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Cooper’s lackluster play draws scrutiny

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, at 9:39 p.m.

— Marcus Cooper stood in front of the microphone and the cameras Sunday evening, patiently answering probing questions about his play after the Chiefs’ secondary had been torched by Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in a 35-28 loss.

It would have been hard to blame Cooper if he didn’t want to talk. He played a part in allowing Denver receiver Eric Decker’s record four-touchdown day — the fourth week in a row teams have successfully targeted Cooper.

But Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound rookie, decided to face the music. Manning repeatedly shredded the Chiefs’ entire secondary, but according to Pro Football Focus, Cooper was targeted a team-high 11 times and allowed seven completions for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

“As a corner, (if) you give up two plays or three plays, that’s a terrible day for you,” Cooper said. “It’s just magnified because of what we do out there. We’re the last line of defense.”

Adding insult to injury was the fact Cooper allowed what turned out to be the game-winning score, a picture-perfect 3-yard fade pass from Manning to Decker, who finished with eight catches for 174 yards and four scores, a Chiefs’ single-game record.

“I really just give Decker more of the credit as opposed to saying we were going after one particular guy,” Manning said.

While it’s unclear whether Cooper was expecting safety help on some of those plays, the game continued a disturbing trend in which teams are targeting him.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cooper has been targeted 41 times in the last four games, 10 more than Brandon Flowers, the next closest Chiefs defensive back. During that stretch, quarterbacks have completed roughly 56 percent of the passes thrown at Cooper, which is about average among cornerbacks.

But Cooper also has allowed 23.9 yards per catch in that span, a stark contrast to his first five games, in which he emerged as a darkhorse defensive rookie of the year candidate.

“I feel like my press technique has been a little schemed up,” Cooper said. “You know, it’s a long season, people get lots of tape on you, stuff like that. You just have to change up what you do a little bit here and there just to give the opposite guys a different look.”

Specifically, teams have been attacking Cooper with more crossing patterns and vertical routes in recent weeks. On Sunday, the Chiefs focused on shutting down the short routes that had plagued them recently. But, as a result, they gave up the deep ball.

“Peyton’s one of the best to ever do it,” Cooper said. “You can’t be shellshocked or anything like that.”

Several teammates and coaches said Cooper doesn’t lack confidence.

“Like I always tell Coop, I say ‘Look, you’re not getting nervous, are you?’” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “I don’t sense that from him.”

That’s one of the things Chiefs coach Andy Reid says he likes about Cooper, a seventh-round pick the Chiefs picked up from the 49ers at the 53-man roster deadline a week before the season.

“Coop is gonna keep battling,” Reid said. “You gotta have a short memory. You gotta learn from whatever mistake was made, and then you get right back on the horse and challenge him again.”

For all the big plays Cooper has allowed recently, he still managed to pick off Manning once Sunday.

“In my opinion, he actually played a good game,” safety Eric Berry said of Cooper. “It was just a few plays here and there. Any other quarterback, he probably would have picked some of those off. (Manning) had some things that beat coverages.”

Much of this showed during Cooper’s sensational start, when he allowed only eight of 24 passes thrown his way to be completed and also had two interceptions and five pass deflections. But while the Chiefs appear content to let Cooper fight through his growing pains, he could be replaced by a veteran such as Dunta Robinson.

“We’ll see,” Reid said Monday when asked if Robinson could see more time as the third cornerback. “We’ll just see how things go. Bob will go through all of that.”

Injury update for Chiefs — Chiefs coach Andy Reid did not sound optimistic that he'll have leading pass rusher Justin Houston back for next Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.

Houston dislocated his right elbow two weeks ago against San Diego and missed Sunday’s 35-28 loss to Denver, a game in which the Chiefs failed to sack quarterback Peyton Manning.

Reid said Monday it would be “quite a feat” if Houston could play in Washington. Left tackle Branden Albert hyperextended his left knee against the Broncos, while tight end Anthony Fasano sustained a concussion. Reid did not say with any certainty whether either of them will be available on Sunday.

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