It's one thing to have speed. It's quite another to actually know how to use it to your advantage on a football field. Newest Texan receiver Brandin Cooks does and it manifests itself each time he runs a route on a football field.
Seeing Cooks from afar on the television is one thing. But, seeing how, on a field of very fast human beings, he's blowing past ALL of them, it's beyond impressive. In 2017, when we went to New England on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, Cooks was a significant difference maker in that Patriots win over the Texans. He, of course, had the winning touchdown catch with less than a minute left in the game, but the catch that he turned into a 42-yard touchdown kept replaying over and over in my mind as we got on the plane bound for Houston.
Watching the game over again that next morning, I immediately went right to that play. It was a split zone, play action concept. Gronk came across the formation and blocked the right edge, giving former Patriots quarterback (you don't know how long I've waited to say the word "former") Tom Brady time to find Cooks. The 5-10, 185 lb. receiver worked his way into the middle on a deep dig and Brady hit him in stride. He caught the ball on the right hash at around the 20 yard line and then hit the gas...and ran away from EVERYONE all the way across the field to the goal line. I just remember being on the sideline watching him blaze past me (and everyone else) and I was envious.
Cooks uses that speed in a number of different ways to get separation, the main key for a receiver in this league. Here's a couple of ways that he does that and his main foil for both of these plays was Cleveland cornerback T.J. Carrie.
The Rams came out in a condensed 2x2 formation with Cooks to the bottom of the formation.
Cooks responsibility on this play is to run the over route on the bootleg action. So, with the Browns in cover 1, man free coverage, Cooks just had to beat Carrie across the formation in a footrace, essentially.
As Rams quarterback Jared Goff turned his shoulders on the boot, there's no way that he could see Cooks on the bootleg...yet.
Cooks continued running away from Carrie as he crossed the formation and by this point, he came into view for Goff.
Cooks increased his separation by YARDS from Carrie and Goff had a wide open receiver beyond the sticks. He fired, Cooks made the catch and actually picked up even more yards after the catch.
Now, take a look at the end zone view. It's more clear as to the impact Cooks' speed had on this play. Here's the view right at the start of the play. Carrie is near the downfield hip.
Here's the view right as Goff released the ball and Carrie is yards away from Cooks.
NFL quarterbacks all know that wide open in the NFL is about a foot of separation and Cooks got yards of it on that particular play. Now, some could argue the play design helped Cooks, but I've seen that play in the league a million times and I've not seen a receiver get that kind of separation on a crosser.
A little while later, the Rams went to a different concept, but Cooks' speed, again, was going to factor into another wide open first down throw. The Rams came to the line of scrimmage with a tight bunch to the right, with Cooks solo-ed on Carrie down to the bottom of the screen again on the left.
This time the Browns were in a cover three look, with Carrie responsible for the outside third of the field. The Rams, again, ran a zone run/play action concept with max protection on a two man route, with Cooks working against Carrie.
Carrie was cognizant of Cooks speed and when Cooks started his route a 100 miles an hour up the field, Carrie HAD to turn and run to stay on top, as required in cover three.
So, Cooks knew he had Carrie because the Browns defender was on a dead sprint up the field to protect deep. Unfortunately for Carrie, Cooks planned to break his route to the outside on a deep out route. Cooks gave a quick glance to see where Carrie was when he started to make his break. The Browns corner was still flying upfield as Cooks broke down, so Cooks buzzed his feet, stayed under control and turned his route to the outside...wide open, again.
When Cooks turned to the sideline, Goff delivered the ball on time for a seemingly easy first down.
Now, I mentioned the word easy, but it was only that way because Carrie had to respect Cooks' deep speed. Cooks came off the snap at full speed, got Carrie to respect the deep route and then, without slowing down, broke off his route with Carrie still flying upfield. Thankfully, Cooks doesn't have to terrorize any of us again; he can just delight all of us, showing off that speed for the good guys in the near future.