Packers pound Steelers with balance, turnovers and a Randall Cobb homecoming party
The Packers took care of business against an interior opponent to improve their record to 3-1 on the season.
The Green Bay Packers took care of the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 on Sunday afternoon in some sloppy conditions to go with sloppy tackling by the Packers defense. Still, they created two turnovers, stopped the Steelers twice on fourth down, and rekindled some Randall Cobb magic to get the win.
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Why was this the day for Randall Cobb to break out?
Peter Bukowski: Opportunity. And that’s not just Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball more often, though it was easily the most targets of the season for Cobb. Pittsburgh regularly sent two at Davante Adams shading safeties, playing in-and-out coverages, or having one defender under and one over the top.
That created advantageous situations with Cobb in man coverage against slot defenders and safeties for key first downs like this one.
Particularly in key situations like on third down, Rodgers wants to go to his guys, that’s Adams, Robert Tonyan, and Cobb. Whenever Cobb was getting fewer snaps, that was harder to accomplish, but Sunday saw Cobb consistently find the field when the Packers went to three-receiver sets, likely a result of Marquez Valdes-Scantling heading to IR.
Cobb’s starkly different skill set allowed him to attack the middle of the field underneath, rather than vertically like MVS can, changing the geometry of the offense, but also providing Rodgers with a security blanket he might not otherwise have with Adams double-covered.
In fact, the first four third downs converted through the air all went to Cobb including a touchdown. He found single coverage, beat it, and looks remarkably explosive despite all the wear and tear on his body.
When MVS returns from his hamstring injury, Matt LaFleur will have the enviable task of finding ways to keep this part of the offense intact, while also creating opportunities to stretch the field with Valdes-Scantling.
Was this another step for the defense, or is the Pittsburgh offense just … bad?
PB: Yes. Holding the Steelers to 17 points, really 10 when the game was still in doubt, underscores the growth the team has made despite injuries to key players, including starters Kevin King and Kyrs Barnes, though King’s status as a starter is, much like his playing status most weeks, questionable.
Pittsburgh wanted to get the ball out quickly and let their receivers make plays. Ben Roethlisberger, a shell of his former playmaking self, took those underneath routes, ones the Packers were glad to oblige as this defense allows.
Joe Barry’s defense forces patience and perfection so long as his group plays with discipline. The Packers allowed the one shot play, the rare score given up by Jaire Alexander who left the game with an AC joint sprain, but otherwise locked down the passing game behind 15 yards. Big Ben completed just two of his six throws there with a touchdown and Eric Stokes’ game-sealing interception.
To date, most of the Packers’ interior defensive linemen could be characterized as “not Kenny Clark,” and that was all you could really say about them. Kingsley Keke came through with a sack-fumble to set up a score in the first half, De’Vondre Campbell played another beautiful game sniffing out plays before they started, making solid tackles in the open field in an otherwise inconsistent tackling day for the defense, and the Packers once again got quality coverage in the back end.
If Preston Smith, who played the game gimpy, and Alexander join Za’Darius Smith being out any length of time though, the progress being made will regress with backups who frankly aren’t anywhere near as good.
What we're hearing/seeing
PB: All is not well on the Za’Darius Smith front. Jason warned us about the issues his absence might cause and according to a source familiar with the team, Smith’s discontent over his contract and not being voted a captain is not being overblown.
Smith posted on Instagram earlier this summer he deserved a raise and implied he was miffed about not being voted a captain, saying he’d get a chain with the captain’s “C” on it instead.
LaFleur evaded questions constantly when asked about Z during training camp, even showing reluctance in explaining the injury when it originally happened. That raised red flags among media members, who continued to ask about it, going so far as to wonder if the injury was more than just a physical issue, perhaps related to his frustration with his contract.
Of course, LaFleur evaded those questions as well but a source tells The Leap the animosity from the former Raven free agent is real, though wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say if it had anything to do with Smith landing on IR or the surgery.
I won’t speculate further, but Ian Rapaport did say the Packers hope Smith can be back this season. If Z does want a new deal, getting back on the field and playing well would be the ideal, mutually beneficial situation.
PB: Beware the take economy this week.
After Mike Tomlin called timeout rather than allow Aaron Rodgers a free play, the two exchanged knowing glances of respect caught on camera by the CBS crew. After a week of speculation (mostly in Pittsburgh or by Steelers fans) about Rodgers’ potential desire to play for the Steelers after he heaped praise on the organization in his weekly interview with Pat McAfee, this storyline will only resurface again, as it did in a piece by Charles Robinson for Yahoo during the week.
Luckily, we will get a brief respite from #thenarrative for a week or two, with the Packers playing the Bengals and Bears in back-to-back games, places even the thirstiest clickbait trolls can’t connect Rodgers in 2022 and beyond.
I’m desperately hoping we don’t have to do this every week, but early returns on those hopes are not good.