Cobb carries the load
The Green Bay Packers unveiled their secret weapon on Sunday.
On the first day of training camp and throughout the summer, the Packers inserted electric second-year receiver Randall Cobb at running back. The media relations staff was quick to remind reporters that Cobb's role could not be reported, and the TV crews were told to shut off their cameras. To keep it under wraps, Cobb never lined up at running back during the preseason.
Cobb was sensational in his featured role and jump-started an offense that gained 51 yards and punted twice in its first two possessions. On the Packers' third possession, Cobb was part of a four-receiver, one-tight-end set on seven of the drive's 10 plays. On three of them, he lined up at running back and stayed there. On those plays, he caught passes of 6 yards, 4 yards (for a first down on third-and-1) and 12 yards (and another first down).
Unofficially, Cobb lined up in the backfield 19 times. He stayed at running back for nine of them. Along with Cobb's three catches for 22 yards and two first downs, the other plays resulted in Aaron Rodgers completing 5-of-6 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. All told, the nine plays provided 66 yards, or 7.3 per snap. The other 57 plays were turned into 258 yards, or 4.5 yards per snap.
"Played great, yeah, and that's kind of what we've been talking a lot about," Rodgers said. "He's a big-time player, great punt return obviously, but we're going to try to find ways to get him matched up on positive mismatches for him out there. The more opportunities we can give him in space, there's a lot of good plays out there he had."
Catching every pass thrown his direction, Cobb finished with nine receptions for 77 yards. Last season as a rookie second-round pick, Cobb's season-high total was four receptions. Between the production on offense and his controversial 75-yard touchdown on a punt return, it's safe to say the Packers would have lost by three touchdowns without him.
"I feel like I have (built) chemistry with Aaron and getting an opportunity to be on the field a little bit more," Cobb said. "Just trying to make the most of my opportunities."
The question is, now that the Packers forced to roll out so much of that package, how effective will it be against Chicago on Thursday?
Capers regroups but it's too late
We said this again and again in the days leading up to the game, but the 49ers were going to pose an enormous challenge to Green Bay's defense. And the 49ers did just that, following the script that we had laid out.
B) The 49ers returned 10 of 11 starters and added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
C) This being Week 1, there was no book on how the 49ers' offense would look. They wound up opening up the playbook, with everything from empty backfields to two extra offensive linemen playing tight end to a nose tackle at fullback. That's a lot to handle for a defense with a new starter at safety and inside linebacker and two newcomers in the defensive line rotation.
Capers' game plan was stopping the running game. The Packers played their base defense less than 20 percent of the time last season, but in the first half, it was 21 snaps of base and just six snaps of nickel out of 36 total plays. With their new weaponry, the 49ers present all sorts of matchup problems. On their first scoring possession, they got Michael Crabtree matched up against A.J. Hawk. On their first touchdown possession, they got Crabtree against Nick Perry. So, at halftime, the 49ers had scored on four of five possessions and led 16-7, even though running backs Gore and Kendall Hunter were limited to a tolerable 50 yards on 12 rushes.
Capers went to a more balanced approach on defense in the second half, with 11 snaps of base and 10 of nickel out of 30 total plays. It was a mixed bag. The 49ers scored on two of six possessions (not including a take-a-knee to end the game), but Gore and Hunter rushed 13 times for 100 yards, including Gore's back-breaking 23-yard touchdown after a turnover.
With their familiarity with Chicago, getting a handle on Thursday's game should be much easier on Capers.
By the numbers
— .201: The Packers' winning percentage under Mike McCarthy when trailing by eight points or less in the fourth quarter. They are 7-27.
— 3: Number of minutes (plus 14 seconds) in which the Packers trailed at home in the 2011 regular season. That's how long Denver's 3-0 lead lasted in a 49-23 blowout.
— 7: Number of games in Rodgers' career in which he's led the team in rushing. The Packers fell to 2-5 in those games, with Rodgers rushing for 27 yards and Cedric Benson just 16.
— 13: Consecutive home regular-season games won by the Packers until Sunday.
— 22: Years since the 49ers won at Lambeau Field. The last time was Nov. 4, 1990, with San Francisco winning 24-20 to improve to 8-0.
— 24: The Packers' ranking in rushing offense out of 28 teams that have played this week.
— 27: The Packers' ranking in rushing defense.
A Week 1 game doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. The Giants got smoked by the woeful Redskins in Week 1 last season, and we all know what that meant.
(Then again ... we did write this last week.)
What it does mean is Thursday's game against Chicago is bordering on being a must-win showdown. Lose to the Bears, and the Packers would be two games behind in the NFC North standings and, perhaps more importantly, they'd have thrown away two home games.
Maybe Sunday's loss will serve as wake-up call for an offense that didn't show much urgency in the preseason and then got manhandled by the 49ers. And if you want another silver lining, if Sunday's game serves as a playoff tiebreaker, where do you think the Packers have the best chance for success in January? Frozen Green Bay, where they've lost twice in the last five postseasons, or lukewarm San Francisco?
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.