Amari Cooper must stabilize see-saw Raiders season


Amari Cooper must stabilize see-saw Raiders season

ALAMEDA – Amari Cooper spoke to the press after Sunday’s loss to the L.A. Chargers and was asked about frustrations involved with an offense that scores in bunches one week and can’t do much the next.

“The game is about consistency,” the Raiders receiver said. “If you’re not consistent enough, you’re not going to win enough.”

The same sentiment can be applied to Cooper’s individual game. He’ll struggle one game and blow up the next, on a see saw that hasn’t stopped pivoting all season.

He had one nine-yard catch in the opener, then 10 receptions for 116 yards in Week 2. A pair of catches for 17 yards the next week in Miami, then eight for 128 and a touchdown against the Browns. At this point, the encore was predictable. He had a 10-yard catch on his only target while getting blown out by the Bolts.

Again, one target. Cooper doesn’t show frustration much, but he seemed as bothered as he gets by the lack of opportunities.

“Especially in a loss,” Cooper said, “because you feel like you can do more to help the team win.”

The Alabama product has never been one to demand the ball or pout when he doesn’t get it. That didn’t happened in L.A. either, but he was communicating with decision makers that he was creating separation.

“I talk to Derek (Carr) a lot. I talk to Coach (Jon) Gruden a lot on the sideline,” Cooper said. “But again, everybody gets open.”

It has been tough to pin Cooper’s inconsistent production down. Sometimes coverage dictates the ball go elsewhere. Other times Jared Cook or Jordy Nelson or even Martavis Bryant will have a favorable matchup and the ball goes their way.

Several have said that a lack of targets shouldn’t suggest his number isn’t getting called. Cooper remains a priority while game-planning, even if the stats don’t show it.

“Certainly we like him as a wide receiver and every week we will install plays to take advantage of those matchups with him,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said before Wednesday’s practice. “We feel really confident in the guys that are surrounding him as well. Each week it’s going to change, not to say that he’s not going to be targeted, because we’re always going to have a certain amount of targets for those top-3 guys and he’s one of those guys.”

The Raiders got him the ball early in games and early in route during his two strong performances, allowing him to find rhythm and gain yards after the catch. His 4.6 average yards after the catch is down compared to earlier seasons. He was up to 6.3 last year and hasn’t been below 5.3.

Dips in production occur for even the truly elite receivers. Rarely, if ever, do those guys end up so low down the stat sheet. He has recorded less than 20 yards three times in five games. His drops haven’t been an issue, with Pro Football Focus credited one to him thus far. A pair of ill-timed miscommunications with Carr – one on a deep shot in Miami that was intercepted, the other where an unexpected route was run came on a late 4th down against Cleveland – haven’t helped matters.

Carr also has a wealth of options, and tries to capitalize on Nelson’s red-zone reliability, Bryant’s speed and Cook’s size against smaller defenders.

When Cooper got matched up with top corner Casey Hayward, Carr went in other directions more often.

“There were definitely situations depending on where he was lined up that they would do certain things. I could think of three different ways of coverage that they were doing that. Sometimes it is like that,” Carr said. “Not only that, they put their best cover guy on him. Coverage dictates a lot of things. I think Martavis Bryant got close to 100 yards. Just depends on how they want to play certain things. It is not like I don’t want to throw it to him, he was just covered.”

Analyzing Jon Gruden's 2018 Raiders rookie class


Analyzing Jon Gruden's 2018 Raiders rookie class

Raiders coach Jon Gruden has a reputation for preferring veteran players. That seemed to be the case this year, when he assembled the NFL’s oldest roster and starting cutting recent draft picks with development left ahead.

While previous draft classes haven’t gotten much run, this year’s group is seeing opportunities to shine and gain real-world job experience.

“I’m excited about the rookie class,” Gruden said. “I’ve been accused my whole life of hating rookies and liking old players, and now I’m playing 10 rookies. What do you say to that, America?”

[RELATED: Major roster upheaval expected?]

Not sure if the entire country cares, but Raider Nation certainly does. The fan base is looking for a glimmer of hope in an otherwise nauseating 1-5 start, and there are some real signs of optimism in the group.

Let’s take a look at the rookies contributing (or, in one case, set to contribute) to this year’s squad:

LT Kolton Miller -- The UCLA product has struggled the last few weeks while playing through injury, but there’s a strong belief he is the long-term solution at an important position.

DT P.J. Hall -- An early season ankle sprain has slowed his progress and dulled his impact. He isn’t a hulk, but Hall could develop into a tenacious inside pass rusher who can push the pocket.

RT Brandon Parker -- The small-school product has a long way to go, but he must learn on the job now that Donald Penn is on injured reserve. He isn’t doing half bad, considering he missed most of training camp with an ankle issue.

DE Arden Key -- He has all the bend, length and athleticism that coaches want in an edge rusher. He’s technically proficient, but he must be more efficient to consistently impact the cornerback. There’s room for improvement against the run and to avoid biting on play action and misdirection.

[RELATED: Key, Hurst, Hall are bright spots]

CB Nick Nelson -- Gruden believes the Wisconsin cover man finally is healthy and ready to contribute after tearing his meniscus during the pre-draft process. He has been inactive most weeks.

DT Maurice Hurst -- He'll be viewed as a fifth-round steal in time. He's the Raiders’ most polished rookie, and has been effective against the run and pass. He could be a mainstay in the starting lineup.

P Johnny Townsend -- The Florida product has disappointed thus far, proving unable to flip field position in the Raiders’ favor. He hasn’t shown enough power, and has shanked too many to be acceptable at the pro level.

LS Trent Sieg -- He has been a servicable replacement after Andrew DePaola tore his ACL.

K Matt McCrane -- He has missed four field-goal attempts in three games, and kickoffs haven’t been steadily deep enough. McCrane must do better, or the team could look to another kicker.

LB Jason Cabinda -- The undrafted rookie was promoted from the practice squad after Derrick Johnson was released. Cabinda will make his NFL debut next week against the Colts.

Drafted players who didn’t make the regular-season roster: LB Azeem Victor (waived), WR Marcell Ateman (on practice squad)

Undrafted players on IR or practice squad. RB Chris Warren III (IR), WR Saeed Blacknall (practice squad); K Eddy Piñeiro (IR), FB Ryan Yuracheck (practice squad), TE Paul Butler (practice squad), S Dallin Leavitt (practice squad)

NFL rumors: Jon Gruden expected to overhaul Raiders roster over next two years


NFL rumors: Jon Gruden expected to overhaul Raiders roster over next two years

Jon Gruden has a 10-year, $100 million contract with the Raiders, but the coach evidently doesn’t have the players he wants. So, everything must go.

Teams have the sense that the Raiders have made every player on their roster available ahead of next week’s NFL trade deadline, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported, and that Gruden -- not general manager Reggie McKenzie -- is the man to see about making the best deal.

That makes sense, considering Gruden shipped Khalil Mack to the Bears for well below market value earlier this season.

Gruden has said the Raiders aren’t tanking, and Rapoport reported the coach told his players the same in a team meeting before they took off on the bye week. They aren’t buying it, though, and unnamed Raiders players told Rapoport they expect “major roster upheaval in the next couple years.”

Rapoport added he has heard Gruden believes it will take two years to acquire the players he wants. But that doesn’t help Oakland fans who wanted a winner, and it confirms the Raiders organization is focused on building something in Las Vegas.

Are we really surprised?