off can be blamed, in part, on the Packers’ inability to establish a reliable play-action game this season. The Packers thrived on the play-action last year in spite of the fact they didn’t have a running game (here’s looking at you Ryan Grant). This year, though, defenses are playing deep coverage and not biting on the play-action. The result is ugly.

Through week 7, Rodgers was dead-last in the NFL in completion-percentage difference between non-play-action passes and play-action passes. On non-play-action passes, Rodgers completed 72.3% of his passes. Play-action passes were completed at a 55.3% clip. That’s a 17% difference. Amazing, isn’t it.

And those stats bear out what the naked eye can see. Think, when’s the last time you saw Jordy break free past the last defender on a play-action play? Frankly, it might be 2011.

The Packers force-fed the play-action deep ball at the beginning of the season to no success. Time and again, Rodgers would play-action, roll out, and even with ample time to find a receiver, no one could get open. Teams simply weren’t biting on the play-action. Defenses are begging the Packers to run. And in doing so, teams have taken away the play-action play from the Packers playbook.

Adjustments are the life of the NFL. MM has realized the offenses inability to establish a play-action game and not called them nearly as often. Thankfully, the offense has evolved without it. But there’s no doubt, the play-action game is a missing threat.

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The Evolution of Randall Cobb

Known primarily for his return skills, Cobb has morphed into a Percy Harvin-lite.

In his fourth season, the Vikings’ Percy Harvin has developed into a special all-around talent that ended up with 100 touches over the last half of last season – 20+ more than the next closest receiver. Harvin’s combination of size and speed allows him to be used out wide, in the slot, and even out of the backfield – Harvin had 52 rushing attempts last season. This dynamic threat has resulted in him being a focal point alongside AP, which is saying something.

After two games this season, the Packers’ Randall Cobb has quickly morphed himself into a Percy Harvin-lite. Like Harvin, Cobb has a unique skill set that allows him to lineup all over the field and exploit mismatches with his speed, burst, and cutting ability.

With the last pick of the second round two drafts ago, TT nabbed another gem with Cobb. Cobb made a name for himself immediately, scoring twice in the first game of the NFL season when he had a receiving touchdown and return touchdown. Both were notable, but for different reasons. The receiving touchdown was infamous in that he scored after running the wrong route. The return touchdown was famous – it earned AP play of the year – for the acrobatic manner in which he stayed off the ground. Such a sterling start fizzled for most of the remainder of the year.

The different dimensions Cobb could have brought to the offense were not realized in his first year. Only the tip of the iceberg was shown in the first NYG game when Cobb took a reverse, pulled up, and heaved a tight spiral along the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete. But, the message was clear – Cobb added a different dimension to an already explosive offense.

Fast forward to 2012. Cobb’s unique skill set has been on full display through two games. When the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get any openings against the staunch (and clutching) 49ers defense, Cobb was the one player that presented a mismatch and exploited it. Lining up next to Rodgers often, Cobb was very effective catching the ball in the flat where his burst and cutting ability shined. In the second game, Cobb lined up more in the backfield and received a few carries. The pitch wide to get him into space was especially effective.

But, the reason he is Percy Harvin-lite, is he doesn’t have Harvin’s size. And this was clear when he took a carry up the middle, and took a shot to his shoulder. Cobb’s day was effectively over, as he didn’t touch the ball (on offense) again.

At 5’10” and 190 lbs., Cobb simply isn’t built to take the tough hits that come with running the ball between the tackles. Harvin does this, and does this well. He is simply unlimited in what he can do out of the backfield, whereas Cobb must be used more as a scat back when lined up back there. MM needs to understand this limitation when he designs and calls plays for Cobb going forward. Exposing Cobb to these types of violent hits would be careless.

Cobb’s evolution from a fifth-string WR in year 1 to a heavily-used, multi-purpose threat in year 2 has been the biggest offensive story of the first two games. I anticipate MM will scheme different ways to utilize Cobb and his skill set going forward. I expect a few passes – hopefully they connect this year – and plenty more plays out of the backfield. But, it’s a delicate balance in exploiting Cobb’s skill set while also not exposing him to potential injury.