- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The New York Giants rushed four defenders — a more than manageable situation for a five-man offensive line.

The Washington Redskins faced second-and-10 and third-and-10 situations and trailed by a touchdown — an ideal time to send out their second-best threat in the passing game on a pattern.

Instead, tight end Chris Cooley was in pass protection … with no help from a lineman against future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.

Strahan beat Cooley on two straight plays, the Redskins were forced to punt and although they reached the 1-yard line on their next possession, they lost to the Giants 24-17.

The point isn’t Cooley’s pass protection skills, which are adequate.

At issue is that he wasn’t one of Jason Campbell’s options on two passing situations.

Through three games, Cooley has two touchdowns but only six receptions for 54 yards, subpar numbers considering the expectations he had entering the season. Fans who chatted online about him averaging six receptions a game weren’t alone.

“So were we,” Cooley said after practice Monday. “Honestly, I don’t have an answer for why it hasn’t happened. … It’s frustrating, especially in a game where you see [Jeremy] Shockey make a bunch of big catches on third down, and I know I could do that. But at the same time, you say, ‘Maybe we would have had issues even getting the ball downfield.’ ”

Cooley has been targeted (unofficially) on 12 of Campbell’s 84 pass attempts. With receiver Santana Moss’ availability for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions in question because of a groin injury, getting Cooley untracked should be Priority A against a Lions pass defense that ranks 30th in the NFL. Then again, the Giants entered their game with the Redskins ranked last against the pass but kept Cooley in check.

“It’s only three games, and I would think that Chris Cooley, by the end off the year, will have the kind of numbers that everybody will be really excited about,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said.

The tumult along the Redskins’ offensive line has played a factor in Cooley’s lack of opportunities. Left tackle Chris Samuels missed all of the preseason, so he got help on a few plays against Miami, and Cooley is now assisting the new right side — tackle Todd Wade and guard Jason Fabini — in pass protection.

Against the Giants, Cooley played all 63 snaps. Not counting two spikes by Campbell, Cooley was a receiver 28 times, a run blocker 23 times and a pass protector 10 times.

All but one of his pass-blocking assignments came on the right side. He helped Wade double-team Strahan and also went against Strahan 1-on-1 four times, a puzzling predicament considering the Giants didn’t blitz on any of the plays.

“There will be teams that will require five- and six-man protections and he’ll be released [downfield],” Saunders said.

Ideally, that would be the case if Wade and Fabini prove they can handle the right side of the line and would require only occasional help from a running back or tight end.

But if playing the Redskins, why wouldn’t a team at least disguise rushing more defenders to take away a weapon? If Cooley senses pressure during a presnap read, he has to stay in and block. When it’s a fake and the team drops into coverage, Cooley runs a pattern, but he gets a late start and has no chance of getting downfield.

It’s not like Saunders isn’t trying to create matchups for Cooley to exploit. In the Giants game, he lined up at six different spots — tight end, receiver and slot receiver on both sides of the field. His most common position was right tight end (30 times). He lined up as a slot receiver on 22 plays.

The Redskins’ goal is to get Cooley against a linebacker and work the deep middle area of the field. Campbell’s passes intended for Cooley have traveled an average of 12.6 yards. Cooley has gained 22 yards after the catch.

“We tried to get him the ball quite a bit,” Saunders said. “The defense dictates who gets the ball and where it’s thrown. We’re throwing the ball [28] times a game, and it gets spread around.”

Now would be a good time for the Redskins’ offense to do some of the dictating. If Wade requires help, use Todd Yoder, freeing up to Cooley to become a bigger threat in the passing game, especially if Moss misses time.

“I expected to have more than six catches in each of the first three games,” Cooley said. “It hasn’t worked out that way.”

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