One common theory regarding Riley Cooper is that much of his success in 2013 was made possible because of the attention DeSean Jackson received on the other side. Some are skeptical whether Cooper will be able to post similar numbers this season now that Jackson resides in D.C.
Jeremy Maclin, for one, isn’t buying it.
“I think his production came because he went out there and made plays,” said Maclin, who maintains that the only receiver in this league that draws double teams is Calvin Johnson — and that’s only on the goal line. “Obviously you have a guy on the other side who is pretty good as well but teams aren’t going to get beat by focusing on one person the whole game. That’s not how it works in this league. When people say that it baffles me.”
What can’t be denied is that Cooper — who ended with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns last year — found himself in a whole bunch of one-on-one situations, which certainly helped his cause. According to second-year tight end Zach Ertz, that’s unlikely to change this year even without Jackson on the team. That’s because the man truly responsible for the single coverage is still on the roster.
“I think the culprit, why a lot of guys see single coverage on this team, is LeSean [McCoy],” said Ertz. “He’s the key cog in this offense… Defenses have to stop LeSean first to try and stop this offense.”
Chip Kelly backed this notion up when speaking on the subject Monday.
“I think most people played us in single high coverage and they played man across the board on anybody and no one was getting any help,” said Kelly. “Riley was getting man on his side. DeSean was getting man on his side. Jason Avant was getting man in the slot. Zach Ertz, whoever our tight end was getting manned. Running back was getting manned.
“No one is going to play us in two‑deep because if you play us in two‑deep, we can run the heck out of the ball. We had everybody as close to the line of scrimmage as possible and nobody was helping anybody. They were trying to stop the run game.”
This is the type of look Kelly is referring to:
This a 3rd-and-5 situation against Oakland. The Raiders have a single-high safety and are playing man against the Eagles receivers. Both Jackson and Cooper are being single-covered while the safety plays center field.
With the safety sucked into the action over the middle, Foles takes advantage of the one-on-one matchup on the outside. Cooper beats his man and pulls in a well-placed ball for six.
“Those guys last year definitely complemented each other,” said Foles. “DeSean is a great receiver. He has been a great receiver since he started playing football. But Riley was the one going out and making those catches, making those plays and running after the football. I think you need to give him the credit because he made a lot of plays and he made me look good last year. He’s my receiver, I have to back him.”
When Foles talks about Cooper making him “look good,” he probably has the memorable play from the Green Bay game in mind, where Cooper used those baseball tracking skills to haul in a long bomb that originally looked off the mark.
To paint Cooper simply as the beneficiary of other people’s work is not an accurate portrayal. He obviously deserves credit for getting open and making plays on the ball.
Still, it’s fair to say that he got his share of favorable matchups. And it would be disingenuous to suggest that Jackson had nothing to do with that.
Let’s pick another play from the Green Bay game up after the snap.
This is one that Sheil broke down in his double posts piece.
On this play (2nd-and-9 from the Green bay 32), the Packers are in quarter-quarter-half coverage. That means three deep defenders – two split the bottom half of the field (where there are two wide receivers), while the third is responsible for the top half.
Because of Jackson’s ability, the underneath defender travels with him, while the safety essentially provides a double team.
Cooper, meanwhile, is one-on-one against a safety, Morgan Burnett – a matchup starting wide receivers should win. And to Cooper’s credit, he does.
Even though it’s zone coverage, when routes get downfield, everything turns into man – especially in the red zone. And it’s fair to say that a threat like Jackson will draw attention and therefore create favorable situation for his teammates.
“I think that when you have a guy like DeSean, they definitely do key in on him. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a player you have to game plan,” said Foles. “… DeSean definitely does that, he definitely draws defense’s attention. I’d be lying if I said no he doesn’t do that. He does.
“But it was the guys around him making plays that allowed for him also to get balls because they couldn’t take him out because if you do this dude over here is going to make a play.”
Added Malcolm Jenkins via NJ.com: “We didn’t double-team [Jackson], but we always had an eye on him. We knew that he can stretch the field at any given time, so our deep defenders always needed to know where he was at. Was he in the backfield, in the slot or out wide?
“He demands your attention, [and] we might cheat a safety over to his side but never truly double-team him.”
As Kelly suggested, the Eagles saw a lot of man coverage last year. That has a lot to do with the up-tempo style of attack. As a defense, there is less chance for confusion in a hurried pre-snap scene if you just have to identify your guy and stick with him. And they often saw single-high safety looks because of the potency of their running attack. As long as the pace and the production continue, that should remain, making life easier for Cooper and his fellow receivers.
It’s also true that all these parts are interconnected, and a dropoff at one position can have a negative effect on another. How Maclin, Darren Sproles and company fill the void left by Jackson, then, will influence the degree of difficulty for Cooper as he heads into his second year as a starter.