Brandin Cooks’ breakout game ignites New Orleans Saints in vital win over Packers: Larry Holder
The usage of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks within the offense became a popular topic leading up to the Packers game. More specifically, the first-round pick’s usage or lack thereof in the deep passing game became a hot-button issue for the physically gifted wide receiver.
Well, we witnessed the coming-out party for Cooks in the team’s Sunday night 44-23 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in front of a national TV audience.
The numbers may not have been as prolific as the 172 rushing yards by Mark Ingram or the near perfect statistics by Drew Brees. Even though Brees has spent countless more repetitions with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, it’s imperative that Cooks becomes as close to a No. 1 receiver/weapon within the Saints offense.
That happened Sunday night.
Cooks ended with six receptions on seven targets for 94 yards and one touchdown. He also took a jet-sweep, end-around for a 4-yard rushing score.
Cooks’ first score helped the Saints stop the near-immediate momentum created by Green Bay in the first quarter. Cooks’ second score ended up being the game-winner, and more importantly, completely changed the tide of the game.
Cooks had been a focal point in the offense, and yet his impact was hidden. Cooks was tied for the team lead in receptions with Graham. So the Saints have made a point to use Cooks with lots of touches.
Yet, it didn’t appear as if the Saints were taking advantage of Cooks’ speed, which was odd considering Cooks was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, receivers in this year’s draft class. Cooks typically ran only short or intermediate routes throughout the first six games, and it felt like the Saints wanted to keep Cooks even closer to the line of scrimmage with a slew of screen passes and quick slants.
Saints coach Sean Payton decided to unleash Cooks on Sunday.
Cooks’ first attempt at glory left Saints fans disappointed. Brees dropped a clean deep ball into Cooks’ hands as two Packers defenders chased alongside the Saints speedster. And the typically sure-handed Cooks let the ball slide through his fingers.
So much for that, until the very next play.
Cooks came up with one of those catches that showed why so many NFL teams drooled over his potential during the draft process earlier this year. Cooks came down with a circus reception over the middle in traffic for a 14-yard reception to pick up a first down. It led to a Shayne Graham field goal to keep pace with Green Bay 13-13 in the second quarter.
Cooks waited until the third quarter to receive complete redemption for his second-quarter drop, which was the only ball he didn’t snag when being targeted Sunday.
The route seemed similar to the one Cooks dropped, with this deep post going toward the Poydras Street side of the Dome. With the Saints in run formation, Cooks sprinted downfield with two Packers defenders giving chase> Cooks split the defenders to have a bead on the ball.
Brees, displaying his ever-growing faith in Cooks, fired the same perfectly placed ball for Cooks. This time, the rookie wideout snatched the football for the 50-yard scoring connection to give the Saints a 23-16 advantage, one they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game.
“The big one in the third quarter lit the Dome on fire,” Brees said about Cooks’ touchdown reception.
I asked Cooks earlier this week if he ever felt like speaking up to Payton and Brees to say, “Hey guys. The last time I checked I’m pretty fast. Throw me a deep ball or two.” Cooks said there’s no way he’d feel comfortable taking that approach, as both Payton and Brees describe Cooks as someone always aiming to please.
“Drew and coach continue to tell me to be who I am and not to press,” Cooks said earlier this week. “The worst thing you can do in sports is press because you find yourself making mistakes and doing things you wouldn’t do if you were calm and collected.”
His approach certainly triggered something within the Saints that spread throughout the team Sunday night. The Saints will need more of this from Cooks if they crave a run at the NFC South title, which will start in earnest Thursday night in Carolina.
It took a while for the first uber-talented Saints offensive first-round draft pick to explode on the scene in his rookie season under Payton. It took Reggie Bush all the way until Week 10 in his rookie season to hit the end zone and Week 13 for his breakout performance with four touchdowns in a win over San Francisco.
Cooks produced his most significant performance in what the Saints hope will become the start of a long list of performances. You figured Cooks would start somewhere, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to start than against the Packers, on a night when the Saints brought their 2014 season back from the edge.