What a quiet game it was for Brandin Cooks last week. The 24-year old was almost a non-factor during the Patriots 35-14 clinic against the Titans, catching just three passes for 32 yards. On paper the forecast doesn’t look any finer this week, a match up against one of the top cornerbacks in the league, A.J. Bouye, awaits on Monday. Bouye recorded six interceptions during the regular season, the second most in the league, and although Cooks is regarded as a Top 10 receiver, he will have his work cut out for him with a two-inch height disadvantage.
It could easily be another tough introduction to playoff football for Cooks this week, but then again, recent history might have a say in how this one unfolds. When Cooks posted 30 yards or less during a game, he backed it up with a 70+ yard performance four times during the regular season. Playing with Tom Brady no doubt has its perks, but there’s no denying Cooks is the MVP’s favourite red zone target, catching four of his seven touchdowns there. All that New England simply needs to do now, is work out how to get the ball to Cooks in press and man coverage.
As great as Brady is, he’s certainly had some issues with the latter this season. Cooks is the kind of receiver that can turn a simple slant route into six points anywhere on the field, so it’s up to Brady to take advantage of the fact that the Jaguars allowed 12 plays of 40 yards or more this season. Recognising when Jacksonville is in zone coverage and keying in on Cooks could decide the game, and ultimately another bounce-back performance could also garner some money for punters.
You only need to rewind to last week to see what the crystal ball holds in store for this blockbuster. Case Keenum walked off the field a hero last Monday, but the Vikings defence still deserves so much praise. They recorded two sacks and three hits on Drew Brees during last week’s win, while the Eagles laid some serious smackdown of their own – three sacks and a whopping 11 hits against the Falcons. This will be a fun contest between two smash mouth pass rushes, but the position punters really should be watching comes at running back.
Time in the pocket will be limited heavily this week, and as far as Nick Foles is concerned, that’s bad. The Eagles fill-in man owns a disgraceful 23.8 passer rating when under pressure, but fortunately, he does have a strong running game to fall back on. A key play that really stands out from Philly’s win over the Falcons last week was wide receiver Nelson Agholor’s misdirection end-around run that eventually led to the Eagles’ only touchdown. Agholor confused the entire Falcons’ defence, sending the linebackers in different directions to create a wide open hole towards the sidelines. Then of course, the magic happened. After a few missed opportunities, LeGarrette Blount eventually turned a 4th and 1 into six points.
This kind of play-calling creativity is exactly what could land the Eagles in the Super Bowl, and from a punting perspective, it’s worth knowing the Vikings also allowed eight rushing touchdowns in the red zone during the regular season. In short yardage situations the Eagles will always look to their bell-cow, Blount, to pound the ball in, and if it comes down to a goal-line stand, he’s probably the guy you want to trust against such a tough interior defence.