Cooper: I want to be back

Posted: January 07, 2014

AMERICANS have the attention span of a gnat. What is trending today usually is forgotten tomorrow.

That's good news for people who say and do stupid things. It certainly was good news for Riley Cooper who, 5 months ago, found himself the center of the worst kind of attention when that infamous video of him yelling a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert first surfaced.

The Eagles wide receiver became a instant pariah. His football career was in legitimate jeopardy. If the Eagles cut him, where was he going to go?

In a league where nearly 70 percent of the players are African-American, nobody was going to sign a guy who was perceived to be a bigot. Especially one with just 46 catches in 3 years.

But the Eagles organization stuck by Cooper, and so did most of his teammates, both black and white.

Within a few weeks, most Americans forgot about him and moved on to another trending story. And another, and another.

As for Cooper, the fourth-year wideout took the second chance he got from his teammates and ran with it.

After a slow start, he blossomed in Chip Kelly's offense. Including Saturday's playoff loss to the Saints, he had 53 catches for 903 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Finished third in the league in yards per catch (17.8). Had 13 catches of 20-plus yards.

He was the Eagles' most productive red-zone receiver, catching eight passes inside the 20, five for touchdowns. He finished second to DeSean Jackson in catches for first downs (37), and second in third-down catches for first downs (11).

The fourth-year wideout had a team-high six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's disappointing 26-24 playoff loss to the Saints.

"I'm thankful he had that type of impact on this team," said wide receiver Jason Avant, who, along with quarterback Michael Vick, was instrumental in convincing most of the rest of the Eagles' black players to give Cooper a second chance last summer. "I'm not saying you want an incident like that to occur. But we took a negative and turned it into a positive.

"It took a lot of forgiveness. It took a lot of day-to-day conversations. It made us closer. Even though he was public enemy No. 1 to a lot of people, to us, he was still family and it was a mistake. I was happy the way he responded.

"He didn't take it as something that he could have thought about and made his game go down. He just played football really well. He didn't get a lot of opportunities early in the season. But toward the middle of the season, he got his opportunity and ran with it. He solidified his place in this league this year as far as being a valuable asset to some team."

Avant said "some" team because Cooper is a free agent. Given his productivity this season, it's likely the Eagles are interested in re-signing him. But Jeremy Maclin, whose torn ACL gave Cooper his playing opportunity, also is a free agent. And there's a good possibility the Eagles will draft a wide receiver. Given his impressive 2013 numbers, Cooper almost certainly will draw some interest from other teams on the free-agent market.

"I want to be back," Cooper said Saturday after the game. "I love the coaching staff and I feel like I fit in the system here. I like doing it all. I just love playing the game hard. I love blocking. I love the whole game of football. I definitely hope I'm back, for sure."

Cooper had just eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles' first five games this season. Then Michael Vick got hurt and Nick Foles replaced him at quarterback and, for whatever reason, Cooper started becoming a much bigger part of the offense.

In the Eagles' final 12 games, including Saturday, he had 45 receptions for 812 yards and eight touchdown catches. Thirty-three of those 45 catches resulted in first downs.

Foles connected with Cooper twice on the Eagles' first touchdown drive Saturday, first on a 22-yard completion to start the drive, then the 10-yard scoring pass to finish it.

"It was just an in-route," Cooper said. "Nick sat in the pocket, sat in the pocket and waited until I got all the way on the other side of the field and threw a great ball.

"I was the last read on that. Nick went through all of his progressions and ended up finding me, almost in a scramble."

Cooper's scoring catch was overshadowed by a costly drop he had in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing, 13-7. On a third-and-4 play at their own 30, Foles found Cooper all alone on a crossing route.

Worst-case scenario, he gains 20 yards. Best-case scenario, he takes it all the way for a touchdown because there was only one Saints player on that side of the field - cornerback Keenan Lewis. And Cooper would've had DeSean Jackson as a downfield blocker.

But the normally sure-handed Cooper took his eyes off the ball and it slipped through his hands. The Eagles were forced to punt and the Saints drove down the field for a touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.

"It's part of the game," Cooper said. "It happened at a crappy time for sure. My second."

Actually, it was his team-high sixth. But that's still an OK number for a guy who was targeted 91 times this season. The only Eagle who was targeted more was Jackson (131), who had five drops.

"He had a terrific year," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "Teams have a way of healing themselves from things that happen. I know this team embraced Riley and he embraced them and we went on and just did what we had to do."

A lot of people thought the Eagles made a huge mistake when they didn't release or trade Cooper last summer after the concert incident. They thought keeping him on the roster would tear the team apart. It didn't. In fact, if anything, Cooper's presence ended up galvanizing the locker room.

"[Forgiving Cooper] was a big deal when the majority of your teammates are African-Americans," Avant said. "It took a lot of guys realizing that we've all sinned, we all have some type of fault.

"And no matter what it is, you can't point the finger when you've wronged as well. At the same time, guys talked to Riley and Riley talked to guys. And he let them know that he was tremendously sorry about what happened, and he showed it in his actions this season."

BY THE NUMBERS

* For the 10th time in 17 games this season, the Eagles won the coin toss Saturday. The first five times they won it, they took the ball. The last five times, including Saturday, they deferred. How well did that strategy work? Well, the Eagles didn't allow any firstpossession points in the five games they deferred. They scored touchdowns on their first possessions of the third quarter the first two times they deferred (vs. Oakland and Arizona), and went three-and-out the last three times (vs. Minnesota, Dallas and New Orleans).

* The Eagles averaged just 3.6 yards per carry against the Saints. It was their third lowest rushing average of the season. They averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in a win over the Cardinals and 2.5 yards per carry in a loss to the Giants.

* In their previous four games, the Eagles defense had allowed just seven double-digit yard runs in 127 rushing attempts, none longer than 12 yards. They gave up five runs of 10 yards or more to the Saints, including four longer than 12 yards.

* The Eagles gave up a season-high 14 rushing first downs to the Saints. Previous high was 12 against the Raiders.

* Nick Foles, who finished with a league-best 111.6 third-down passer rating, completed five of eight third-down pass attempts against the Saints, but just three of those completions went for first downs. In the Eagles' final eight games, Foles was sacked on 12 of 65 third-down pass plays.

* Foles finished with a 118.3 red-zone passer rating. He completed 32 of 46 passes in the red zone, including 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.

* The Eagles converted three of five red-zone chances into touchdowns Saturday. In their last three games, they were 11-for-14 in the red zone.

* For the seventh time in 17 games, the Eagles didn't have a turnover Saturday. They finished with just 19 giveaways in 17 games. Their 19 regular-season giveaways were the fewest in franchise history.

* The Eagles lost just five fumbles in their last 14 games, and had only two in their last seven. Eagles running backs fumbled just once in 489 touches this season and ended the season with a streak of 335 touches without a fumble.

* The Saints game was just the second time this season that the Eagles won the turnover battle but lost the game. They also won the turnover battle (+2) in their 33-30 Week 2 loss to the Chargers. They were 9-2 this season in games in which they won the turnover battle, 1-5 when they lost it or were even.

* The Saints were the 12th straight opponent that failed to score on their first possession against the Eagles.

* Opposing tight ends had 80 receptions for 1,020 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles this season. In 16 games last year, they had 71-787-4. In 2011, they had 66-765-5.

* In his final three games this season, DeSean Jackson was targeted 14 times and had just 10 catches for 110 yards and no touchdowns. In six career playoff games, Jackson has 19 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns.

* Riley Cooper's 10-yard touchdown catch was his fifth red-zone TD reception of the season. That was the most on the team.

DID YOU NOTICE?

* The frequent communication problems between the Eagles’ offensive linemen on their blocking assignments.

* Roc Carmichael spoiled a terrific play by Brandon Boykin on a first-quarter punt by Donnie Jones. Boykin prevented the punt from going into the end zone for a touchback, but Carmichael, who was the second man down, accidentally kicked the ball into the end zone.

* The really dumb defensive holding penalty on Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox late in the second quarter on a second-and-11 play. He tackled Saints running back Darren Sproles, even though there was no play-action fake to Sproles. Drew Brees threw the ball away and, but for the flag, the Saints would’ve had to punt. Instead, the penalty kept the drive alive and the Saints ended up getting a Shayne Graham field goal out of it.

* The Eagles’ problems in short-yardage. LeSean McCoy, who had converted 34 of 45 situations of 2 yards or less and 21 of 26 situations of 1 yard or less going into the game, was held to no gain on a third-and-1 in the first quarter and managed just 1 yard on a third-and-2 in the third quarter. He did convert a pair of fourth-and-1s, including one for a touchdown, and a second-and-2.

* Right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Todd Herremans both were beaten (by Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks) on a Nick Foles sack early in the third quarter.

* How much running room Riley Cooper would’ve had if he hadn’t dropped that third-quarter pass from Nick Foles. At the very least, it would have been a 20-yard gain and a first down. Depending on the quality of the block he would’ve gotten from DeSean Jackson downfield on Keenan Lewis, who was the only Saints defender on that side of the field, he might’ve been able to score.

* Drew Brees took advantage of Cary Williams’ one-play injury absence in the third quarter, completing a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills against Williams’ replacement, Roc Carmichael, on a third-and-12 play.

* Safety Patrick Chung committed the cardinal sin of letting Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem get inside of him on Meachem’s 40-yard on a fourth-quarter Saints scoring drive.

* On Darren Sproles’ 39-yard kickoff return that kick-started the Saints’ game-winning drive, both Cary Williams and Roc Carmichael got sucked inside, allowing Sproles to get to the outside when he reversed field. Williams made matters worse by using an illegal horse-collar tackle to finally bring Sproles down, adding 15 more yards to the play. The Saints started their final drive on the Philadelphia 48-yard line.

* The back-to-back misplays by the Eagles that blew a golden scoring opportunity on their third possession. With a first down at the New Orleans 15, they botched a throwback screen to Brent Celek that lost 8 yards. Then Nick Foles took a sack that lost another 11 yards, even though he had the ball for more than 6 seconds. Alex Henery’s 48-yard field goal attempt went wide left.

* Drew Brees never saw linebacker DeMeco Ryans on his second-quarter interception. Lance Moore ran a quick slant between Mychal Kendricks and Cary Williams. Ryans slid over in front of Moore and picked it off.

* How invisible DeSean Jackson was until Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis left the game with a concussion late in the third quarter. To that point, Jackson had been targeted just once and had no receptions. After Lewis left and Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan put his other starting corner, Corey White, on Jackson, he was targeted five times and caught three passes, including one for 40 yards.

* Zach Ertz said he lost the ball in the lights on that pass in the corner of the end zone late in the second quarter that went through his hands. The Eagles ended up scoring on the next play when Nick Foles hit Riley Cooper for a 10-yard touchdown.

* Rookie safety Earl Wolff, who had missed five games with a knee injury, was activated Saturday but didn’t play. Patrick Chung took every snap at free safety

* On that touchdown pass to Riley Cooper, Nick Foles’ protection was outstanding. The Saints only rushed three men. The quarterback had the ball for 5.24 seconds before he released it.


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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