Raiders

Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

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AP

Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has been creating steady separation for a few weeks now. That didn’t break him out of a prolonged slump.

Coaches were impressed by Cooper’s route running in a Week 5 loss to Baltimore. It only earned two targets and an eight-yard catch. They tried to find No. 89 more often in a Week 6 loss to the L.A. Chargers, though six targets generated five short catches for 28 yards.

Low production stretched through a four-game losing streak, with nine catches for 51 yards. Including stats from to early wins, Coopers season stats (18 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown) were worse than nearly 200 others.

Even that astonishment didn’t make Cooper demand the gosh darn football, please. The low-key Cooper attitude: The ball will find me.

It finally did in Thursday night’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City. Several times in fact.

Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 19 times. Nineteen. That’s no coincidence.

They moved him around, including significant snaps in the slot. He was targeted 11 times from that position, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, and produced six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

They schemed opportunities and quarterback Derek Carr used them to create big plays early.

Carr’s first pass went 12-yards to Cooper. His third was a 38-yard touchdown strike. His seventh was an in-stride delivery that Cooper took across and then up the field for a 45-yard score.

Just like that, Cooper was off and running for the first time this year.

“We put him in positions to make plays, obviously,” Carr said. “We knew that there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or the way he worked or anything like that. We just stayed the course. We know what we have here and we know that if we just stay the course and work and grind through the tough times.

“…For ‘Coop’ to just continue to grind and get on the other side of it, I just felt good for him. You guys know Amari. I think we all felt good for him.”

Cooper said the early explosive touches provided confidence. Ability produced a signature performance. The Alabama product is excellent extending production with his legs, and had 78 of his yards come after the catch. That’s an average of 7.1 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF.

His second touchdown reached him 15 yards downfield, and he hit the jets and reached the end zone. He turned a short catch into 15 crucial yards to start the game-winning two-minute drill, and later high pointed a 39-yard receptions.

“The way he finished after the catch was really special,” Carr said. “Obviously, we all know he can go up and get a ball and all those things. That second touchdown where he cam across, the burst that he had, that’s freakish. Not a lot of guys have that. To turn the jets on like that and just out run the angles of the defense, that was really special. I think just after the catch he just played with some dog in him, which we know he has. We were able to get him the ball and let him shine and do what he does.”

Cooper’s showcase was vital to a huge victory that kept his team in the hunt. It also ended a rough month where Cooper and the Raiders both struggled. Veteran running mate Michael Crabtree was never concerned with the downturn and told the young receiver to stay the course during tough times.

“(I told him), ‘Just be you,’” Crabtree said. “It’s just about everything coming together. Coop’s a fighter, man. Coop has got skills. I don’t worry about Coop and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me. That’s why we are so good together.”

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

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USATI

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.