We finally had the Jared Cook game. Against the Panthers on Sunday, we might have been witness to the coming out party for the still nouveau Saints tight end who caught 6 balls for 99 yards off 7 targets including a sneaky double move touchdown.
Cook’s early days as a Saint hadn’t been as earth shattering as I thought it could have been when the team signed the free agent tight end in the offseason. The first 3 games produced only 12 targets and 5 catches for the large bodied receiver, but since Drew Brees’ return to action the duo have hooked up for 14 catches and 2 touchdowns in the 3 games they’ve played together.
Cook and Brees produced a nice looking route chart against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon.
You’ll quickly notice how many routes were run starting from the left side of the field. I’m not smart enough to figure out why Sean Payton deployed him in that area of the field but the interesting thing is how many of those routes worked Cook to the inside parts of the field. The Saints want to utilize the tight end wide caboose to shield off defenders and allow the quarterback a bigger catch radius to throw the ball into. We can see how that works on this seam completion (that was called back due to a bogus penalty):
The Saints are running one of their staple 4 verts concepts with double seam routes and Michael Thomas on a shallow cross. The Panthers are trying to disguise what coverage they’re in but end up in Cover 1 (man coverage). The read for Brees starts with either Tre’Quan Smith or Cook on the 2 seam routes. Smith runs the deep crossing pattern and when the Panthers free safety, Tre Boston, is late to rotate over the middle of the field, he’s sitting over Smith when Brees hitches in the pocket.
Now, Brees knows he can move his eyes to Cook’s seam. It’s a great route by Cook to widen his defender to give himself more space between the numbers and the hash marks. The Panthers defender can’t handle being bodied by Cook and falls making it an easy catch for the tight end.
Cook ran another straight seam, this time in the redzone, that was broken up by Eric Reid:
It’s the same read for Brees who sees Boston stay to the top side of the screen long enough to find Cook on the weakside. Cook makes a quick stick step to the outside to get Reid to widen before breaking back inside. He’s open but Brees puts the ball a little behind and Reid gets his hand on the ball.
Speaking of Reid, the Saints attacked the former LSU safety throughout the whole game. Cook’s one targeted route from the right side of the formation was on a slick out and up against Reid.
Again, the Panthers play man coverage with Boston in the middle of the field. Brees wants to go Cook but he knows if he just stares at the tight end the whole route, Boston will come over top and make a play. You can see Brees, right away, eyeing Michael Thomas on the left side to keep Boston in the middle of field before coming back and throwing the touchdown to Cook. Reid doesn’t bite too much on the out portion of the double move but then loses Cook when he tries to look back for the ball.
On another deep completion over the middle of the field, Cook was able to again use his body to shield Reid and make a nice catch.
The Saints have tried this concept since the beginning of the year without much success but they finally hit a big play to Cook. The Panthers are in Cover 2 and once linebacker, Luke Kuechly, stays shallow and lets Cook run by him, the Saints tight end will always be inside of the half field safety, Reid. This gives Brees has a huge window to put the ball near Cook. Reid is never going to make a play around Cook’s wide load. The Saints weren’t trying to get Cook matched up on Reid here but they get it anyways.
It had been quite some time since the Saints had a tight end as dynamic as Cook. He’s a guy who can still run and has such a large catch radius that allows Brees to be wrong with his accuracy once in a while. The Saints have never really tried to work Michael Thomas in the seam, a place Drew loves to target which meant a lesser receiving option would run those routes. Now, with Cook you have a premiere player hitting those spots on the field. If the Brees-Cook connection continues, the Saints could have struck gold by adding Cook in the summer.