These Amari Cooper plays can help Dak Prescott, Cowboys soar

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer

There has been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth this week over the first-round pick the Dallas Cowboys gave up to get Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper on Monday.

But it’s important to remember a few things here. Cooper is only 24, so his prime is way out in front of him. He’ll also be motivated in a contract year in 2019, which also coincides with the year the Cowboys will be forced to make a decision on quarterback Dak Prescott, who currently does not have the necessary receiving weapons to be accurately judged.

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And finally, the Cowboys (3-4) – only 1 1/2 games out of first in the NFC East — have a major need for a polished receiver with Cooper’s skills. That’s why the first topic on this week’s edition of Things I Enjoyed is:

1. Amari Cooper’s route-running

In the video at the top of this page, you can find highlights (shout-out to my video producer Brian Caruso) of Cooper’s ability to run post routes, slant routes and sluggo routes (slant-and-go routes) at a high level, a fact that is related to his upper-echelon route-running.

And considering the 2019 NFL draft is widely considered to be fairly weak at receiver, there’s a good chance Cooper will be better, immediately, than anyone the Cowboys could have drafted or signed as a free agent next year.

The Cowboys paid a hefty price, but hope to get big production out of Amari Cooper in the remaining nine regular-season games this year. (Getty Images)
The Cowboys paid a hefty price, but hope to get big production out of Amari Cooper in the remaining nine regular-season games this year. (Getty Images)

2. Mitchell Trubisky’s mobility

I’ve devoted plenty of words in recent weeks to Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and that’s because I can’t help but be intrigued by a player the Bears thought so much of that they surrendered draft capital to go up one spot and select him No. 2 overall in 2017, ahead of a proven college star (Deshaun Watson) and ridiculously talented gunslinger (Patrick Mahomes).

And when Trubisky got off to a slower start this year than Mahomes — completing nearly 70 percent of his passes while throwing only two touchdowns with three interceptions (compared to Mahomes’ 13-touchdown, zero-interception start) — some raced to call Trubisky a bust.

That was unfair. Trubisky is only 24, and he started only one year in college. He was always going to need a little time to acclimate to the pro game, and while he’s not Mahomes, he possesses good athleticism for the position and seemed to embrace using his legs as a weapon in recent weeks.

Since Week 4, Trubisky has rushed for an average of 60.3 yards per game, up from 21.3 through the first three weeks. This isn’t a statistical anomaly. His coach Matt Nagy spent the previous five years in Kansas City, where Alex Smith — a quarterback who reminds me of Trubisky — also embrace his legs as a weapon. This gave Smith a playmaking dimension, particularly in 2015, he lacked throughout his career. And while Trubisky has better arm talent than Smith, he’s still learning how to harness his passing tools, which means his ability to hurt teams with the run will help him move the chains as he gets up to speed.

Against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Trubisky rushed six times for 81 yards. Some of these were absolute beauties, too:

If Trubisky can keep this up — and continue to progress as a passer as he’s thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his past three games — there’s no reason why the Bears (3-3) should stop pushing for a playoff spot.

3. Aaron Donald’s get-off, technique and powerful hands

By now, you probably know about Aaron Donald’s greatness. The man is a future Hall of Famer.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate how good this guy is, and how ridiculously disruptive he is for an interior defensive lineman. His four-sack day against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was as impressive as anything you’ll see. And yes, this game gets bonus points on the watch-ability scale for being an absolutely awesome uniform game.

Watch the different techniques Donald uses to accumulate these sacks. This first one comes with Donald, (No. 99), using The Fastest Swim Move You’ve Ever Seen to blow past left guard Laken Tomlinson’s right shoulder, then bull rushing the hell out of center Weston Richburg for a vicious sack:

The second comes when Donald, aligned as a “4i” technique, uses his juice to loop around right tackle Mike McGlinchey, then bully him out of the way with his powerful hands:

The third comes when Donald, again in a “4i,” uses his juice off the snap to beat McGlinchey to the corner and his power to run through tight end Garrett Celek for the sack:

And finally, the fourth comes when Donald, again as a “4i,” loops inside and overpowers Richburg:

Appreciate this man’s greatness, folks.

4. Joe Flacco breaking out The Drew Bledsoe Honorary Floater

Listen, you might already know I’m a football dork. So when Joe Flacco, a statuesque, non-mobile quarterback finds a way to defeat the oncoming rush with a gorgeous, out-of-nowhere touch pass to the right side of the field that makes you gasp, I’m the kind of guy who remembers the day in 2002 when Drew Bledsoe completed a very similar throw:

Now for comparisons sake, here’s the Flacco toss from the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:

And guess what, folks … both passes went for 18 yards!

 5. Frank Ragnow’s super pancake

What if I told you the Detroit Lions have never had a first-team All-Pro guard in the Super Bowl era. Would you believe me? I’m sure you would because the Lions have either been bad or mediocre as long as many of you have been alive.

However, I’m here to tell you that the dearth of All-Pro interior blockers in Detroit finally has a chance to end. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year. But before Frank Ragnow, the Lions’ 2018 first-round pick retires, he’ll break that embarrassing streak.

Check out this disgusting block from Detroit’s 32-21 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, as Ragnow (No. 77) steamrolls a Dolphins defensive tackle on a down block:

Ragnow has his man 10 freaking yards downfield! That’s not supposed to happen in pro football. It was one of many highlights for an offensive line that paved the way for a 248-yard rushing day, the most the Lions have run for in a game since 1997. And for a franchise that has produced one 1,000-yard rusher since franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford arrived in 2009, the fact they now sit at 11th — 11th! — in rushing yards per game should be appreciated.

If Detroit continues at this pace, the Lions will have their highest team rushing ranking since 1998, when Barry Sanders carried them to a 10th overall ranking. If they do so, know that Ragnow — in addition to fellow rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who had 158 yards on Sunday — will be a big reason why.

THINGS I ENJOYED ARCHIVE
WEEK 6: Flying to the football, Steelers’ nasty blocking & Matt Nagy channeling Andy Reid
WEEK 5: A Tale of two Cams (Newton and Erving)
WEEK 4: The juice of Patriots RB Sony Michel and lineman who slowed down Von Miller
WEEK 3: Mahomes magic and Lane Johnson’s acting chops
WEEK 2: Dallas’ deep ball, and the ridiculousness of Mahomes and Saquon
WEEK 1: Andy Reid’s goal-line circus and more

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