Week 8 of the season, Amari Cooper gashed the Buccaneers for a career-high 12 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. That performance was the culmination of a firsts half of the season that saw Coop set new career highs in receiving three times and put him on pace for 1574 yards on the season.
In the six games since then he has not cracked 60 yards in a game.
It’s like déjà vu for Cooper who faded down the stretch as a rookie as well. Only then the drop off was blamed on an ankle injury.
This time, it could simply be a case of other teams focusing on stopping him; something that big game in Tampa may have triggered.
“[The coverage] hasn’t been the same,” Cooper said of the second half of this season. “I’ve seen a little bit more safety over the top, a little bit more double coverage, guys following me around.”
Coop finished with 1070 yards in 2015 and if he continues on his second half pace, he will finish with 1122 yards this season – some 452 yards off the pace he had set over the first half of the season.
That slump includes Cooper being held to just over 3 catches per game and under 30 yards three out of the past four games. Something the Raiders would like to remedy.
“And Amari’s really been working,” said offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. “A couple plays were designed to go to Amari and they happened to be completions to someone else due to the coverage. That’s one thing we want to do each and every week is feature our premier guys and get him his touches. So, we need to make up for lost ground there.”
There’s a fine line between forcing passes and getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Cooper is arguably the team’s most big time playmaker with the ball in his hands, but sometimes he’s either well covered, or it best suits the offense to run it.
Last week the team had a great balance of run (29) to pass (30) and Cooper saw three targets with one catch.
Some would say this is not that important considering the Raiders are 11-3 including 5-1 in the second half of the season. And more importantly, they are headed to the playoffs.
There’s certainly an argument that can be made for the ends justifying the means because this offense has proven through much of the season that if the defense takes away one player or one aspect of the game, they can win other ways.
“We have a lot of capable receivers on this team, so I don’t really worry about it,” Cooper added.
And as far as Cooper’s personal accolades go, he was named to the Pro Bowl for a second time even despite his waning numbers of late, and this time it was not as an alternate. But Cooper isn’t too concerned with Pro Bowls. He and the other Raiders players want to win playoff games. The key to that might be figuring out how to get the ball into the hands of their play making former top pick receiver.