Brandin Cooks has turned a corner in recent weeks.
In his first month or so with the New England Patriots, Cooks clearly struggled to earn the trust of Tom Brady. He was targeted only 24 times in four games for 13 catches, well below his averages with the New Orleans Saints. But a big catch against the Houston Texans combined with an injury to Rob Gronkowski forced Brady to throw it more to Cooks, and the results have been promising.
In his last two games, he has caught 11 passes for 178 yards, and his catch rate is back up 64.7 percent. Those numbers are much more in line with the player we saw in New Orleans, but perhaps no play was a better example of the developing rapport between Brady and Cooks than one that he didn't make.
Early in the first half, Cooks dropped a relatively easy pass on a curl route. Dropping passes is a common ticket out of New England, second only to fumbling on the list of tendencies that bother Bill Belichick. Lesser receivers would have been pushed out of the game plan after a drop like that, and after Chris Hogan ran a go route that logically should have belonged to Cooks later in the series, it seemed as though that might happen.
But Cooks fought back to make play after play, and he did it on a far more diverse route tree than fans expected. After averaging 25.6 yards per reception in his first three games with the Patriots, Cooks is down to a more sustainable 15.4 in his last three. While seeing any number trend down so much could be a red flag, this one actually indicates something extremely important.
Cooks is integrating into the offense.
Early in the season, before Cooks really understood the playbook, the Patriots could still extract value out of him solely by passing it to him deep. Go routes require no intricate knowledge of a system, so as a way to keep Cooks involved early on, the Patriots chucked it to him deep.
But now, he is beginning to grasp the entire system. He is running more routes and playing a part in any design Josh McDaniels can concoct. As he continues to grow more and more comfortable, he'll become a complete receiver for the Patriots: someone capable of making those big plays over the top while also running shorter routes that require more faith on Brady's part.
Cooks hasn't looked like Randy Moss-lite some Patriots fans expected, but that's ok. He is slowly ingratiating himself to Brady, and that means contributing on every type of play, not just the big ones. It took him a few weeks to get the hang of it, but now, Cooks seems to understand his role in the system far more than he did even a month ago.
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