METAIRIE, La. -- Brandin Cooks has become a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive coordinators.
But the dynamic New Orleans Saints receiver apparently creates some challenges for his own offensive coaches as well.
Cooks said Monday that he really liked the Saints’ game plan in Sunday’s 41-38 victory over the Carolina Panthers, in which he caught seven passes for a career-high 173 yards and an 87-yard touchdown.
In his two previous games, Cooks had a total of five catches for 44 yards -- and he said Monday that “one of the things I feel like in those two games … I probably just wasn’t being used right, in my opinion.
“But with that being said, we fixed those things, we kind of watched film and just got it fixed,” Cooks said. “I just want to win, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Cooks said he didn’t necessarily bring up his concerns to the Saints’ coaches, but he noticed a change in the game plan last week.
“You know, the coaches watch film too,” Cooks said. “They’re trying to do their best to put players in the right position to succeed.”
To be fair, Cooks often was shadowed by two of the NFL's top young cornerbacks -- the Atlanta Falcons’ Desmond Trufant and the San Diego Chargers’ Jason Verrett -- in those two quiet games. Cooks also received extra attention from deep safeties.
But because of Cooks’ blazing speed (a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine), there is probably a temptation for the Saints to use the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder on deep routes most of the time, even if he is just clearing out No. 1 cornerbacks and safeties.
Cooks, a first-round draft pick in 2014, repeated Monday what he has stressed many times -- that he doesn’t want to get pigeonholed as “a guy that’s just considered a deep-ball threat and that’s it.”
“I feel like I have other weapons in my game to be able to set that deep ball up, whether it’s underneath routes, so that if defenders want to play off, we pick them apart underneath and be able to take those balls and go the distance,” Cooks said. “And that’s where YAC (yards after catch) comes into play. So that’s what I stress to Coach, and I think he does a great job of figuring that out, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Make no mistake -- Cooks definitely is a deep threat. He has now caught the two longest passes of the season in the entire NFL (a 98-yard TD in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders and the 87-yarder Sunday).
Last year, Cooks caught TD passes of 71, 60, 54, 38 and 26 yards over the Saints’ final nine games.
As Drew Brees said Sunday, “Listen, if you can hit Cooks in stride, then I don’t think there’s anybody that’s gonna catch him, except Usain Bolt.”
But Cooks knows a little something about being able to do it all and not just catch deep balls. In his final season at Oregon State, Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver by catching 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Cooks also got off to a relatively slow start last year before busting loose over those final nine games to finish with 84 catches for 1,138 yards and nine TDs. This offseason he called last year’s performance just “OK” and said he “left a lot of meat out there on the bone.”
Sunday’s game against the Panthers helped prove him right. Cooks also caught a 49-yarder Sunday. And somehow Brees actually overthrew him when Cooks was breaking open deep two other times (once for an interception).
The Panthers’ struggling secondary certainly helped. So did the fact that New Orleans’ offense now has a full arsenal of options.
Rookie receiver Michael Thomas has quickly emerged this year and actually leads the Saints with 26 catches (one more than Cooks). Fellow third-year man Willie Snead has recovered from a toe injury that briefly interrupted his great start to the season. And tight end Josh Hill returned from an ankle injury Sunday to team up with tight end Coby Fleener. Hill and Fleener each caught a TD pass.
Cooks and coach Sean Payton said it helps the Saints’ offense to be able to use two-tight end sets to create different looks from defenses.
Brees completed passes to 10 different receivers while throwing for 465 yards and four TDs against Carolina.
“For us to be able to (spread it around like that) is great for everyone because defenses can’t key on one guy,” Cooks said. “The more guys make plays, the more we’re all able to. … That’s the beauty of it.”