Critical Decision Awaits on Cobb

After injuring his right ankle in the third quarter, is it worth the risk to continue using the record-setting playmaker on kick returns? Maybe not, Aaron Rodgers said, but under Mike McCarthy, the coach usually has seen the reward as greater than the risk.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has a big decision to make with his special teams.

And no, it's not at kicker.

Randall Cobb, who set the franchise's single-season record for combined net yards on a first-quarter punt return on Sunday, injured his right ankle on a third-quarter punt return.

The injury did not appear to be serious, which led to some cautious optimism. After some initial help from the training staff, Cobb jogged the rest of the way to the sideline, and he walked unaided to the locker room for additional testing.

"I hope it's not serious," McCarthy said after the Packers destroyed the Titans 55-7. "The training staff on the field did not give me anything to believe that it was very serious but as you know with ankle sprains and joint injuries the next day is a huge indicator."

Given Cobb's value to the offense, with his team-leading 80 catches for 954 yards, McCarthy will have to decide whether the reward of Cobb's return ability is greater than the risk to the team's most consistent perimeter playmaker.

Then again, McCarthy has typically decided the reward is greater than the risk. In 2006 and 2007, Charles Woodson returned punts. In 2009, Jordy Nelson and Tramon Williams returned punts and Nelson returned kickoffs. In 2010, Williams returned punts and Nelson and Sam Shields handled most of the kickoffs. Only in 2008, when Will Blackmon handled both roles, did McCarthy use something resembling a specialist in those roles.

"Well, we'll see. We'll see," McCarthy said about taking Cobb off the return units.

Cobb entered the game with 2,241 combined yards – 964 on kickoff returns, 892 on receptions, 253 on punt returns and 132 on rushes. He needed 10 yards to break Ahman Green's record, set in 2003, and did it with a 12-yard runback on the game's first punt. It's on offense, however, where Cobb has been lethal as Aaron Rodgers' go-to receiver. He entered the game leading all NFL receivers in catch percentage, according to the official league stats, and was coming off back-to-back 100-yard games.

He was well on his way to a third consecutive 100-yard receiving game until the injury. On the second series of the game, Rodgers rolled to his right and fired a 20-yard strike to Cobb for a touchdown that made it 14-0. It was Cobb's eighth receiving touchdown of the season. On the second play of the third quarter, Rodgers hit Cobb downfield for a 31-yard gain, setting up another touchdown and a 27-0 lead.

"He's a big time player. He's fun to watch," Rodgers said. "Just trying to get him the ball in space. He makes some big plays. He's got incredible preparation habits. He's always ready to play, knows where he's supposed to be. He's like a seven- or eight-year veteran out there, it feels like at times. I feel like we've played together for a while. He understands the concepts we're running, where to get open."

The Titans punted on the ensuing possession, with Cobb injuring the ankle on a tackle by Tracy Wilson.

Cobb finished with three catches for 62 yards and three punt returns for 39 yards, giving him 101 yards for the day and running his total 2,342 for the season. In a remarkable case of a player knowing the rules, Cobb gave the Packers outstanding field position to start the second half. Rob Bironas' kickoff trickled toward the sideline but was about to stop at about the 4-yard line. Rather than scoop up the ball and get tackled inside the 10, Cobb coolly placed his right foot out of bounds and grabbed the ball. In an obscure rule, the Titans were flagged for kicking the ball out of bounds and Green Bay was awarded the ball at the 40-yard line.

Despite not playing the final quarter-and-a-half, Cobb finished with three catches for 62 yards and three punt returns for 39 yards, giving him 101 yards and running his total 2,342 for the season.

Jeremy Ross returned a punt 58 yards to set up a touchdown. An outstanding kick returner at Cal, the Packers could turn over the return units to the first-year player. Then again, it was Ross' flub that doomed the Packers' trick play punt return last week.

"It was, man," Ross said when asked if this was redemption. "It was definitely big for me. Last week, I made a bad mistake, which could have cost us the game, but having the mind-set of forgetting what's behind and keep pressing ahead, I took this opportunity as a way to say, ‘Hey, let's wash this slate clean, let people forget about what happened last week.'"

Rodgers had a message for McCarthy, if his coach is listening.

"He's a big-time player," Rodgers said of Cobb. "Hope we can get him off special teams soon."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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