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NFL Draft

Did Texans Unlock Best Way They Can Use Brandin Cooks?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 13, 2020
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Anytime your head coach gets fired, it’s an emotion pull one way or the other. In the case of the Atlanta Falcons, it seemed like the players were losing a coach they loved playing for, even though the results weren’t what they needed to be. For a team like Houston, it sounded like they were ready to turn the page and play even better football after moving on from Bill O’Brien.

Though it was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans achieved their season high in points scored on their way to their first victory of the season this past Sunday. So I guess you can say there was a bit of a spark after the firing of O’Brien.

What I wanted to do in this article was get into more of the details of the game itself beyond the big storyline of the win. What I wanted to focus on specifically was the utilization and straight takeover game from wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

I want to start off by saying I feel bad for Cooks. Anytime he does anything good in Houston it will always come back to sour emotions over DeAndre Hopkins no longer being there. And that sucks because Cooks just had his best game as a Texan with eight catches on 12 targets, 161 yards, and a touchdown, all team highs. Hopefully, the more time that passes, the more appreciation Cooks can get.

On the Texans’ very first play from scrimmage, they tipped their hand at their offensive emphasis of the day: Brandin Cooks through the air against man coverage.

I really liked the setup of this play. At its origins, it was 3x1 with the tight end to the right. The Jaguars were in a Cover 1 defense, meaning there was only one player taking the deep zone of the field. I wanted to focus on the right side of the line of scrimmage where there were two wide receivers in a stack formation. With Cooks being the inside man (the No. 2 to the play side), the cornerback was up close to him at the line of scrimmage while the other cornerback (who was responsible for the No. 1) was playing off as to not get jammed up by any kind of pick or rub route combination. With two cornerbacks and two linebackers on that side of the field, the one deep safety naturally played more toward the boundary hash marks to help the other cornerback who was all alone. That was a fantastic set up because when the Texans moved the No. 1 on the play side to the other side of the line of scrimmage, the outside cornerback went with him, but the safety really didn’t neutralize his position in the middle to account for it. That left the speedy Cooks with a lot of space to work with to the sideline and deep down the field.

For as much as Cooks helps the Texans attack the deep parts of the field, he is also great when used as a middle of the field player on shorter routes.

Cooks has nice burst and quickness off the line and out of his stance, which makes him tough to keep up with. This is why defenses always have to respect quick slants or mesh routes that can go horizontal across the field. But in the play above they threw a fast one at the defense by having it look like Cooks was going to go across the field, but really he was finding a spot to sink. The defender blew by Cooks in the play above and it was an easy completion.

Put Cooks at the numbers and you’ll flourish. 

With Cooks’ athletic ability, he’s a dangerous two-way player. What that means is that when you place a wide receiver in an alignment that gives them the space to break on a route either left or right, they really have the potential to keep a defender guessing, if he’s asked to cover it man-to-man. 

As you can see in the clip above, with plenty of space to work with between him and the sideline, Cooks’ little hesitation step was too much for the cornerback, who really had no chance on this play, given the alignment.

That same principle came around on the final big play of Cooks’ day where he once again was able to shake his defender into his heels given the space he had on both sides.

Cooks is such a tough player to defend in man coverage, and on Sunday, Houston really put him in a good place to succeed. The result was a lot of targets, a lot of catches, and a lot of yards. This won’t be the only 100-yard game of Cooks’ season if Houston keeps allowing him to make the most of space as a top two-way threat player.

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