Ever since the Dallas Cowboys’ star receiver Amari Cooper exploded for 217 yards and three touchdowns against the Philidelphia Eagles, his production has dropped off dramatically. In the past three games, Cooper has averaged only 4.33 receptions for a measly 27.67 yards per game, per Pro Football Focus.
With these lackluster performances, is Amari Cooper primed for a breakout game against the Seattle Seahawks?
How to fix the problem
Before we say what will suddenly change, we must understand why the problems with Cooper exist.
To speak frankly, saying quarterback Dak Prescott is simply not connecting with Cooper is a dull analysis. Yes, Prescott has had moments of inconsistency when throwing to each of his receivers, but overall, that is not the reason for Cooper’s dropoff.
The two main reasons for this “disease” are that Scott Linehan is not scheming to maximize Cooper’s skills and that Dak and Cooper have not been on the same page.
Let’s address the first point.
Since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, teams have been forced to respect the number one receiver. In almost every clear passing situation, teams stack up in cover-2 defenses. Simply put, this style of defense is built to stop go routes on the outside.
The chink in the armor of a cover-2 defense is the deep middle third of the field. Before week 17, Linehan rarely called plays that stretch the field in between the hashes. So on practically every go-route that Cooper ran, he was doubled.
Cooper needs more targets going across the field. In the last three games, Cooper’s route tree has insisted of quick hitches, 15-yard comebacks, go-routes, and sluggos.
Cooper is best at getting separation early in his route and running after the catch. On most of Cooper’s targets, he catches the ball with his back to the endzone. He should be catching the ball in stride like he did against the Eagles and Washington Redskins.
Cooper has 4.4 speed on a 6’1″, 212-pound frame, according to his combine results in 2015. He is very, very hard to tackle one on one.
Look at this play to Amari Cooper from week 12:
Cooper runs a clean slant route, drops the defender with his footwork, and then sprints to the endzone. Most players cannot do that. On a play when most people would catch a slant for 10 yards, Cooper turns it into a long touchdown play. That is special.
It does not take an experienced NFL scout to see that when Cooper has the ball in his hands, good things happen.
Against the Seahawks, Dallas needs to get some rhythm in the passing game, and finding Cooper is the quickest way in doing so. Scott Linehan should focus on getting the ball to Cooper early and often. This would benefit Prescott as well.
Besides the poor play-calling, Cooper and Prescott have not been on the same page.
Last week against the Giants, Cooper ran a sluggo route (slant and go). Prescott threw to Cooper’s outside shoulder just as Cooper was looking to his inside. The ball dropped in the dirt. What looked like an issue of inaccuracy, was actually just Prescott thinking Cooper was going to a different spot. To provide context, here is that play:
Ultimately, it is Prescott’s responsibility to deliver the ball to Cooper, but Linehan should put his players in position to succeed.
If the Cowboys wish to make any sort of playoff run, Cooper will have to get the chance to make plays. The team’s workhorse is running back Ezekiel Elliott, have no doubt about that. But, if Cooper can get going, the offense can become dynamic.