Riley Cooper was targeted just once in the Eagles' Week 5 win over the Giants. (USA Today Images)
Riley Cooper pretended not to notice. Then he said it was no big deal.
Against the Giants on Sunday, the wide receiver’s playing time and targets dipped. In the first four games, Cooper was on the field for 93 percent of the team’s offensive snaps while averaging 4 1/2 targets and two catches. Versus New York, he played 75 percent of the snaps. He was targeted once. He had no catches.
It has not been a great season for Cooper, who has eight receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. When pressed about his play, Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have regularly defended Cooper’s performance and noted what a good blocker he is on the outside.
But while Kelly and Shurmur have publicly supported Cooper, they’ve also increased Jeff Maehl’s playing time. Maehl got two offensive snaps against Washington and three each against San Diego and Kansas City. His reps jumped to 12 against Denver and 20 against New York. That’s not a ton, but it does represent a significant uptick for Maehl, who was on the field for just shy of 25 percent of the offensive snaps against the Giants. (Damaris Johnson is still used primarily on special teams; he had three offensive snaps against the Giants.)
If Maehl sees more of the field, that means someone else has to see less. On Sunday, that someone was Cooper. While he stood in front of his locker at the NovaCare Complex this week, the receiver was asked about his snaps dropping by 18 percent against New York.
“I never thought I came out,” Cooper replied. “I don’t know.”
Then Cooper asked reporters how many targets he had. One, he was told.
“Really?” Cooper asked.
Really. Those are the NFL’s official numbers.
“Huh,” Cooper said. “Well, then they’re accurate.”
To what does Cooper attribute the decreased playing time and targets?
“I don’t know,” Cooper said. “I guess that’s just the way the game went.”
So the reps and targets weren’t frustrating?
“No,” Cooper said. “No it’s not frustrating. No.”
Earlier the same day, Shurmur discussed why Maehl’s offensive reps have increased over the last two weeks. The offensive coordinator said Maehl is now “more familiar” with the Eagles’ scheme which “makes him be able to go in there and execute faster.” As a result, Shurmur predicted that Maehl will get “a couple more reps each week and we’ll continue to use him.” If that’s the case and Maehl will see more playing time, whose reps will decrease?
“[Reps] come away from all of [the receivers],” Kelly said. “It just depends where we’re using him and how much Jeff continues to grasp of what we’re doing. The thing about Jeff, there is versatility to him. He’s not just an outside receiver. He’s an outside receiver, he’s an inside receiver, and he’s a good special teams player. That’s why we picked him up.”
About that first part: When quizzed in the past about phasing in other receivers, Kelly repeatedly maintained there are only so many reps to go around. He said he wouldn’t take snaps away from DeSean Jackson, which makes sense given how dynamic Jackson is and the excellent season he’s had. And so far, Jason Avant has held steady at right around 80 percent of the offensive reps for each game. If the Eagles really do want to add snaps for Maehl, that leaves one other receiver from whom they can subtract playing time.