The Saints made a “splash” in free agency when they signed tight end Jared Cook this offseason. The team has lacked a true difference maker at the position since Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle, and needed a receiving threat other than Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
Cook had a career year last season playing in John Gruden’s west coast offense in Oakland, and was supposed to make a seamless transition into the one Sean Payton runs here. But so far, the results on the stat sheet hasn’t been encouraging.
Four receptions for 62 yards and no touchdowns on ten targets is not inspiring to say the least. A closer look at the film and more advanced statistics may help provide some clarity.
According to RotoWorld’s Player Profile, Cook is currently seeing a 14.1% target share, or in other words 14.1% of all passes thrown by the Saints this season were in his direction. For comparison Alvin Kamara currently sees 15.5% of targets, Ted Ginn Jr. is at 17.9%, and it should be no surprise that Michael Thomas leads the team and NFL with a 36.6% target share.
While Cook may not be seeing the ball as much as we were expecting, he saw a significant increase from week one (3 targets) to week two (7 targets). One reason for that was how Cook was used against the Texans in week one.
On multiple occasions, Cook was tasked with staying in to block or chipping the edge defender before releasing, mostly to the flat where he wasn’t Brees’s first read.
The Texans also did a good job of defending him, preventing free releases in the red zone and guarding the seams, which is where Graham did much of his damage.
However, game two was a different story. His total number of targets jumped, but he was only able to haul in three of his seven targets, with one drop ending up being intercepted due to a big hit.
Not all of his targets were catchable though. Looking back at the Player Profile site, of Cook’s ten targets this season only seven were deemed catchable. That equates to a 57.1% “true catch rate”, which while better than the stat sheet’s 40%, is still not what was expected.
Two plays come to mind that could have gone for big gains had Cook come down with the reception.
The first play the Saints will call double seam routes for Cook and Keith Kirkwood. The Texans are in man coverage with linebacker Zach Cunningham defending Cook. Brees knows he has the mismatch he wants before the snap, and will throw the ball as he hits the top of his drop. Cook does his job with a nice route that includes a pressure-step to make the linebacker think he is breaking outside. Unfortunately, Brees overthrows the ball and brings up a third down.
The next play the Saints will call one of their go to plays and again try to get a big gain attacking the seam.
On a second and six the team calls its four verticals concept that includes four receivers running four go routes. Cook will line up to the boundary in the near slot (bottom of screen, above 50 yd marker), and is open almost immediately. The linebacker (#52) runs to cover the flat, and the hook defender (#54) moves towards Thomas’s curl route, opening up the seam. Brees will pump fake in Kamara’s direction, causing the safety (#43) on that side to hesitate and give Cook even more space.
Once again, the play doesn’t go as planned. The free safety (#32) is able to knock the ball lose and it ends up being intercepted.
The team should continue to attack this area of the field with Cook. With Brees out he should see a larger role in the quick passing game. Here he can use his large frame to help create more separation and a larger window for Bridgewater. Such as below, where Cook will run a quick out route.
The Seahawks have given up two touchdowns to tight ends this season and 131 yards, which is tied for first and sixth worst in the league, respectively.
With Bridgewater more than likely starting, or at the very least seeing most of the snaps at quarterback, Cook could be poised to have his breakout in this game.