Sandlot-style quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the showpiece of the Green Bay offense, and paunchy, but punishing, running back Eddie Lacy has arguably been the team’s most valuable player on offense in the second half of the season.
But if you are looking for an important, yet under-the-radar, key to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday for the visiting Packers, it might come in a smaller, shiftier package — do-it-all receiver Randall Cobb.
In recent weeks, Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements has lined Cobb more in the backfield, essentially giving the Packers a four-receiver look — with Cobb representing the adjustable piece of it.
His impact out of the backfield was really noticed in Green Bay’s late-season, 26-21, victory over New England at the end of November.
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And with the Packers’ passing game sputtering in last weekend’s NFC divisional playoff game at home against Dallas, Clements turned to that same personnel grouping twice in the second half, resulting in long touchdown-scoring drives.
Cobb had one 26-yard reception in a seven-play, 90-yard drive late in the third quarter— one that netted a Rodgers-to-Davante Adams 46-yard score to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 21-20.
Sticking with it on the Packers’ next series, Cobb was utilized much more on what turned out to be the game-winning drive of eight plays, 80 yards.
Cobb had one carry for two yards, and caught two passes for a combined 20 yards. The drive ended on another Rodgers’ touchdown pass, this time to tight end Richard Rodgers.
Cobb finished with a team-high eight receptions for 116 yards in the game.
“I think they’re unique in how they use … Cobb,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’s a little bit … in the way Minnesota used to use Percy (Harvin) — use him out wide, put him in slot and put him at running back.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he could see the Packers utilizing Cobb — a converted quarterback from Kentucky who is also Green Bay’s primary punt returner — at least a dozen plays out of the backfield.
“We need to be ready for that kind of number — or more,” Carroll said. “We’re ready for them to use it quite a bit because they’re very effective when they did. He’s a terrific football player, and he gives them all kinds of options that he can carry out.”
So how does the Seattle defense adjust to that?
The simple answer — treat Cobb like a running back first.
“Just like Eddie Lacy,” Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. “(Cobb) is going to do the same stuff. He is not a receiver when he is in the backfield.”
Known as a big-play runner, Cobb isn’t expect to get a ton of carries. During the regular season, he finished 13th in rushing for NFL receivers (11 carries for 37 yards).
But the threat of him breaking off a long run, as well as getting favorable matchups against linebackers on wheel routes and bubble screens, certainly has the Seahawks’ attention.
“He is a professional,” Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith said. “He has run the ball a lot. He is on special teams, too, and can take big hits. He does not run afraid.”