Amari Cooper caught one pass for 10 yards over his final two games as a Raider. Sunday, he did more damage through the air than any player has all season. His 217 yards and three touchdowns were both new career highs.
“It’s not me — it’s you,” is what Cooper has been telling the Raiders every week since his trade. The 24-year-old has 642 yards in six games with Dallas. He had 280 in six games as a Raider. As a Cowboy, Cooper is already 94.4 percent of the way to his 2017 yardage total, a number it took him 14 games to reach. He has cleared 180 yards twice in three weeks, helping key a 5-1 streak that has come close to sealing the NFC East for his new squad.
How did we get here? For one, we are seeing the power of supporting cast. Cooper’s was dreadful the past two years in Oakland. Of course, Dak Prescott is not Tom Brady and Jason Garrett is hardly Sean McVay. Cooper was not only freed from a deteriorating situation, but the accumulation of all the little things that come with it. Cooper’s confidence already appeared on the wane in 2017. It seemed positively shot under Jon Gruden, a my-way-or-the-highway coach whose road out of town has become an autobahn.
When we talk about players who “need a change of scenery,” that was Cooper in Oakland. This is, after all, a former No. 4 overall pick who entered the NFL with 4.42 speed after catching an SEC-record 124 passes his final season at Alabama. He then proceeded to clear 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL campaigns. Cooper’s talent was never in question.
Cooper was far from blameless in his Raiders struggles. He made mental mistakes and had a tendency to disappear after slow starts. Despite the gaudy yardage totals, Cooper often played small from an “eye test” perspective and earned unimpressive advanced marks from Pro Football Focus. What appeared to be typical early-career inconsistency began to manifest itself as something more concerning as the Raiders collapsed from their 2016 playoff form. In 2017, injuries compounded Cooper’s mounting problems. Everything was working in concert to stall his career.
Cooper needed a lifeline, and the Cowboys threw it. It is still early to say “and the rest is history.” This is not the first hot streak of Cooper’s career. He is an inconsistent player in a run-dominated offense. The Cowboys have long-term question marks at both quarterback and coach. There could still be more struggles ahead. What we have established is that there are still peaks for Cooper’s valleys, and that he will produce when put in the right situation. Perhaps you were expecting more when Cooper was drafted. Let’s just be thankful it’s not the “less” we saw the past two years in Oakland.
Five Week 14 Storylines
Cam Newton’s struggles continue in Cleveland. Looking maybe 75 percent healthy, Newton muddled through a dispiriting road loss where he failed to find the end zone and threw another interception. Acknowledging his quarterback’s current limitations, OC Norv Turner called a conservative game, keeping things in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field while trying to scheme the ball into the hands of YAC machines Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. On one of the rare occasions Newton attempted to go deep, he badly underthrew Samuel on what should have been a long score. At one point the biggest-armed quarterback in football, Newton was once again subbed out for backup Taylor Heinicke on a Hail Mary attempt. This is humbling stuff for an athlete who had long appeared superhuman. If he’s not in need of offseason surgery, Newton is certainly going to require a lengthy rest-and-rehab period. Newton is a risky QB1 for the second week of the fantasy playoffs.
Patrick Mahomes Houdinis Chiefs past Ravens. There are three games remaining, but Mahomes is already putting the finishing touches on his MVP award. Facing a Ravens Defense that entered the week allowing a measly 194 passing yards per game, Mahomes rolled up 377 while tossing his 42nd and 43rd scores. Of course, he needed 53 attempts to get there, but it was two of Mahomes’ throws that did not find the end zone that illustrated why he has been the league’s best player in 2018. Mahomes threw a no-look pass to Demarcus Robinson in the second quarter. In football. He then saved the game with a cross-body, cross-field heave on fourth down to Tyreek Hill in the dying moments of the fourth quarter. Mahomes compiles like no other player while making more “wow” plays than any other player. He is the next great superstar.
Lamar Jackson struggles vs. Chiefs’ burnable defense. Opposing Mahomes was Jackson. Unlike his counterpart, Jackson had a great matchup. Also unlike his counterpart, he did not capitalize on it. Jackson was held under 15 completions for the fourth time in four games — all excellent matchups — and tried to give it all away with a devastating lost fumble deep in his own territory with just seconds remaining. The game only reached overtime by the grace of a missed Harrison Butker field goal. It was in the extra period where Jackson got crunched and injured. Jackson has flashed magnetism but otherwise not appeared ready for prime time. Fighting for their playoff lives, the Ravens could return to a healing Joe Flacco (hip) for this week’s showdown with the Bucs.
Ezekiel Elliott hogs ball as Cowboys defeat Eagles in overtime. Elliott carried the rock 28 times while adding 12 catches, becoming just the 14th player this century to handle the ball 40 times in a game. He turned the work into 192 yards from scrimmage, bringing his average during the Cowboys’ five-game winning streak to a truly-bonkers 172. He is averaging 31 touches in the process. To help put that into context, DeMarco Murray averaged 28 during his famous workhorse campaign of 2014. It’s reckless usage but not something the Cowboys are going to back off of as they search for their third division title in five years. The Colts, Bucs and Giants are an unimposing trio of defenses for the season’s final three games.
LeSean McCoy suffers hamstring injury as Bills blow lead. McCoy departed after just two carries in a game where his team would relinquish a 14-3 first quarter advantage. Josh Allen stayed cooking on the ground but struggled through the air. With no Shady, there was no Plan B as the Jets clawed their way back despite nearly losing Sam Darnold to an aggravation of his foot issue. In the midst of a truly bizarre season for a team that has long been out of the playoff race, McCoy will not be rushed back. If he sits versus the Lions, it will be Chris Ivory who takes the lead against Matt Patricia’s rejuvenated run defense.