The danger with the Green Bay Packers relying so heavily on their “Big Three” receiver corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones is the fallout from an injury.
Or two injuries.
The Packers lost Jones to a leg injury on the second possession of Sunday’s game at Baltimore and Cobb to a knee injury on the final drive of the first half. Neither player returned. While Jones was able to watch the game from the sideline, Cobb was driven to the locker room for examination. He was carted back to the field for the second half, where he watched with the aid of crutches.
The Packers won, anyway, 19-17, as Aaron Rodgers and the offense made just enough big plays and the defense rose to the occasion without Clay Matthews, who will miss at least three or four games with a broken thumb.
The injury to Cobb could change the season, though coach Mike McCarthy had no information on the severity other than to say he’s “hopeful for … good information.” With the Packers driving late in the second quarter, Cobb ran an out-and-up, caught the ball and was tackled at the knees by safety Matt Elam, the Ravens’ first-round pick.
Rodgers took exception to the hit and got in Elam’s face. Guard T.J. Lang then shoved Elam away from Rodgers, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
“I just felt like he had enough time to make a hit in the legal hitting zone,” Rodgers said. “Now, the other safety (James Ihedigho) came over and made actually a very knowledgeable point, which I appreciated a little intelligent banter back and forth, about some of the issues defensive players have to deal with with the target area. I totally understand that and get that. I just felt like, from my vantage point, he had plenty of time to not take out a guy’s legs in that situation. I think he could have hit in the proper hitting zone, and that’s what I told him.”
Nelson understands the defense’s predicament, as well, with so many penalties being called for players hitting to the head.
“Defensive guys are put in a small target zone to make hits,” Nelson said. “They can’t go high. There’s really only one other way to go. I’m not saying that low, but I mean, I haven’t been in that situation, so I’m not going to judge anyone making a play. I think it’s a split-second decision. I doubt he was back there thinking, ‘If he throws it high, I’m going to take a guy’s knee out.’ It’s tough. You don’t want to see it, but it’s hard to play defense right now. I haven’t been put in that situation, so I can’t say much about it.”
Said Ihedigbo: “I don't know what Randall Cobb suffered, but I'm praying for him because it's unfortunate.”
Jones was injured while blocking in the first quarter. As was the case with Cobb, McCarthy only said that he was “hopeful” for good news.
The offense – not surprisingly – sputtered with only Nelson and rarely used Jarrett Boykin as healthy receivers. While Rodgers threw for 315 yards, he completed just 17-of-32 passes. After Jones went down, the Packers punted on six consecutive series. Playing five series in the second half without Cobb and Jones, the offense actually functioned at a decent level. The first drive ended with Rodgers’ end-zone interception to Nelson. The next three drives went six plays for 38 yards and a field goal, four plays for 80 yards and a touchdown, and 12 plays for 72 yards and a field goal. The final drive didn’t net any points but it was big, nonetheless: eight plays for 69 yards, including two third-down conversions to run out the clock.
Entering the game, Nelson, Cobb and Jones all were on pace to finish with at least 1,300 yards. Nelson caught four passes for 113 yards, including a pivotal 64-yard touchdown, on 10 targets. Cobb caught all four passes thrown his way for 53 yards. Jones caught the only pass to him for a gain of 10.
Without Cobb and Jones, the Packers turned to Boykin, who caught five passes as a rookie last year but didn’t have any in just 10 snaps this season. Boykin got off to a poor start, including a third-down drop when the Packers started a drive at their 1-yard line. Of six passes thrown his way, he caught just one – but that was a big one, with his 43-yard catch-and-run setting up a 50-yard field goal that gave Green Bay a 9-0 lead.
Defensively, the Packers collected five sacks and dominated most of the game without Matthews. While the Ravens finished with 360 yards, their first 11 possessions ended with nine punts, a turnover on downs on a goal-line stand and a fumble. Nine times, the Ravens failed to even gain one first down.
A.J. Hawk had a monster game with three sacks and Nick Perry had a sack-fumble that gave the Packers a field goal just before halftime.
“It shows we can overcome pretty much everything,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “That’s how we feel as a team. Coach McCarthy always talks about the next man up, and that’s how we play. Whoever comes on the field, we expect the same thing from them.”
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.