Foles: 'I believe in Riley'
Riley Cooper leads the NFL with five touchdown catches of 40-plus yards this season. (USA Today Images)
It’s not just one week. It’s not just a few weeks. Riley Cooper has done it for five straight weeks now, and with each game and each long touchdown and each big-time receiving performance, the fourth-year wide receiver looks more and more like the real thing.
Who would have thought?
It took a while for him to get going, but since the mid-point of his fourth NFL season, Cooper has been producing in a big way for the Eagles, who lost No. 2 wide out Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL the first week of training camp.
And with two viable outside receiving threats instead of just DeSean Jackson, the whole operation just works better.
“It’s helped, honestly,” Jackson said. “Because defensive guys aren’t able to just key in on me and [LeSean] McCoy. He’s doing a good job of taking his plays and making the best of his opportunities and not just making big plays but scoring touchdowns as well, so that’s a good addition to have.”
Jackson is enjoying by far his best year ever, with 54 catches for 903 yards and seven touchdowns through 10 games.
He’s third in the NFL in receiving yards, behind A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson, on pace for career bests of 86 receptions, 1,444 yards, 11 touchdowns and almost certainly his first Pro Bowl since 2010.
But Cooper has been the biggest surprise on the roster and honestly one of the biggest surprises so far in the NFL.
First five games: 8 catches for 83 yards, one touchdown.
Last five games: 20 catches for 472, six touchdowns.
Cooper has already surpassed career highs in every major category and despite the slow start -- no starting receiver in the NFL had fewer catches or yards after five games -- he’s on pace for 44 catches, 888 yards and 11 TDs.
Which is right in range of Maclin’s career averages of 64 catches, 863 yards and 6½ TDs.
“I’m playing the same football I’ve played the last few years, Cooper said. “Nothing’s changed at all. I’ve just been playing football. I haven’t done anything different. I’m just playing hard.”
But the production is certainly different.
On Sunday, Cooper caught two more long touchdown passes from Nick Foles, both during the Eagles’ 17-point third quarter, and finished with 103 yards -- his third career 100-yard game, second in a row and third in five weeks.
Cooper reeled in a 45-yarder that looked underthrown but wasn’t, according to Foles, and a 32-yarder where no defender was within 10 yards.
The most interesting and most impressive thing about Cooper’s breakout 2013 season is that he’s become one of the top big-play receivers in the NFL.
Cooper had a 47-yard touchdown and 44-yard catch in Tampa, catches of 63 yards for a touchdown and 42 yards in Oakland and then the 45-yard touchdown Sunday in Green Bay.
Nobody in the NFL this year has more touchdown catches of 40-plus yards than Cooper.
Overall, Cooper has five receptions of at least 40 yards this year, third-most in the NFL. His 19.8 yards-per-catch is second-highest in the league among receivers with 12 or more catches, and his seven TDs tie him for eighth in the NFL.
All this from somebody who averaged 15 catches, 226 yards and 1½ touchdowns in his first three seasons.
Cooper caught one pass of 40 yards or more in his first 45 NFL games. He has five in his last five.
Over the past five weeks, Cooper ranks fourth in the NFL with 462 receiving yards.
He’s the first Eagle with five touchdown catches in a two-week span since Ben Hawkins did it against the Browns (one) and Steelers (four) the first two weeks in 1969.
Obviously, Cooper’s production was virtually non-existent with Michael Vick at quarterback, and off the charts with Foles.
It sure looks like Cooper and Foles have a certain chemistry, a certain connection, that Cooper and Vick didn’t have.
“[Foles] has it with all of us,” Cooper said. “He trusts his wide receivers. He’s going to throw it up and trust us to go get it.
“It all starts with the quarterback play, and he’s playing lights out right now.”
Whatever the reason, whatever the explanation, Cooper and Foles, who both began the season as backups with 16 combined career NFL starts, are now connecting on record pace.
“He’s showing you what he’s always been,” Foles said. “I believe in Riley, and he’s getting an opportunity. Just so happens that when I’m reading out plays that he’s getting open and he’s making plays.
“He’s a big physical receiver, and I love the fact that he’s a receiver that does a great job blocking. He’s a great team player, and he’s doing a great job.”