Just in the nick of time, two of the Green Bay Packers’ most important players regained their health and played key roles in the exhilarating defeat of the New York Giants.
Randall on Offense
Receiver Randall Cobb, now in his sixth year, had his breakout year in 2014: 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He capped that off with 15 catches for 178 yards in the two playoff games following that season.
Cobb was rewarded by being recognized as the 100th best player in the NFL, and he played in the Pro Bowl as a replacement for the injured Dez Bryant. Finally, he signed a $40 million four-year contract in March 2015.
In 2015, Cobb, along with the rest of the offense, went backwards. He managed 79 catches for just 829 yards and six touchdowns, and he was not a factor in the team’s two postseason games. Though he was hindered by injuries, many teams focused, quite successfully, on shutting Cobb down, as he was viewed as the Packers’ top receiver due to the injury to Jordy Nelson.
With the ascendancy of Davante Adams this year, Cobb’s productivity has again been less than expected. In the 13 regular season games he played, Cobb caught 60 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He missed the final two games of the year with an ankle injury and wasn’t targeted against Chicago, while playing on that gimpy ankle.
Almost forgotten after his three-game absence, Cobb and his ankle condition were uncertainties when he took to the field against New York. It turned out that Cobb was back to nearly full strength. It became immediately apparent to the eye that Cobb was quicker and more aggressive than we’ve since him since the 2014 season.
The statistics bear this out: seven targets, five catches, 116 yards, three touchdowns. You’d have to go back to October 2014 to find a game in which he had more receiving yardage.
Cobb has enjoyed some good games against the Cowboys. In Green Bay’s 26-21 playoff win on January 11, 2015, he caught eight of 11 throws for 116 yards. In the 2015 regular season meeting, a 28-7 Packers rout, he caught eight for 81, and in the 2016 regular-season loss, Cobb hauled in seven passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.
On Sunday, Pro Football Focus gave its highest team offensive player grade to Cobb – a very high mark of 88.3.
How well Randall Cobb plays on Sunday will be a key to the outcome of the game.
Randall on the Defense
Cornerback Damarious Randall, after a solid first year as the Packers’ first round draft choice in 2015, has had an up-and-down season this year – but mostly down. He was decidedly up, however, in the dismantling of the Giants on Sunday, and it is critical that he be up again if the Packers are to upset the favored Cowboys this weekend.
While injuries can’t excuse some of his poor play in the first half of the season, Randall was clearly playing hurt in many games during the second half of the season.
The injury reports listed Randall as having a groin injury from game 5 through game 15. He was sidelined for games 7 through 11 due to the ailment. It is probably not a coincidence that Randall sat out the Packers’ four-game midseason losing spell.
But Randall returned for the final six “run-the-table” wins. His low point was getting benched midway through the Chicago game. He was also nowhere near his best in the next two games — wins versus Minnesota and Detroit — though he was listed in these games as having a shoulder injury.
His bad luck continuing, Randall entered the Giants game with a knee injury – and with a lot of attention on him due to the Packers being so thin at the cornerback position. Few expected the Packers secondary to hold up, but the unit limited the Giants’ and its cocky receivers to just one touchdown.
PFF, in issuing grades for the Packers’ defensive unit against the Giants, scored Damarious at a sterling 88.8, behind only Jake Ryan’s 93.6.
If Damarious Randall can repeat last Sunday’s performance against the Cowboys, this game should go down to the wire.