We all knew it was going to happen; with Randall Cobb the Packers got a swiss army knife, he returns kicks, he catches passes, he runs the ball, he slices, dices and even juliennes! At some point, you knew that “Wild Cobb” was going to show up somewhere and the Packers were going to get him to lob the ball (I know they did this last year, but that was more of an option pass). Well apparently the Vikings were the team to get the first shot at some Cobb trickeration and the results were pretty comical at best, but what exactly happened and what went wrong?
The Situation: It’s the 3rd quarter with 6:19 left on the clock and the Vikings are desperately holding onto a 1 point lead. It’s second and five after a five yard Alex Green run and the Packers need to get a touchdown or get into field goal range (though who knows what qualifies for field goal range for Mason Crosby at the moment) in order to keep the game the game close.
The Formation: The Packers come out in a 2-2-1 formation (2WR-2TE-1RB) with WR Greg Jennings (85) split right and WR James Jones (89) in the left slot, TE Tom Crabtree (83) and TE DJ Williams (84) are also aligned in the left slot forming a trips bunch look with WR Jones. On the offensive line, with TJ Lang out, undrafted rookie Don Barclay (67) is out at right tackle, followed by RG Josh Sitton (71), C Jeff Saturday (63), LG Evan Dietrich-Smith (62) and LT Marshall Newhouse (74).
Pre-Snap: TE Williams motions from the trips bunch into the backfield and becomes the fullback, making it an offset I formation, in essence making it look like a run play.
Snap: QB Aaron Rodgers (12) pitches it to RB Cobb, who initially appears to be running a sweep behind TE Williams.
The Lateral: RB Cobb throws a lateral back to QB Rodgers, who catches the ball, but already has DE Everson Griffin bearing down on him. Luckily RT Barclay manages to get enough of Griffin that it gives QB Rodgers time to shuffle to his right before throwing a bomb to WR Jennings.
The Aftermath: Things aren’t looking so good for the Packers, first off, there are 5 defenders in the picture and only one Packers (WR Jennings), while the 3 linebackers can be eliminated from the play due to their distance to Jennings, what bigger issue is that SS Harrison Smith (22) is with Jennings and even worse looking back at Rodgers and the pass. SS Smith ends up getting better positioning on the ball (perhaps QB Rodgers underthrew the ball), and grab the interception.
Conclusion: Actually I like this play, I think it’s just unfortunate that the Packers ran into a Vikings defense that was prepared for some trickery. Perhaps the biggest reason why this play didn’t work was that the Vikings didn’t respect the run, which is a little surprising since the Packers actually ran the ball pretty well during the game. For instance, this is the defensive look that the Vikings responded to for this play:
Most importantly look at the cushion WR Jennings gets (about 5 yards) and also notice how deep the safeties are, especially Harrison Smith (22), who is about 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. The second most important thing is to look at the defense when Randall Cobb is about the throw the ball. See anyone missing?
Yup, Harrison Smith has actually dropped back even further than he started. In fact when looking at the game tape, Smith doesn’t advance to the ball through out the entire play, at the snap Smith bails and takes position in the center of the field. Even with Smith playing as the “last man” and the other safety coming down for run support, I’m a little surprised that Smith made no attempt or even hesitation in diagnosing the play and supporting the run. Either he must have saw something before the snap that lead him to believe something was fishy or his role in the defense was to be the last man regardless of the play. Finally, I think the straw that broke the camels back in this play was that Rodgers had to side step and reset his pass before throwing the ball. Speed is key in a quarterback pass-back play, the longer it takes for Rodgers to get the ball and throw it, the more time the defense has to recover and defend the pass. Having to take his eyes off the field and watch for the ball, added to the fact that once Rodgers does have the ball he has to get around Griffin means that the play probably lasts long enough for everyone on the defense to figure out the play.
So the big question: will we ever see this play again? My guess is probably, head coach Mike McCarthy called the play at a good time and in a good situation, the team executed it pretty well and really the only reason it didn’t work is that the defense played it better.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.