GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There’s no late-season ankle injury to hold him back like there was last year. No nagging shoulder problem that never really went away like in 2015.
This time, there’s just no Aaron Rodgers.
But does that fully explain how Randall Cobb could not only have his first game without a single pass thrown his way in more than six years but also be on track for his least productive season since he played in only six games in 2013?
It’s what the Packers will have to decide this offseason when they make a decision about Cobb’s future. The 27-year-old has one more season left on the four-year, $40 million contract he signed in 2015. They know they’re going to have to pay Davante Adams, who would be one of the top receivers on the market if he got to free agency in March. So perhaps it could come down to keeping either Cobb or Jordy Nelson, but not both.
Nelson was only slightly more productive than Cobb in last Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers. While Cobb wasn’t targeted for the first time since Nov. 6, 2011, against the Chargers his rookie year, Nelson caught five passes for 17 yards one game after he caught just three for 11 yards.
Brett Hundley's first start after Rodgers broke his collarbone was a sign of things to come when against the Saints, the trio of Adams, Nelson and Cobb combined to catch just five passes for 40 yards.
Other than Adams, who has caught three of Hundley’s five touchdowns, the Packers receivers have found it difficult to put up numbers without Rodgers.
“Randall and Jordy, all of the above, we’ve got to get the ball to our perimeter,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s been two games this year that really stand out where we didn’t get that done. The run game has been productive. Obviously they’re watching the same tapes that we watch, so you can clearly see that the demand will be for them to stop the run and put the challenge on us getting the ball to our perimeter, and we need to deliver on Sunday.”
This was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Cobb, who last season missed three games (one because of a hamstring injury and the final two regular-season games because of an ankle injury). He opened the season with nine catches for 85 yards against the Seahawks and added another six for 60 yards in Week 2 at Atlanta but then missed Week 3 against the Bengals because of a chest injury. He returned a week later and caught his first touchdown of the season against the Bears. Two weeks later, the Packers lost Rodgers, and Cobb has caught only one touchdown since. With just four games to play, Cobb has only 43 catches for 463 yards and two touchdowns.
Before last Sunday’s shutout against the Buccaneers, Cobb had caught at least three passes in all but one game this season, which makes it hard to explain how he didn't have at least a single pass thrown his way.
“I can’t control that,” Cobb said. “It has nothing to do with me.
“There were a few [opportunities], but I mean that’s kind of how the flow of the game sometimes dictates some of that stuff. You don’t worry about it. You continue to come to work, continue to practice as hard as you can and try to do what you can.”
Of course, it’s hard to spread the ball around when there’s only 55 offensive snaps in a game. Hundley was just 13-of-22 passing for 84 yards with no touchdowns and an interception against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
In Hundley’s six starts, the Packers have averaged only 59.7 offensive plays per game. Their opponents have averaged 68.8 in that same stretch. The Packers have run more plays than their opponent only twice in those six games.
“Any time you have a player of Randall’s caliber you definitely want to get him the football,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “Not having a lot of opportunities, we’re at  official snaps coming out of the game. You know, we kind of hit a point in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter where we had those consecutive three-and-outs. That can’t happen. We have to continue to put ourselves in a favorable down-and-distance and give us more opportunities at the plate.”