Amari Cooper on the Browns Passing Game Being More ‘Explosive’; Key Player Returns, Another Does Not, More

The Cleveland Browns are 5-3, despite having one of the worst passing games in the NFL. A big part of the reason is due to the poor play, overall, at the quarterback position.

Deshaun Watson missed three full games and the majority of a fourth and the play during his absence was not very good–at best.

There has been very little ‘fireworks’ in the first eight games that Watson and other players on offense talked about before the season began.

Currently, the Browns are 29th in the NFL in passing yardage at just 184.1 yards per game. The Ravens have one of the stingiest passing defenses in the NFL, ranked second in giving up just 170.7 yards a game. 

A lot of the Browns passing game success will depend on Watson.

Watson has risen to 19th in the NFL in passer rating at 86.7 with six touchdowns and three interceptions after starting even lower. By contrast, this week’s opponent, Lamar Jackson is sixth in the NFL with a rating of 100.8. He has nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

From training camp, Kevin Stefanski and the players have talked about having an explosive offense and it has not been very explosive. Stefanski was asked about having few consistent big plays other than from Amari Cooper.

“Yeah, I mean, our pass game, we want to lean on,” Stefanski said. “Like you mentioned, Amari, Dave (Njoku), Elijah (Moore), I think those things come in bunches. (Cooper’s) doing a great job. He’s doing what he’s asked to do.

I think he’s a threat with the ball in his hands. So those are all things that will continue to grow over the course of the seasons.”

Cooper leads the team with 35 receptions for 617 yards (17.6 avg.) with two touchdowns.

He has clearly been the Browns threat at the wide receiver position as he is the only wide receiver with an average in double-digits.  Despite the Browns having just two touchdowns by wide receivers, Cooper has both of them. 

Despite the injuries to Watson and other key offensive players, Cooper thinks the passing game can still be explosive moving forward. 

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Cooper said before practice on Thursday. “I mean, we’re not really even halfway through our games yet, so it’s November, December football, a lot of things can and will change.

I think we’re starting to hit our stride. We’re honing in on the pass game. A lot of guys are up healthy, so I think so 100 percent.”

Cooper has been drawing a lot of attention by opposing defense, and rightly so, but he has found ways to still be productive. He was asked what the key is.

“Just by really paying attention to what those guys are trying to do,” he said. “Pay attention to what those guys are trying to do and just go out there and just execute.”

Besides Cooper, the Browns have to find ways to get the ball spread around and find a threat to complement Cooper.

With Donovan Peoples-Jones having been traded and Marquise Goodwin in concussion protocol, Elijah Moore would be the logical receiver to complement Cooper.

Cooper thinks with Watson working his way back into the offense, more receivers will get involved.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I mean obviously, that’s a huge thing when it comes to offense. Just spreading the ball around, getting everybody touches, confusing the defense.

I’m not giving them a point of reference of where the ball is going to consistently go. Just a great strategy overall for offenses for sure.”

Tight end David Njoku is the second-leading receiver on the team with 32 catches for 319 yards (10.0 avg.) and two touchdowns. Moore is third with 29 receptions for 270 yards (9.3 avg.) with no touchdowns.

The only other wide receivers with receptions are David Bell (4 receptions, 33 yards), Goodwin (3 receptions, 10 yards) and rookie Cedric Tillman (2 receptions, 8 yards).

Recently added punt returner, James Proche, could also get some snaps at wide receiver. Austin Watkins is on the practice squad. 

“I guess the biggest thing for me is just the way the game flows, you know,” Watson said. “For a more in-depth, detailed answer, I guess you have to ask Kevin. For me, it’s just really trying to find an open guy, depending on what the play call is in my reads and what the defense presents.”

The offense has had to evolve with key injuries to Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin and now left tackle Jedrick Wills.

Stefanski said the Browns offense has to do what’s necessary for each opponent, each week.  

“I think we’re always of the mindset of whatever it takes that week,” Stefanski said. “Obviously, like you mentioned, Deshaun hadn’t been in there for a little bit there now, getting him back, of course you start to alter things, but it’s really a week-to-week basis. What you feel like gives you the best matchup in that week.”

Newsome Back at Practice: CB Greg Newsome returned to practice on Thursday after missing last week’s game with the Cardinals and Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury. Newsome has 20 tackles with three passes broken up on the season. 

On Wednesday, Newsome said that he was hoping to practice this week and hoping to play, but it was up to the medical staff. The Browns have depth at the position and he is confident they will be ready to go.

Rookie Dawand Jones has been playing right tackle since Jack Conklin was lost for the season, but Jones could be tried at left tackle in place of Wills, who was placed on injured reserve this week with a sprained MCL.

Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said it is a challenge as to who will play where.

“Yeah, just really, Kev (Stefanski) said it best,” Van Pelt said on Thursday. “We’re just working through everything right now, all the different possibilities and obviously, let that go all the way up to game time to see who’s there.

But James has always worked hard. He’s played both sides, does a nice job when he gets in. But we have other options and we’ll see. We’ll let that go right up to game time.

With CB Cameron Mitchell going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Newsome’s return would be a big boost for the defense. 

“Like I said before, we got six, seven guys that can start on any roster in the league, and I said that with Cam (before he played,” Newsome said. “I said that from the beginning.

He’s a baller. He showed that last week and if I can’t go, obviously, Cam can’t go. We got more guys that are going to do the exact same thing.”

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