Usually the number one receiver for a team is…a receiver. But not always. For the Raiders it’s supposed to be Amari Cooper. But it hasn’t been. The fourth year receiver has showed up for a couple games this season, while being taken out of the offense for the other three.
Gruden has said that Cooper has gotten open at times, but Derek Carr has just missed him. Carr claims he has seen Cooper just fine, but the coverage was such that he chose not to throw that way.
“There were multiple times in the game where my eyes went straight to him, where I’m looking to see if it was going to work and things like that. It just didn’t,” Carr said of Cooper. “He had a good corner on him also. There was a couple of times where maybe there could have been a flag, he got held up on a certain route, just can’t throw it. But there was definitely multiple times I was looking his way, but they just didn’t end up working out.”
Last week when Coop only saw one target, with one catch for 10 yards, he was defended by Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward. But he doesn’t see his defender as an issue “I think I can get open on anybody.” The way the season has gone along, that seems as if it may not entirely be the case. He was also defended well by the Rams duo of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and Dolphins cornerbacks Xavian Howard and Bobby McCain.
In those three contests, Coop had a combined total of four catches on nine targets for 36 yards and is currently third on the team in receiving yards.
Picking up the slack as the Raiders has been tight end Jared Cook, who leads the team in targets (41), cartches (30), and receiving yards (390). He also has two touchdowns to Coop’s one. Cook is where the plays have gone.
“This year we have conscious effort for everybody on offense to say ‘hey, if they’re playing this way or if they’re doing this or they’re doing that, these are the plays we got’ you know? And it’s not just this formation, it’s multiple formations. This is how we think we can get it to this guy or this guy. And so far he’s been hot. I know he’s a tight end, but he’s really a good number one target for any team to have and I’m glad that we have him. Jared is obviously a mismatch. If we can get some man coverage and some zone coverage, he’s so smart that he knows the soft part of the zone, he knows where to sit, he knows where I need him to be and when I need him to be there. It’s been good to have him because when one guy’s trying to take the other guys away, it’s good to have someone like that to get the ball to.”
Second on the team in receiving yards is Jordy Nelson (317), who also leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. Nelson played with Cook in Green Bay for one season in 2016. One in which Cook came off injury and was very strong down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Packers, including being on the receiving end of an ESPY winning catch against the Cowboys to send the Packers to the NFC Championship game.
“I had got an experience a couple years ago to play with Jared in Green Bay and when we started getting on a roll there is when he came back off his injury and just the threat that he was able to give us – if it’s stretching the field down the middle, if it’s lining up one-on-one by himself either against a smaller DB or a safety or linebacker – so they can just create those match-ups and allow us to be more dynamic.”
Nelson doesn’t see a situation where Cook is the focal point on the offense, but that his emergence is a sign of a number of weapons on the team, any of whom could have a breakout week. Nelson had a big week in Miami, putting up 173 yards on 6 catches with a touchdown while Cook and Coop combined for 7 catches for 48 yards. It was just his turn.
“Just staying true to yourself. Making sure you’re prepared each and every week. As a receiver it can vary sometimes. You can only control what you can control. That’s just us going out there and running our routes to the best of ability to make sure that we’re prepared each week, we’re running the routes, we’re creating separation, and then obviously you let Derek do what he does. That’s what it is and it’s week in and week out, year in year out. I think he’s been playing well, he’s been making the plays when he gets the opportunities and he just needs to continue that and I think everything will be fine.”
“It helps out drastically,” Nelson said of having several receiving threats. “I think it’s the same thing with Jared Cook and the more guys you can get out there, Martavis [Bryant], even Seth [Roberts], the speed that they bring to the field. It just puts more weapons out on the field, gives us more opportunities, gives Derek more options. Again I think that’s why it can be a week to week game on how you perform because there’s so many other guys that can step up. Martavis had a big game, Jared’s had huge games, I’ve had one, obviously Amari’s had a couple. You just don’t ever know when it’s going to be your week, when it’s going to be your play, so we got to go out and run and when the ball comes your way make the most out of that opportunity.”
To say Bryant had a big game is a stretch. He had 91 yards with 47 of those yards coming on a garbage time drive late and 21 other yards on a catch he fumbled away. Though there were a couple games there where he was clearly the player they had looked to get going. He has just literally dropped the ball.
Cook can continue to be the number one target. That isn’t an issue. The issue is the entire team consistently performing at a high level, not just one player at a time and everyone else falling off. Interestingly enough, it was Coop who made that point the most succinctly.
“Obviously we have a lot of guys with ability, a lot of guys who can go off and take over a game and that’s a good thing,” said Cooper. “We would like to do it more collectively as a group. I think that would be better and give us the best chance of winning.”
The one game in which that happened — against the Browns — is the one game they won.