How Amari Cooper torched the Chiefs

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

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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Kansas City used Kareem Hunt perfectly in his NFL debut

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Kansas City Chiefs third round pick Kareem Hunt had an NFL debut to remember Thursday night against the New England Patriots. The rookie carried the ball 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 5 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Hunt was a popular prospect coming out of Toledo among many NFL draft analysts. He has the size to be a powerful NFL runner but has the deceptive agility needed to dodge tackles and find running lanes. The former Rocket was great at bouncing his runs to the outside and is a great open field runner.

Another notable part of his college resume was the fact that he only fumbled the ball once throughout his NCAA career. A total he matched one carry into his NFL career.

Hunt made a good push and would have gained around 8 yards on the play had he held on to the ball. Unfortunately, the ball was punched out of his hand and he lost a fumble on his first career NFL carry.

Andy Reid did not lose faith in his rookie running back, luckily. Hunt would share snaps in the backfield with Charcandrick West and Tyreek Hill throughout the game.

The Chiefs used their running backs open field ability and agility to break runs off of the outside. Kansas City used quick pitches to him and pulled blockers around to seal the edge. His rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter was a good example of this.

Kansas City lined up their receivers as tight ends very close to the offensive line on many of their offensive snaps. On this play, there are two men flanking the line on each side. Albert Wilson (No. 12) and Demarcus Robinson (No. 14) are lined up to the right and responsible with sealing the edge for Hunt. They both take out the first two men on the Patriots right side and leave it up to Hunt to beat the linebackers to the corner. He catches a pitch from Alex Smith while on the run and beats them to the pylon for a touchdown.

Hunt is not the best runner between the tackles so the Chiefs need to spring him into open space to take full advantage of his skills. Majority of the carries that he had on Thursday night were out of shot gun and around the edge.

Under Center

Left Center Right
0 4 3
Shotgun/Pistol
Left Center Right
2 2 6
Total
2 6 9
12% 35% 53%

 

Taking the majority of his rushes out of shot gun and on pitches allows the blockers in front of Hunt to have more time to set up themselves and create room for him. His burst is great, so when he does see the opportunity to turn the corner he can get there fast.

His late fourth quarter rush that sealed the game for the Chiefs was the perfect example of this.

Demetrius Harris (No. 84) and Travis Ross (No. 88) are the pair of tight ends lined up on the left edge. Travis Kelce (No. 87) and left tackle Eric Fisher (No. 72) both pull out wide. Fisher takes the first man while Kelce runs free to take down the first man at the next level. All Hunt has to do is beat the final linebacker to the corner as he comes across the formation. He does and breaks free for a huge gain.

One fault in Hunt’s game that this play does demonstrate is the lack of breakaway speed he has. This should have been a touchdown, and had this been either Tyreek Hill or De’Anthony Thomas this would have been. Luckily West scored on literally the next play, but this should have been a score.

Pulling guards and using additional blockers to create space for Hunt is not the only way to get him into space. The Chiefs ran him into the flat many times to let him catch the ball in space and use his agility to get down field.

The Patriots are playing in zone coverage on this play and the Chiefs ran both of their receivers on that side out of the area on deep routes. Hunt runs a quick route out into the flat, where there is no defender for miles.

He makes the catch and turns up field. Hunt gets a great block down the field by a wide receiver and makes nice cut forward for a good gain and a first down. The play was designed to get the running back into space easily and for him to use his open field skills to make a play.

The highlight of Kareem Hunt’s day came on a passing play, as well.

Hunt runs a wheel route out of the backfield. He gets picked up by a linebacker coming out in man coverage. The rookie manages to fight through initial contact from the defender and gets a step on him heading down field. New Englands deep safety came all the way up the field to cover Tyreek Hill in the flat leaving no one to help over the top. Smith delivers a perfect pass to his running back downfield. Hunt makes the catch, but his poor speed almost allows the defenders to take him down. Luckily with the safety all the way upfield there was no one deep enough to stop him as he went in for the touchdown.

Kansas City catered to Hunt’s strength’s in the passing game just as well as they did in the running game. 7 out of the 13 routes that he ran Thursday night were either out routes straight into the flat or wheel routes. When he makes catches out there is rarely anyone immediately on him and he is almost guaranteed space to operate.

This performance by Hunt, as much as I hate to say it, may be just as much a result of the Chiefs system as it was the running back himself. He struggles between the tackles, his vision is not the best, and he does not have the same kind of speed that Tyreek Hill has. So the Chiefs made sure he never had to. Almost every play he ran was a toss play, he ran very simple routes and outside of that one deep pass Smith would only throw him the ball when he had an open field in front of him.

Kansas City has a very talented back field even with the injury to Spencer Ware. Hunt and West are the only two “true” backs who get regular playing time and both fill the same role. Hill and Thomas, who are both wide receivers, also line up in the backfield often as well on many snaps.

The Chiefs run the most unique offense in football. They rely heavily on speed and pure athleticism of their players and puts them in position to make plays. The offense lined up in the t-formation many times, ran the option, threw many shovel passes right up the gut to Kelce and even let Kelce line up as a wild cat. Andy Reid knows what talent he has on the roster, and how to use every player to reach their max potential.

Expect Hunt to get more playing times over the next few weeks, but also plan on teams being better prepared for the Chiefs newest star. Just like they did last year with Hill, the Chiefs may have found a new exciting prospect in Hunt who should thrive in their system and put together a potential rookie of the year season.

 

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Quickhits: Patrick Mahomes turns head with impressive deep bomb on the run

Game Film, Quickhits

Mansur Shaheen

Patrick Mahomes is the most exciting quarterback prospect in the NFL today. The Chiefs first round pick has a cannon for an arm and the full confidence that he can make every throw. We will not see much of him in 2017, as he will develop underneath long-time starter Alex Smith for his rookie year. Though, after an impressive and dazzling preseason, many around the league are excited to see what the rookie may have to offer down the line.

He had an up and down game against the Titans to close out his rookie preseason. Mahomes made a few mistakes, but he also made a few flashy plays that caught the attention of the entire league. His second quarter completion to Demarcus Robinson was probably the most impressive of the night.

Mahomes took the snap from under center and ran a play action. He had a clean pocket in front of him as he went through his progressions. The rookie managed to look off the safety as he scanned the left side of the field, and then scrambled to his right as the protection broke down. He made his way towards the right sideline and managed to fire off an absolute bomb to his receiver while getting hit on the run. The pass was completed and Mahomes finished off his rookie preseason in epic fashion.

 

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The Jets Have a Ryan Fitzpatrick Problem

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Ryan Fitzpatrick is usually a serviceable NFL quarterback. Fitzpatrick was only a game away from leading the New York Jets to a surprise playoff appearance last season, and if not for an implosion in the final quarter of his 2015 campaign, they would have played in January.

In the Jets matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, Fitzpatrick yet again imploded, throwing 6 interceptions, a total that could have been much higher if the Chiefs defensive backs could come down with many of the balls thrown directly to them. It was easily the worst performance we have seen by any quarterback this season, and a performance that has the Jets wondering if Fitzpatrick is the man to take them the next step to reach the postseason this year.

Fitzpatrick’s first interception came late in the first quarter.

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On third and long the Chiefs knew the Jets would look to pass downfield, and had five defensive backs drop into coverage.The Chiefs lined up man to man on the four Jets receivers, with Eric Berry lined up as a deep safety.

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The pass rush quickly enclosed around Fitzpatrick, and he forced the ball towards Jalin Marshall to avoid the sack. Marcus Peters jumps the route, and comes up with and interception.

The main factor that led to the interception is the pass rush of the Chiefs, and the Jets offensive line failing to protect their quarterback. Chiefs defensive lineman Allen Bailey did not meet much resistance on his way into the backfield, and man handled Jets guard James Carpenter. Ryan Clady gave the Chiefs Tamba Hali a little more trouble on the edge, but Hali still managed to put a hit on Fitzpatrick right after he released the ball.

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Kansas City’s pass rush forced Fitzpatrick to act quickly on the play, and he never even had a chance to look away from his primary receiver. Fitzpatrick immediately looked towards Marshall once the ball was snapped, and looked at him the whole way as the rush reached him and he quickly dispatched the ball even if it meant throwing into danger. If he had looked elsewhere, though, there was not much for him to see. Quincy Enunwa was the only Jets receiver to get any sort of separation on the play, and Eric Berry was lurking behind him.

Fitzpatrick’s next interception didn’t come until late in the third quarter, but for this one the blame is entirely put on him.

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The Chiefs chose to play zone coverage on a second and goal play from their own 6 yard line, and Fitzpatrick didn’t read it at all. He had good protection in front of him, and first looked towards Enunwa in the corner of the end zone, but Marcus Peters was all over him. Instead of going through his progressions, he chose to force the ball right over the middle towards Marshall, ignoring the fact that linebacker Derrick Johnson was right in between them. Johnson got a hand on the ball, tipped it into the air, and Eric Berry came down with an interception.

This play is yet another testament to how well the Chiefs coverage was all day on Sunday. Enunwa, the primary receiver on the play, was dealt with in one corner, and Eric Decker was jammed up by Steven Nelson on the opposite side of the field forcing Fitzpatrick to look towards the middle of the field. Billal Powel ran an out route, but was immediately smothered by Hali. Johnson, Berry, Frank Zombo and Ron Parker were all positioned in the middle of the field to deal with both Jalin and Brandon Marshall.

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None of the Jets receivers could find any sort of space in such a short field, and every Chief that dropped into coverage fulfilled their assignment.

Ryan Fitzpatrick still has to do more on the play, though and its’s even more surprising how hard he tried to force the ball, seeing what happened on first down. Despite Johnson being perfectly positioned to make a play on the ball, he decides to throw it over the middle anyways.

The Jets quarterback obviously does not learn from his mistakes to well, as on the previous play he tried to lob it into the corner of the end zone despite Eric Berry being in the area. The result:

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He got away with one, but instead of considering it a blessing and being more careful with the ball he made sure the Chiefs got the interception that they deserved on the previous play.

Forcing the ball into coverage, more so into the end zone, seems to be Fitzpatrick’s Achilles heel. He cannot resist throwing the ball towards his primary receiver at times, no matter what is between him and his target.

His next interception again came near the end zone. The Chiefs pass rush yet again tramples the Jets offensive line, and Fitzpatrick is forced to step up in the pocket to avoid Hali, and right before Hali and Jaye Howard reach him, he zips it towards Enunwa.

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Unfortunately, Steven Nelson is all over Enunwa, makes a play on the ball tipping it into the air and it gets intercepted by Marcus Peters once again. Fitzpatrick get a bit of leeway as he was going to the ground, but if he wanted Enunwa to actually catch that ball it had to be towards his stomach instead of just over his head. The best option, though, would have been to just throw it into the ground at Enunwa’s feet, and again try again on third down.

 

Yet again, Fitzpatrick did not learn from an error on the previous play. Fitzpatrick tried to force the ball to Enunwa on a slant route on first down, but had to throw it a little in front of him to avoid coverage by Nelson.

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Nelson still got a hand on the ball though, and Eric Berry was there as well in what proved to be a dangerous pass.

Fitzpatricks issues with forcing the ball into coverage, especially into the end zone, may have been what costed the Jets their playoff spot last season.

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The Jets were only trailing by two and within field goal range in a game they needed to win in order to go to the playoffs, as long as they do not turn the ball over they should have at least taken a one point lead. Instead, Fitzpatrick stared his receiver down the whole way and threw into coverage.

His fourth interception, albeit not occurring anywhere near the end zone, was another example of Fitzpatrick repeatedly not taking care of the ball.

On first down he tried to force a ball to Erick Decker deep, despite safety Drew Sorensen being in the area, Sorensen breaks up the play but if he was there a step earlier the Chiefs would have had the ball back.

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On third and ten, Fitzpatrick over threw Eric Decker on a corner route despite having Steven Nelson all over him and with Berry lurking near bye.

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Berry nearly comes up with an interception.

On the very next play, Fitzpatrick overthrows Brandon Marshall on a fade. Nelson was yet again in coverage and the lurking Daniel Sorensen (again) came up with an interception on the sideline.

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Yet again, Fitzpatrick was stuck on Marshall the whole play. He starred him down the entire route and was deadest on throwing the ball to him no matter what. Brandon Marshall had run a crossing route and had a bit of separation from Nelson who was covering him.

Fitzpatrick zeroed in on the on Marshall had, and did not account for the safety, Sorensen, running towards the sideline.

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He slightly overthrows Marshall and has his fourth interception of the day.

 

Interception #5 was yet another example of Fitzpatrick zeroing in a receiver and throwing it to him no matter what.

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Matt Forte ran a wheel route out the backfield, and was literally the only receiver that was given any attention by the Jets quarterback. Decker and Robby Anderson both ran routes on the other side of the field, and Brandon Marshall was open for a short completion that would have gotten a first down.

Fitzpatrick, though, was more interested in the back of Matt Forte’s head, and chose to throw it towards his running back. Derrick Johnson jumps the route and takes it back for a Chiefs score. Even if Johnson was not there, though, the ball would have just sailed out of bounds behind Forte, who did not turn around until after the ball had been intercepted.

Interception #6 was another forced pass by Fitzpatrick into the end zone late in the game. At this point though it was in vain, already down 21 points with two minutes to go, he may have just wanted to give rookie DJ White his first NFL interception.

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There is obviously a deep underlying issue in Fitzpatrick’s decision making. He is a very skilled quarterback, and still deserves to be starting over the likes of Geno Smith, but is not the man for the Jets in the future if he does not work on this. He is good enough to beat lesser teams, but the Jets hope to compete in the playoffs this year, and will play other defenses on par with the Chiefs if they make it that far. The Jets are now 1-2, and if Fitzpatrick, mentally, does not get better, they will yet again be spending January at home.

 

Header photo via New York Jets