The Chiefs game ended up as the Packers' only 2011 regular season loss. Kansas City took a 19-7 lead with 4:53 left. In urgent comeback mode, I was impressed that "fifth receiver" Cobb took the field with Green Bay's first-team offense, playing left slot and right slot and hauling in first-down catches on Aaron Rodgers' second and third throws of the Packers' final drive. The second catch was called back due to Nelson's pre-snap illegal motion penalty, but Cobb got open with ease against slot corner Javier Arenas and commanded Rodgers' attention early in the quarterback's progressions. Cobb played that entire possession ahead of Donald Driver.
From the two games I viewed, it was clear that Cobb and Driver play the same position in Green Bay's offense. They were rarely on the field simultaneously, and both are primarily slot guys. Cobb does play X and Z in some packages. The coaching staff's confidence that a rookie could execute multiple receiver positions certainly speaks to Cobb's stranglehold on Mike McCarthy's system.
The fact that Driver and Cobb play the same spot also foreshadows training camp competition. If Cobb can convince the coaches to simply flip-flop his playing time with Driver's in 2012, he'll be looking at a baseline of Driver's 2011 production (37/445/6) -- with obvious upside for much more.
Cobb can flat-out fly on the field and he's a quick-twitch presence in the slot. His first catch against Oakland came after a short hitch route down the left sideline. Cobb slipped two tackle attempts to tack 15 yards onto the end of his reception. The rookie was Rodgers' first read on the play.
Two quarters later, Cobb returned a kickoff 50 yards to the Raiders' 47, setting up a 38-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. Not long after in the third period, Cobb ran a deep drag route to bust Oakland's zone coverage, and secured Rodgers' pass deep down the middle for a 26-yard gain.
On his most impressive catch of the Chiefs game, Cobb showed Arenas a double move over the middle and contorted his body to haul in Rodgers' pass for a 16-yard pickup on third-and-seven.
These two games admittedly provided a small sample size. Aside from returns, Cobb managed just seven touches (six catches, one four-yard run). But Cobb's entire rookie year was a small sample size. When Cobb was on the field, he flashed big-time playmaking ability and stood out as an eye-catchingly impressive part of the well-oiled machine that was Green Bay's 2011 offense.
Cobb was out there with stars, and he fit right in.
Chris Wesseling has likened Cobb's game to Percy Harvin's, and that's exactly the type of player we're talking about. With a full NFL offseason under his belt, Cobb will make himself difficult for McCarthy to keep off the field in 2012.
Other observations from the Green Bay game reviews:
** If you want to believe in Darrius Heyward-Bey, be sure not to re-watch Week 14. The Raiders entered the contest game planning to feature Heyward-Bey with Denarius Moore (ankle) inactive, and it backfired miserably. Heyward-Bey failed to secure three first-quarter passes that he should have had, including one brutal drop on a basic five-yard curl. DHB allowed Tramon Williams to get inside position throughout his route on a second-quarter bomb attempt down the left sideline, and was lucky Carson Palmer's pass clanked off Williams' hands. Heyward-Bey did get Palmer picked on the following possession when Charles Woodson out-physicaled him for the football on a quick slant. Ryan Grant danced in for a six-yard touchdown run six snaps later, giving Green Bay a 31-0 lead.
** Ryan Grant is still a free agent because his '11 game tape isn't any good. Grant's box scores might impress from the Kansas City and Oakland games -- I haven't checked -- but his on-field play lacked short-area burst and acceleration. He may not have a single sharp cut left in his legs.
** Michael Bush was out of gas late in the season. Usually displaying quick feet for a big back, Bush appeared to be running in mud at Green Bay. In fairness to Bush, he had accounted for 111 touches in the previous four games (28 per-week average), and was clearly playing on dead legs.
** Bengals fans can attest to this: Carson Palmer has zero mobility, and it's painful to watch. He's got to be the NFL's slowest moving quarterback. Palmer can compensate at times with instinctive pocket "feel," and he's regained arm strength lost immediately following a 2008 elbow injury, but Palmer even plod-steps deliberately into his dropbacks. New Raiders OC Greg Knapp believes in moving pockets and sprintouts. There has to be some square-peg-in-a-round-hole concern with Palmer.
Colts (now Redskins) receiver Pierre Garcon
If you've done any homework on Garcon's 2011 fantasy season, you know he got a huge chunk of his production in three games. Specifically, Garcon racked up all six of his TDs and 421 of his 947 yards (44%) at Tampa (Week 4), versus Kansas City (Week 5), and at New England (Week 13).
For re-watching purposes, I chose the most formidable matchup of those (Kansas City), and Week 8 at Tennessee. The Chiefs fielded two stud young corners in Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, and the Titans game was Garcon's target high on the year (13) against a pretty good secondary.
Garcon was Indianapolis' Z receiver on every snap, with Reggie Wayne aligned at X. Garcon lined up on the right side of the offensive formation, routinely squaring off with Chiefs LCB Flowers in the Week 5 matchup and Titans LCB Jason McCourty in the Tennessee game.
In the Kansas City contest, Garcon picked up a first down on a quick slant early in Indy's opening possession, and capped the drive with a short touchdown catch off a wide receiver screen. Garcon's first real premium play was a diving, over-the-shoulder 37-yard bomb down the right sideline, with Flowers in tight coverage. On Garcon's 67-yard touchdown one possession later, Flowers clearly thought he had safety help and the coverage was blown. Garcon was wide open for the score.
Garcon is fun to watch on screens because he is very quick in a short area and tough to tackle post-catch. The fact that a coaching staff is calling a screen for a particular receiver also suggests that wideout has an elite evaluation from his own team. The coaches have designed a specific play to get him the football. They want it in that guy's hands, because he can make big plays happen.
Of course, the '11 Colts weren't exactly brimming with players with "elite" talent. Garcon was the best they had. They did attempt four wide receiver screens with Garcon in the two games I viewed.
Looking ahead, I think it's notable that Garcon will transition from Z receiver in the Colts' offense to X in Washington's. The positions aren't all that different, though. As we learned in the Leonard Hankerson column, the Shanahans' X receiver has a vast array of route assignments and is the featured skill-position player in the offensive scheme.
If Garcon performs like he's capable, I have no doubt that he will lead the Redskins in 2012 receiving. Garcon plays with a sense of urgency whenever he gets the football, flashes vertical tools on the perimeter, and is a very tough tackle.
Just how much 2012 production Garcon cobbles together will be strongly tied to Robert Griffin III's readiness as a rookie passer.
Other observations from the Colts game reviews:
** I looked at two Chiefs games for this column (Week 5 at Indy, Week 14 at Jets, the latter for Shonn Greene). Dexter McCluster's quick feet caught my eye from time to time, but he rarely turned his opportunities into sizable positive-yardage gains. A lot of McCluster's movement took place in his own backfield. He finished with 19 total yards on nine touches in the two affairs.
** I didn't think much of Delone Carter when I saw him last year, and I don't think much of him after re-watching. I don't think Carter is particularly powerful, and he certainly lacks speed and quicks.
** If you want to know why Dallas Clark lasted in free agency for over two months after the Colts cut him, flip on the Chiefs game. He had two ugly drops on balls that should have easily been caught, and a third on an errant pass by Curtis Painter that banged off Clark's hands. He might be done.
** Dwayne Bowe's 41-yard TD in the second quarter of Colts-Chiefs was beastly. Bowe caught an easy slant from Matt Cassel, evaded CB Terrence Johnson's lunging tackle attempt, and outran CB Jerraud Powers, LB Pat Angerer, and FS Antoine Bethea to the house. Bowe reentered beast mode on a late second-quarter corner route, busting three tackles en route to a 29-yard gain. It came as no surprise that Bowe was the Chiefs' best offensive player on the field. It wasn't even close.
** I alluded to this in the Jake Locker column, but it's again applicable after re-watching Titans-Colts: Chris Johnson wasn't giving 100 percent. The effort level when you compare Javon Ringer to Johnson was noticeably in Ringer's favor. Whereas Johnson was out there dogging it, Ringer just doesn't have much talent. After reviewing C.J.'s late-season play, I'd have serious reservations about picking him for my 2012 fantasy team.