- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chris Cooley touched the football once Sunday during the Washington Redskins’ loss to the Carolina Panthers - when he dived to recover a Santana Moss fumble.

That was it.

Cooley went without a reception for the first time since the middle of his rookie year of 2004 - a span of 79 regular-season and playoff games. He wasn’t even the intended target of a Jason Campbell pass.

“We had several opportunities to get him the ball, but we couldn’t because of coverage or we couldn’t because of protection,” coach Jim Zorn said. “He’s always fresh on my mind. Sometimes the ball has to be dropped off, and sometimes it’s thrown to somebody else. He’s in the mix to catch the ball often.”

That Cooley wasn’t in the mix against the Panthers is a bad sign for a team that already has trouble going downfield and protecting Campbell. Now it has to play Kansas City on Sunday without its most important offensive player, left tackle Chris Samuels.

A byproduct of Samuels’ absence could be Cooley The Receiver becoming Cooley The Extra Offensive Tackle.

Zorn and his staff this week must devise a way to give left tackle Stephon Heyer and right tackle Mike Williams help in protection while keeping Cooley as Campbell’s chief security blanket in the passing game.

Veteran tight end Todd Yoder has been limited to special teams this year, but he should become an option as a blocker. And he knows it.

“It’s important for our offense to get Chris the ball, and we can split him out and feature him in areas to get him the rock,” Yoder said Monday.

Presented with this option an hour later, Zorn wasn’t as enthused.

“I don’t know if Yoder is the answer,” he said. “All three of those tight ends are capable.”

Cooley’s chief capability is being one of the NFL’s top receiving tight ends.

Contrary to the analysis from radio talk-show callers, he wasn’t strictly a pass blocker against the Panthers. Cooley was on the field for 30 of Campbell’s 31 drop-backs (penalties included).

The number of plays he spent in pass protection: eight. As a blocker before going out as a receiver: five. Strictly as a receiver: 17.

The prospect of not having Cooley solely as a receiving option on 45.1 percent of his drop-backs should leave Campbell quaking in his cleats - as should the prospect of not having Samuels protecting his blind side.

Heyer wasn’t distinguishing himself at right tackle, and now he will face the opposition’s premier pass rusher, particularly when NFC East games resume in two weeks against Philadelphia.

“[Losing Samuels] changed the whole dynamic of our offense and the things we wanted to do,” Campbell said. “It was a tough situation to lose [Samuels] early in the game. It hurt our play-action game, and it hurt us trying to go deep, and it hurt some of our run game.”

Let’s review No. 17’s analysis.

Play-action game: It’s essential to the offense because of the line and because some of the Redskins’ receivers (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas) are having trouble getting open.

Going deep: On one of his sacks, Campbell had 1.31 seconds after he completed his play-action fake before he was engulfed. That doesn’t help the vertical passing game. Without Samuels, only three of Campbell’s passes traveled farther than 17 yards. Moss was minimized.

The run game: The Redskins rushed for only 74 yards against Carolina. With Samuels, running back Clinton Portis could always count on some holes on the left side.

If Campbell has to throw off shorter drop-backs, it eliminates the deep ball and hurts a player like Cooley, who works across the field looking for an opening - the kind of longer developing play that Zorn was hesitant to call without Samuels in the game.

One example came on third-and-5 at the Washington 25 in the second half.

At the snap, Cooley chipped defensive end Everette Brown before starting on a shallow crossing route. But he was double-teamed by linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, who had dropped into coverage. Campbell was forced to throw to Fred Davis, who was tackled a yard short of gaining a first down.

Cooley caught 22 passes and was Campbell’s target 33 times in the season’s first four games. While it was foolhardy to expect that to continue, one of Zorn’s priorities should be creating situations in which Cooley is available for a quick pass created by winning a one-on-one matchup.

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