Saturday, April 1 2023

By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

Things didn’t go well for the Green Bay Packers in the first half of Sunday’s game against the visiting New England Patriots. They were facing rookie Bailey Zappe under center after knocking out backup Brian Hoyer early in the game, but a lack of offensive rhythm saw Green Bay down 10-7 at the half. 

Quite honestly, it should have been worse.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 11.2 when he walked into the locker room at halftime. He said after the game he had a “short” conversation with himself, aided by his friend and left tackle David Bakhtiari, then he threw his helmet back on and trotted back out on the field.

The Packers started with the ball in the third quarter but Rodgers promptly threw two incompletions as he attempted to yank the ignition cord on Green Bay’s offensive engine. Sputter, sputter and then finally came the boom. He got the play he wanted. 

“I think there are two big plays that happened in the game,” Rodgers said on the Pat McAfee Show Tuesday. “The first one was on that third-and-10 at 10-7. I hit Allen [Lazard] down the right sideline, he made a fantastic catch. The ball was a little bit lower, he was kind of pushed to the sidelines, jumps on top at the last second and makes the kind of diving catch in front of him. And sometimes it just takes one play like that to get to get you going. Now we’re not at the 25 anymore, we’re at midfield. We turn that drive into a touchdown to [tight end Robert] Tonyan after a penalty.”

 Let’s take a look then, shall we?

The Packers have a two-by-one formation in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and you’re going to see multi-level routes from what ends up being four receivers after Tonyan chips his way out into the checkdown spot. What makes this play even more impressive is, even though New England has elected to blitz — rushing five and having Matthew Judon run an inside stunt — Rodgers’ line buys him enough time to hit the deepest man. Lazard is well past the sticks. Both Romeo Doubs and Randall Cobb are at or near the line of gain on the other side, and Tonyan is open underneath in case Rodgers needs to bail. Perhaps most impressive here is left guard Jon Runyan, who ends up taking on two defenders due to the inside stunt by Judon.

It all worked out, and even as the two teams traded scores, Rodgers knew they’d keep humming.

“Sitting there, 24-17, I turned to Josh [Myers] and said, ‘We’re not losing this game,'” Rodgers said on Tuesday.

He got confirmation on that very next drive, where he identified the second play that changed the game for him.

“We’re down, it’s third and six. Cobby [Randall Cobb] runs a great route,” said Rodgers. “I kind of slide left slightly, David [Bakhtiari] does a good job kind of bending his guy inside and we kind of passed off a twist pretty good. But I put the ball on a good spot, Randall ran a great route on a sail, as we call it, where you kind of bend down and then back toward the sideline. That got us going so that was two of the biggest plays of the game.”

 Here, it almost looks like Bakhtiari gets thrown off by the chip from the Patriots’ tight end. It causes Rodgers to slide left a little bit and Bakhtiari recovers, blocking through his man to veer him beyond where he can reach Rodgers. This buys the time Cobb needs to finish out the sail concept, and despite the Patriots’ safety reading Rodgers’ eyes and coming down, because of the fun little out to the sideline, he can’t get there in time.

 When Rodgers needed a play most, he went to his most trusted receivers. And it worked.

 While it’s no secret Lazard is the team’s de-facto No. 1 wide receiver with Davante Adams gone, while Green Bay’s younger pass catchers develop, Rodgers went so far as to say he’d like to see more work for Cobb.

“I look forward to some more snaps for him because every time he’s out there he’s been making explosive gains,” said Rodgers. “I was teasing him that this is going to be his highest yards per catch he’s had in his career because he’s having two or three catches a game and at least one of them is an explosive play.”

Though Cobb has been in the league for 12 years, he seems to be playing up to the level he was at perhaps four, five years ago, and it’s all while bringing invaluable experience to help said younger receivers along. He’s been with Rodgers the longest. He knows what makes him tick. And he’s passing it along for the good of the team.

“That, to me, is as big of a role for him as anything,” Rodgers continued. “To be able to translate the way that I play and the expectations to the young guys when I’m not in that room. I’m telling you, it is the most important quality possibly that he has to our football team. Obviously, he’s still an explosive player. He still runs great routes. He’s getting open consistently. But his ability to be that voice in the room, along with Allen, the two oldest guys in the room, Cobby obviously much longer than Allen, but to be able to explain the little intricacies of the plays is priceless. I promise you.”

It took every minute of overtime to get the win over the Patriots, but the Packers sit at 3-1 and tied for first in the NFC North.

Moral of the story: Count on Cobb. And never count out Rodgers.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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