Cobb, Jones Pick Up Passing Slack

Jones (Benny Sieu / USA Today Sports)

Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings had a remarkable season with 24 touchdowns last year. This year, they've been on the sideline more often than they've been in the end zone. Where would the Packers be without James Jones and Randall Cobb having monster seasons?

Last season, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings combined for 24 touchdown receptions.

For context, only three teams got more touchdowns from their entire wide receiver corps: Green Bay (38), Dallas (27) and Detroit (25).

With Jennings and Nelson having spent more time on the sideline (11 games and most of three others) than in the end zone (seven touchdowns; Nelson has six of them) this season, where would the Packers be without James Jones and Randall Cobb?

Jones leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions. Cobb, on his way to becoming the first player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 kickoff return yards, leads the team with 77 catches for 892 yards. He's added seven touchdown grabs.

Combined, Jones and Cobb have 19 of the team's 33 touchdown receptions, or 57.6. Last year, Nelson and Jennings combined for 47.1 percent.

Their performance isn't a surprise but nobody could have expected this level of excellence.

For Jones, it's a remarkable turnaround for a player who had the second-highest drop percentage of any wide receiver in the league from 2009 through 2011, a rate of 14.4 percent with 20 drops in 139 catchable targets, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

This season, Jones has two drops, according to STATS.

"It started with the offseason workout program," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said on Thursday. "I think he's certainly made the most of his opportunities and I think we can continue to get better. That's the thing about James. He hasn't hit his ceiling. He can continue to improve and I think he knows that and we're certainly pushing for those signs of improvement. He can continue to get better and he'll be one of the guys that people are talking about in the years to come as one of the best receivers in the game."

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to bat for Jones during free agency after last year's lockout, despite Jones' penchant for drops. Now, Jones has earned Rodgers' trust to such an extent that Rodgers has thrown the ball to Jones despite some tight windows. Jones has scored jump-ball touchdowns against Houston and Arizona, and Rodgers fired a back-shoulder touchdown pass to Jones despite tight coverage by Charles Tillman last week.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Rodgers said. "Leading the league in touchdown catches is pretty impressive. I think he's really improved a lot. I think the greatest compliment for him is he is not going to mind too much being overlooked. He cares about his teammates, he cares about being a great player and he understands that this is a team-first organization. Hopefully, he gets the consideration he deserves for Pro Bowl because he's had that type of year. I think the 12 touchdowns ought to stand out for him."

Incredibly, Jones' touchdown production has come on 51 receptions. While that's a career high — he had 50 in 2010 — the next 10 players on the NFL touchdown's list have averaged 76.2 receptions.

"I talk to myself on the field every once in a while during the game," Jones said. "Just keeping myself focused, that's the main thing. You never know, with all the weapons we have, how many opportunities you're going to get. But when you do get an opportunity, make a play, and I came into this season with that mind-set. If I get five targets during the whole season, make sure those five targets count."

Cobb finished seventh on the team with 25 receptions as a rookie last year. Now, he's gone from option No. 5 among the receivers to Rodgers' go-to player.

"I think he's an incredible player," Rodgers said. "He conducts himself the right way. He really stands for everything that we want a Packer player to stand for. He's been in the community, he's a good teammate, cares about the game, conducts himself the right way, he's a professional and he's got a chance to really do some incredible things here. He's having a heck of a year."

Among wide receivers only, Cobb is 11th in the league with 77 receptions. He's done it on 97 targeted passes, giving him a second-ranked catch rate of 79.4 percent, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Of the top 20 wide receivers in terms of receptions, only Cobb and Michael Crabtree (73 catches, 98 targets) have been thrown fewer than 100 passes.

"I think it always starts with your preparation," Bennett said. "The conversations he has with his quarterback that's always important. What he does on the practice field, then you start to build your confidence and you're able to take that on the field on Sundays. So, I think that also helps. And just when you're out there on Sunday and you're making those plays, your confidence level goes up. And I think Randall is another guy that's truly made the most of his opportunities."

Where Cobb has been shining is on third down. He converted three third-down plays and another fourth down against the Bears. Three of those turned into touchdowns by Jones.

"I want it every down," Cobb said. "Obviously, third down is a big play. We have to have a play be made and I like being out there."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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