I was at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday. I saw the hit, I saw Randall Cobb writhing in pain. I saw the tweets that it didn’t look good and I saw the text messages that it didn’t look good. When I woke the next morning and saw a report that Cobb was expected to miss 2 weeks it felt like Christmas. I couldn’t believe that a Packers injury was not as serious as it looked. Usually, they are more serious than they look. Usually Clay Matthews comes in unblocked to sack an immobile quarterback (who basically gave himself up on the play) and is on the operating table the next day.
The joy was short lived. It has now become clear that Randall Cobb will not participate in practice for the next 6 weeks and will not play until week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys. One of his counterparts, James Jones, is going to be pressed to play this weekend against the Browns, but should be back soon. The departures of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings mean that, at least for the short term, the spread attack of the Green Bay Packers is going to look a little different. I’m quite certain that by different, I mean bigger.
If Jones is unable to play on Sunday, the Packers will have at most 3 healthy Wide Receivers. Myles White is a smaller slot-type guy but I’m not sure that he would even be called upon to play. Let’s say, for the purposes of this idea, that Jones is playing (mostly because Jones will be ready to go sooner rather than later) that the Packers stick close to Jordy Nelson (6’3″ 217), Jarret Boykin (6’2″ 218), and James Jones (6’1 208). Those are 3 big NFL wide receivers. The other 5 pass catches on the 53 man rosters are all tight ends, three of whom are in the hybrid TE/WR mold. Those players, recently promoted Jake Stoneburner (6’3″ 249) seldom used Brandon Bostick (6’3″ 250), and starting TE Jermichael Finley (6’5″ 247). When you add in Green Bay’s affinity for a one-back offense and the fact that that back is the bruising Eddie Lacy (5’11” 230) and the possibility of the return of offensive tackle Adonis Derek Sherrod (6’6″ 321) the Packers are an absolutely huge offensive unit.
There are essentially two ways to attack the middle of a pass defense. Shorter, speedier slot receivers (Cobb, Victor Cruz, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, etc.) can be too fast or too quick for linebackers, safeties and nickel backs. In the past, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings have been exceptional in doing this for the Packers. The three most memorable catches by Jennings in Super Bowl XLV (the two TDs and the 3rd and 10 seam route) were out of the slot. Cobb has been a slot monster. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Cobb and Jennings aren’t walking through that door, at least not until week 15. The other way to attack the middle of the pass defense is to create size-speed matchup problems using big guys whose uncommon speed and athleticism makes them to quick for LBs and too big for safeties and nickel backs (Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Gronk, Aaron Hernandez). These players can be lined up with their hand on the ground, but are often found in the slot or even split out wide. The Packers have potentially three guys (Finley, Stoneburner, Bostick) like that who all at least have an off season and these last 6 weeks worth of work in the offensive system.
Defenses often substitute based on the offensive players that come in to the game from the sideline. What if the Packers send out Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Brandon Bostick, and Andrew Quarless in to the huddle with Rodgers and the O-line? What is the defense supposed to do? The Packers could line up in “22” personnel with Quarless playing fullback and Finley and Bostick double tight and run the ball. In that case the defense would want the base set on the field. The Packers could also run Bostick or Jordy in the slot with Quarless lining up traditionally and have the other opposite a Jermichael Finley that is split out wide. In that case the defense better be in their nickel package or they’re going to get shredded by Aaron Rodgers.
The emergence of the running game, and Eddie Lacy’s bruising I-don’t-need-an-effing-fullback style in particular, has opened the door for the Packers to be a very big, powerful, and diverse offense. The loss of Randall Cobb might make the team even bigger and more diverse. In no way, shape or form, is Cobb’s injury an improvement for this football team. He is one of the 5 most important players on the roster, and his loss is nothing short of devastating. What it might do, and what it can do is make the Packers play a different way offensively. That new direction may make Packer football a little more bad weather friendly. The really scary part for opposing teams is, when Cobb comes back and the Packers are already comfortable in their “jumbo” sets, what happens when they can still run the spread? The multiple personnel packages that the Packers are famous for and that have powered Coach McCarthy’s offenses might be able to be effective in a lot of different ways.