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Cooley cools off
Ideally, it should be simple for Chris Cooley. Clinton Portis runs for 100 yards, and Santana Moss catches a couple of deep passes, leaving the middle of the field wide open for the Washington Redskins' second-year H-back.
It's a great idea, to be sure, but a little harder to execute, especially when Portis has two bad shoulders and Moss is limited to 18 yards receiving, as was the case Saturday in the Redskins' 17-10 playoff win at Tampa Bay.
"I'd like to catch 10 passes underneath every game, but the opportunities aren't always there," Cooley said.
That has been true the last two weeks for Cooley. Approaching Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle, Cooley has only four catches for 20 yards over the last two games.
The Redskins' 120 yards of offense against Tampa Bay was the fewest for a winning playoff team in league history. The Redskins had only 25 net passing yards.
"As far as winning games, yeah, we're on a roll," Cooley said. "Putting up yards, we're definitely at a standstill. But we're winning games. ... Get back to the drawing board and the practice field is what we need to do."
During the first four games of the Redskins' six-game winning streak, Cooley had 20 catches and five touchdowns. The last two games have been his least productive back-to-back contests of the year.
"I'm seeing a ton of man coverage," he said. "I have a lot in the last three weeks, a lot more than I ever have, for sure."
Cooley finished the regular season second on the Redskins in catches (71) and yards (774) and tied for second with seven touchdowns.
But with the search for a complementary receiver to Moss proving fruitless, it has fallen to Cooley to be more than just an H-back-type playmaker. Defenses have adjusted accordingly. Two weeks ago, Philadelphia double-teamed Cooley off the line of scrimmage. Last week the Bucs used a variety of coverages to spy him.
"They're definitely more aware of who they have to stop in our offense," tight ends coach Rennie Simmons said. "They're rolling coverages and putting men at the line of scrimmage to keep him from getting off. When they blitz, they have an end grab him and slow him from getting off the line."
Earlier, Cooley had 13 catches against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay combined. That was followed by games of five and three receptions against Oakland and San Diego, respectively. He said he was facing double teams for the first time in his career, college included.
Though teams aren't doubling him with regularity, Cooley's learning curve has reached a new level.
"He's experienced a lot of things for the first time around here, and the ability of the people you're going against is different," Simmons said. "He was able to use his quickness and size to his advantage in college. Now he's going against similar-type people, so he's had to really work at it."
Simmons points to the running game as the key for finding open space for Cooley. The Redskins managed only 95 yards on 31 runs against the Bucs.
"Hopefully, if we can run the football, everything opens up," Simmons said. "When we struggle to run the ball, we seem to struggle everywhere."
Simmons points to the running game, and left tackle Chris Samuels points to himself and the other offensive linemen. The Redskins have allowed only five sacks in the last three games, but quarterback Mark Brunell has been hurried several times.
"I think we've got to do a better job protecting the quarterback," Samuels said. "That's No. 1. We have to give him time to throw the ball to guys downfield."
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