GREEN BAY — The logic behind the Packers signing Jared Cook this offseason was the veteran tight end could give the offense a legitimate threat down the middle of the field.
While Cook certainly has helped in that capacity, he’s quickly developing into a favorite target of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in third-down situations.
Rodgers is 9-of-11 for 172 yards (118.8 passer rating) when targeting the 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end on third down this season, generating eight first downs in the process.
Two of those conversions occurred on the Packers’ opening scoring drive in last Sunday’s 30-27 win over Chicago, with another two coming on scoring drives earlier this month against Houston.
Cook’s production has contributed to the Packers ranking second in the league in third-down offense this season (46.2 percent).
“We always talk about stacking success and he’s certainly done that on third down,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “That’s where it stands out probably more than anything else. He continues to make plays on third down. We talk about moving the chains, those are two (games) where he’s made two big plays to keep drives alive.”
His first catch against the Bears came on the third play of the game. Facing a third-and-2 situation, he beat Chicago defensive back Demontre Hurst and pulled in the 27-yard pass from Rodgers.
Three plays later, Cook then got the better of Bears defensive back Cre’Von LeBlanc on an out route near the Packers’ sideline to pick up 17 yards on third-and-11. The Packers scored three plays later on a 4-yard touchdown run by Ty Montgomery.
Coincidentally, the Packers are 7-2 this season when Cook is on the field, though the eighth-year veteran won’t take any credit for the rhythm the offense seems to have found since his return from an ankle injury that sidelined him for six games.
“I think having a lot of guys back has helped us move forward,” Cook said. “Having a lot of guys step up in important roles has helped this team get in a position that we weren’t before. You have Ty who stepped up. You have young receivers who have stepped up. Young guys on the offensive line who have stepped up. I think that’s what’s important.”
Cook’s six catches for 85 yards went a long way to the Packers securing a much-needed win over the Bears last weekend. Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping (23 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown), Green Bay’s offense is different with Cook on the field.
Statistically, Cook’s best showing this year came in a six-catch, 105-yard performance against Washington on Nov. 20, but it was one catch for seven yards the following week against Philadelphia that his teammates appreciated most.
Receiver Jordy Nelson was the hero that day with two critical third-down catches late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. However, it was Cook who drew the attention of the Eagles’ safeties when he ran a go route down the seam.
With Philadelphia’s secondary following Cook deep, it opened a soft cushion in the zone defense for Nelson to operate and pull in an uncontested 22-yard pass from Rodgers.
“He gives us another big-bodied target,” receiver Randall Cobb said of Cook. “He’s able to create separation when he gets man coverage on a safety. He’s a matchup issue. It’s huge for our offense having him stretch the middle of the field, as well, and give us another threat to make a big play.”
Cook says it’s all a part of the offense. There are times when he’ll free up other receivers and other situations where he’ll benefit from the attention other playmakers draw.
So it was up to Cook to take advantage of the mismatches when his number was called against Chicago. With the offense in need of a spark, he responded with five catches for 77 yards in the first half before Montgomery and Nelson took control of the game in the second half.
“I know when you have all guys clicking on all cylinders, it’s going to be hard for the defense to stop us,” Cook said. “Because you have 12 at quarterback, and you have me, Jordy, Randall, Rich, and Davante and all of us have the ability to go off and get the job done.
“I think it works both ways. I think they have the ability to open it up for me. When they cheat the safety over or put help over the top of somebody else, it’s going to help another person. You just have to fill your role and play it well.”
The Packers have won four consecutive games since Rodgers told reporters last month that he believed the team could run the table despite a 4-6 record at that point.
With a rematch with Minnesota on the horizon, Cook wants to keep the wins coming in hopes of potentially qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in his eight NFL seasons.
“It’s just the confidence that we have in each other,” Cook said. “We just fell short in a few games, but we got a lot of guys healthy and a lot of guys focused on their job and things that we can do. So when Aaron said that, we were behind him 110 percent.
“We always ride with him. He’s riding shotgun. You got T.J. (Lang) driving. We’re all in the back ready to roll. We’re all in this thing together and that’s how we’re going to do it.”