Amari Cooper has emerged as one of the NFL’s most talented receivers over the past few years. The Alabama product was a huge part of the Oakland Raiders team last year that took the franchise to the post season for the first time since 2002. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in both of his first two NFL seasons and Oakland believed they had the perfect target for quarterback Derek Carr for possibly the next decade.
This made his awful start to the 2017 season surprising and extremely worrying for Raiders fans. Through the first six games of the season Cooper only caught 18 passes on 39 targets for 146 yards and a touchdown. His usually great hands went missing and he seemed entirely lost when running routes at times. He just could not get going, and the Raiders offense as a unit struggled as they dropped four straight games as started the season 2-4.
Kansas City has always been a tough match up for Cooper and the Raiders. Oakland had lost five straight against the Chiefs entering Thursday’s match up and Carr had a few of the worst games of his career against his division rival twice last season. The Raiders were ice cold entering a game against arguably the NFL’s best team, and one they have always had trouble with.
The deck was stacked against them but Oakland, and specifically Cooper, delivered.
Cooper caught 11 passes on 19 targets for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was more productive Thursday then the rest of this season combined. He set career highs in receiving yards and targets, and reached his second highest reception total of his career. Cooper became only the second receiver in franchise history to eclipse 200 yards in a single game – Art Powell did it twice in the 1960’s – and set the second highest receiving total in Raiders history.
Oakland got off to a fast start against the Chiefs and much of it was due to Cooper. He already had two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards by the end of the first quarter. 45 yards came on this long touchdown catch and run.
Kansas City drops back into a cover three zone look. Cooper runs a deep crossing route across the zone coverage. His route is a little to deep for the linebackers, and the safeties get caught following a deeper hitch. The Chiefs free safety is way out of position and neither linebacker realizes that Cooper has gotten behind them until it’s too late. One of the Chiefs linebackers attempts to undercut the pass by Carr, but his failure to do so removes him from the play. Cooper turns on the jets and turns the corner on the sideline. He gets a good block downfield and takes it in for his second touchdown of the game.
Cooper’s great route running and field awareness make him a great zone buster. He has the ability to read the formation that the defense is giving him and react accordingly. He knows how to find the soft spots in an opponent’s zone and exploit them for huge gains.
Along with his crisp route running, Cooper has a 6’1 frame with a great catch radius. He usually has great hands and is agile enough to beat defensive backs on double moves. This also makes him a threat in man coverage.
On this play Cooper is split out wide in one on one coverage against Terrance Mitchell (No. 39). He goes for a quick stutter step off of the snap to get a step on his man and throw him off balance. He gets outside leverage with ease, and after a slight push off runs a quick comeback route back towards the sideline. Cooper makes a great catch and shoves off a tackle. He runs back through the middle of the field and dekes tacklers until Mitchell finally recovers to bring him down. This play would jump start the Raiders game winning drive, which we will return to later.
The receiver’s ability to beat a man in press coverage off of the line of scrimmage combined with his open field route running make him a huge problem for the Chiefs defense. Kansas City runs a lot of cover 2-man defense with two deep safeties. There linebackers were usually sent as pass rushers or covered shallower receivers running routes around the sideline. This left Cooper way too much room to operate, and he burned them.
On this play the Chiefs are running a cover-1 robber play with man coverage underneath. Cooper is lines up against press single coverage with corner Phillip Gaines (No. 23) across from him. The receiver takes his first few steps towards the outside then breaks inside. This leaves Gaines off balance and allows Cooper to get inside of him. The linebackers are both occupied as well. The Chiefs strongside linebacker is sitting underneath as a QB spy while the weakside linebacker is looking to pick up the running back out of the backfield. The Raiders running back stays back to block, and the defender is too late to adjust. Kansas City’s strong safety spots Cooper but the receiver has already found a sweet spot between zones. Carr fires a laser towards his receiver for a decent pick up and a first down.
The Chiefs left the middle of the field wide open for Cooper way to often and it ended up costing them the game. With only minutes to play and the Raiders trailing by six, Oakland had the ball and a chance to drive down the game and win it. Carr and Cooper linked up twice for huge against to set up the game winning touchdown. The first time was the catch above, they almost linked up for a second huge gain immediately after.
Cooper is lined up against Mitchell in single coverage. Kansas City is in prevent defense and yet again run cover 2-man. The safeties are both way to deep downfield and there is not a single defender patrolling the middle. They have way to much faith in Mitchell to cover Cooper and it backfires. Cooper yet again burns his opponent with a great move at the line of scrimmage. He heads inside, but as Mitchell recovers he uses his momentum against him and breaks back outside. This leaves Mitchell way behind his man. Cooper finds a spot between the two safeties and is wide open. Carr throws a pass that is a little low and Cooper drops it. It hit’s the receiver in the hands and definitely was a catchable pass, though.
It ended in an incompletion, but the play worked just as it was designed. Oakland decided to go right back to it on the next snap.
Backed up by a penalty, Oakland needed something big to get moving downfield. Yet again Cooper is in single coverage against a cover 2-man look and yet again he torches his defender. He gets spotted by one of the deep safeties who comes up to cover him, but a good hesitation and change of direction sends the defensive backs momentum the wrong way. He makes a cut on a dime, and Carr gets him the ball before the other safety can come up and cover him. Cooper makes a 39 yard catch and gets the Raiders into Chiefs territory.
The entire point of playing prevent defense is to give up short underneath routes over the middle while avoiding chunk yardage by the opponents. Giving them short passes over the middle forces an opponent to waste time or use time outs whenever they complete a pass despite not gaining many yards. Continuously letting Cooper get behind you so easily, though, kills the entire point. Letting the Raiders get these huge chunk plays gave the Raiders more leeway for mistakes and incomplete pass later on in the drive. As we learned at the end of the game, Oakland needed every second and then some to eventually score.
Cooper would end the day with a historic performance, but it could have been an even bigger day had he not made a mistake in the 2nd quarter.
On this play Cooper runs a deep crossing route. The Chiefs drop into cover-4. Cooper is picked up by a deep safety. One of the dangers of deep crossing routes against zone coverage is that communication becomes key for the opposing defensive backs. They have to properly transfer a player that is moving between zones, while also being aware of what the other receivers are up to. The Chiefs safeties get lost staring at each other for a moment as they both expect the other to pick up Cooper deep. The receiver torches them both and breaks free down the sideline towards the end zone. It looks like Cooper loses track of the ball for a second though and pulls up at the sideline. He ends up a little short of what would have been a touchdown pass, and almost allows it to be intercepted.
The Raiders star receiver seems to have finally found his groove in 2017 and that unlocks more of their struggling offense. His big game can partly be attributed to bad coverage scheming by Kansas City, but this game should at least reinstall confidence in Cooper. Oakland hopes to be in the thick of the playoff hunt this season but they are already a step behind much of their competition. Finally getting Cooper going, though, will help them close the gap.
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