Riley Cooper Has Eagles Offense: All Riled Up
The year after limited success is a difficult time for a team with a great deal of youth. There is the risk of believing everything was a fluke, and that greatness is as evasive as a dream during a bumpy rail commute to work. There is the opposite side as well, the risk of believing that everything is “there”, and by simply repeating everything from a year ago, good things will simply fall to the team.
Perhaps the key player to this year’s success is sometimes maligned wide receiver Riley Cooper. Huh? Well there’s some point to that, as the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles have tracked the performance of Riley Cooper these past three years. Drafted in the fifth round of the infamous 2010 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, one of thirteen drafted players to join the ranks of the team that had just pieced together a rather tremendous 10-6 season, Riley did what fifth round rookies do. He earned a spot on the Eagles roster and waited for his day to come. In sixteen games in 2011, the team targeted him 34 times, but he caught only 16 of those passes for less that a 50% success. In eleven games in 2012, then head coach Andy Reid tried one final time and targeted him 47 times, and again he caught merely 23 passes for less than 50% success. The team had a horrific year, and Andy was no more.
In 2013, newly signed head coach was faced with a horrific dilemma. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had injured his ACL and would be out for the season, and that was soon followed by recently acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn falling to an ACL injury. While the situation placed tremendous pressure on DeSean Jackson, it added a great deal of pressure to Cooper, the young Florida Gator who was dealing with his own demons (the youtube incident).
The urge to sign more receivers by the fanbase fell like a tsunami on Chip Kelly, who stood fast in his belief that the Eagles would be fine at the receiver position. Many experts and analysts alike discuss the football genius of Kelly, his ability to out”X and O” opponents. But few talk about the instincts the man has about what lies within a man’s heart, and soul. Few understand just how much it took for the Eagles to hold with their existing roster, but in an August 7 2013 interview with Reuben Frank, Howie Roseman defended that decision:
“You want your young players to grow and develop, and that’s why you keep young players on your roster. You look at the good teams in this league, that’s what they do with their players. They develop them, they groom them, then they give them an opportunity. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to look for ways to improve. But at the end of the day, you have to show confidence in the players that you brought in. We have a lot of faith in our skill position group as a whole, and that’s kind of how we look at it. We look at the running backs, we look at the tight ends, and those are the guys we have high hopes and high expectations for.” – Howie Roseman.
Perhaps part of that faith was in the belief that the offensive burden would be borne by the tight ends, the running backs, and the rest of the offense, but the way events played out was not that way at all. By game five, the same old, same old appeared to be inevitable. Despite being shown the ball 18 times, Cooper had a mere eight receptions and one touchdown, and in game five with a rival road game, the ball was only tossed Cooper’s direction once.
But things changed. One such change was quarterback Nick Foles replacing an injured Michael Vick. The second thing was the resergence of the running game led by LeSean McCoy. As defenses focused on stopping the run, the 6’3″ receiver found openings and the ball coming at him. With Foles in the pocket, and a new found confidence, Cooper went on to end the final twelve games (including a six for eight one touchdown playoff performance) with 45 receptions on 75 passes, and 8 touchdowns.
Many view the 2013 season as a fluke, as a “defenses never saw you coming” season and the naysayers are already lining up to discount Cooper’s likely impact in 2014. The thing about predictions of either positive or negative is that they rarely have an effect on the event. But there are signs of a positive year for Riley Cooper in 2014, and that leads one to think that perhaps 2013 is NOT as much of an anomaly as suggested elsewhere.
POINT ONE: NICK FOLES - Riley Cooper and Nick Foles have a good connection on the football field. With a 6′ 6″ quarterback and a 6’3″ wide receiver, the line of sight for these two SHOULD be pretty good. And with all of the weapons on the Philadelphia Eagles team, would anyone guess that the Foles to Cooper combination would account for nearly 33% of Foles touchdown passes in 2013? In the playoffs, Foles threw for two touchdowns, one to wide receiver Riley Cooper and one to tight end Zach Ertz. From young players building trust, these scores mean a great deal to 2014, and will likely carry over to the new football season.
POINT TWO: CHIP KELLY – I’ve heard mixed reviews by football experts as to the psyche of Eagle’s head coach Kelly. Some place him as a genius, somewhat of a Doctor Frankenstein, bringing the monstrosity of Philadelphia hopes of a superbowl to life in a loosely run experiment with little regard to the players or the fans. Some akin the Chippah to Captain Bligh, with the rivaled jealousy of a ship’s captain ready to make anyone who questions his ultimate authority walk the plank of the USS Philadelphia Eagle “Bounty”. But what is likely closer to the truth is Kelly is simply further along than most of us. He is observant, and runs so many drills, practices and tasks and then sits back and observes. What he likely sees are players who can make a difference to the Eagles and those who cannot. With the resigning of Riley Cooper, it’s a safe bet that he sees Cooper as being a contributor to the team for the foreseeable future.
POINT THREE: JEREMY MACLIN – Many have pointed to the departure of DeSean Jackson and concluded that the Philadelphia Eagles receivers cannot be counted on to produce in 2014. While there is always that possibility, I see the opposite. When the Philadelphia Eagles take the field without DeSean Jackson, who will you defend? If you are smart, you crowd the box and try to limit the productive running game. In games like that, Maclin will get much of the defender attention, which will loosen up Cooper. If they settle in with a man defense, Cooper has shown that he can make the deep catch in traffic. In fact, Cooper is much more likely to be the deep threat now and Maclin will take over with cleaner route as the short to intermediate receiver.
With new faces on the Eagles, many will be distracted with all of the new weapons on the Eagles and look for big things out of unfamiliar faces. It takes time in the receiving world to develop rapport, trust, and respect with the quarterback. While any player can hit the jackpot in the Chippah’s offense, I expect new faces like Matthews and Huff to show up in the 400-600 yards range, while Ertz might get to 800 yards. Many of Jackson’s absence will be assumed by Maclin, but there is enough to go around to expect a sixteen game season of Foles and Cooper to generate a 1000 yard 10 TD season for Cooper.
If that holds true, much as the trend has been since his arrival of where cooper goes so goes the Eagles, look for a deep playoff run. It stands to reason, Riley Cooper has the Eagles Offense: All Riled Up.