(WLAX/WEUX) – Chemistry. Trust. Feel. Intangibles that make a quarterback-receiver relationship successful on the football field.
The Randall Cobb-Aaron Rodgers bond was on full display at Lambeau Field Sunday in Green Bay’s 27-17 victory over Pittsburgh on alumni day honoring the Packers 1996 Super Championship team that defeated the Steelers 25 years ago in Super Bowl XXXI.
Head coach Matt LaFleur was pleased with his team’s overall play in improving to 3-1 on the season and sitting atop the NFC North Division. Division rivals Minnesota lost at home to Cleveland and Chicago rebounded to defeat Detroit at Soldier Field.
“Winning, you can’t take it for granted,” LaFleur said in his press conference. “I was really proud of our defense. A team has the ball 11 times and they scored on three possessions. That is a pretty good night.”
Most impressive from Joe Barry’s improving defense is allowing just 17 points by creating two turnovers and allowing Pittsburgh just 62 rushing yards to render the Steelers one dimensional and force them to the air.
Cornerback Eric Stokes has been thrown into the fire as a starter and is progressing each game as he’s tested by opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Of course he will give up some play, but the rookie is displaying the athleticism, talent, and competitiveness that made him the team’s top draft choice.
Stokes registered eight solo tackles and made the game-clinching interception of Ben Roethlisberger late in the fourth quarter. Linemen Keke Kingsley (strip-sack) and Kenny Clark and LB Rashan Gary applied pressure from trenches and De’Vondre Campbell again was a major force in both the run and pass game.
Now the bad news.
Jaire Alexander, one of the league’s elite corners, was hurt making a tackle and the extent of his shoulder injury is not known at this time. He will be undergoing medical tests today. Preston Smith also left the game with an injury, but returned to a linebacker unit already missing key starters in Za’Darius Smith and Krys Barnes.
Now the good news.
With Marquez Valdes-Scantling out and Pittsburgh keying on Davante Adams throughout the game, Cobb stepped up and showed why Rodgers wanted the 31-year-old slot specialist back in Green Bay. He caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 23-yarder in a 17-3 second-quarter run.
Rodgers made plays with arm and feet, outsprinting TJ Watt to the corner pylon on a 4-yard touchdown dash and completing 20-36 passes for 248 yards with no interceptions.
Four of Rodgers passes went to Cobb for key third-down conversions of 25, 12, 8, and 23 (TD) yards to complement a strong running performance by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
“He just knows how to run routes—he is a veteran guy,” LaFleur said. “There is great chemistry with him and Aaron,” We had great protection all night, for the most part. Those guys up front really battled and did what they needed to do to get Aaron time to work through his progressions.”
The game was not without controversy: officials appeared to blow a potential game-changer just before halftime when they called Pittsburgh offsides on a blocked field goal attempt that the Steelers returned for a touchdown. Other missed calls included a trip of Aaron Rodgers in the second half and a slight-push off by receiver Johnson on a leaping Alexander to create separation on a 45-yard touchdown pass on Pittsburgh’s game-opening drive.
It was the fast start the struggling Steelers offense and Big Ben needed, but Kingsley’s strip sack and Clark’s recovery fueled Green Bay’s 17-3 second-quarter run. The Packers doubled-down by receiving the second-half kickoff and capitalizing on a 29-yard Mason Crosby field goal and then scored on a 1-yard pass from Rodgers to Cobb to break the game open at 27-10.
“Because of MVS’s injury obviously a lot more snaps for him tonight,” Rodgers said. “But I feel like the first couple weeks we could tell that he was getting himself where he need to be to tap (into) a bigger role in the offense.
“But the things that he does you can’t really teach is the feel. You know, the third-and-10 where he had inside leverage and he made kind of an out move, and I put a good ball down the seam to him. His angle on the touchdown, on that route, (is) just a feel.
“Cobby has been doing it for a long time at a high level and tonight was really fun.”
What’s also fun for Rodgers is a one-two running punch of bruiser AJ Dillon (15 rushes, 81 yards) and slasher Aaron Jones (15 carries, 48 yards) providing balance to the offense.
One special teams aspect is showing marked improvement.
Since replacing JK Scott, Cory Bojorquez has proven to be a significant upgrade at the position. He punted three times for 138 yards (46.0 average), with his first kick being downed inside the Steelers’ 5 on a tremendous hustle play by Isaac Yiadom to bat the ball back before it entered the end zone.
Bojorquez’s booming 57-yard punt from the shadow of the Green Bay end zone flipped the field of play in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay faces another 3-1 opponent with a tough road test at Cincinnati Sunday in a game televised at 12 noon exclusively in Western Wisconsin on FOX 25/48.