What Green Bay Packers fans had dreaded would happen all season long happened early in the third quarter on Sunday. While fielding a punt from the Tennessee Titans, the devastatingly handsome Randall Cobb suffered an injury when his leg got caught underneath him on a tackle. He did not return to the game.
Since Cobb’s emergence as an explosive and dependable playmaker early in the season, many have questioned whether he should continue to play on special teams, risking injury. Just the week before, Cobb had another scary moment as a returner when he got bent backwards by a defender. Though he was okay, it was enough to bring the discussion of Cobb’s value to the forefront.
Though initially vague about Cobb’s future role on special teams after the injury, coach Mike McCarthy has stated firmly that Cobb will continue to return kicks and punts if he is healthy:
I don’t understand how you play scared in the game of football. I don’t get that. I understand the risk involved in every single play. Some plays are higher risk than others. I’m fully aware of that. But you can’t sit here and say special teams are important if you don’t put a guy like Randall Cobb out there as a returner.
McCarthy certainly has a point. If you believe in the importance of special field plays and field position, it doesn’t make sense to put a bunch of scrubs on the field for those plays. Packer fans well remember what it was like to have no return game to speak of and how it hurt the team. It’s exhausting for an offense to have to go 90 yards every drive.
On the other hand, I would rather take bad field position if it meant preserving Cobb for the offense. I’m not the only one who feels that way. After the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is one of Cobb’s biggest fans, spoke about how well Cobb has been playing this season before adding, “Hope we can get him off of special teams soon.”
For me, the biggest reason for cutting back Cobb’s non-offensive duties is that a viable substitute seems to have presented himself in backup receiver Jeremy Ross. Of the two punts that Ross returned on Sunday, one was for 58 yards that took the Pack to the Tennessee 7-yard line. Green Bay scored a touchdown on the next play.
Now, Ross’s performance should be taken with a grain of salt because of its tiny sample size as well as the fact that this came against the Titans. If Sunday was an accurate glimpse of Ross’s ability, however, then why not let him handle the return duties and keep Cobb safe?
I think McCarthy would be disinclined to make a change at so late a point in the season. If Cobb ends up sitting out the regular season finale and Ross gains more experiences and continues to have success, that might sway McCarthy.
Overall, I actually think the Packers should stick with Cobb on special teams. He’s a constant threat to go all the way and a big return can shift momentum – and the outcome – of a game in the blink of an eye. I think the Packers should make a switch away from Cobb in the offseason, but right now, a week away from the playoffs, Green Bay should stick with the more experienced player.