In Patriots scheme, Brandin Cooks is set to annihilate man coverage
In case you missed it, the Steelers have been working on their man-coverage concepts over the offseason--and the Patriots have been working on beating them. After being stymied by the Falcons' high-octane man schemes for most of Super Bowl LI, New England will have to improve against man coverage in order to repeat in 2017. New addition Brandin Cooks will be a key cog in that operation.
From a physical standpoint, the former New Orleans Saint is among the fastest wideouts in the league. Over his three-year career, he's displayed the ability to consistently beat cornerbacks with killer releases, and blow by them down the field. Against slower corners (like Oakland's Sean Smith last year), that combination was nearly unstoppable:
Majority of matchups are won/loss at the line of scrimmage...Watch the release from Cooks. Set up & go. pic.twitter.com/Z5jc6d8qgt
From Week 1, Cooks and Rob Gronkowski will pair up to create a formidable deep-threat duo. Against Cover-2 Man looks, Gronk can force the safeties to crash the middle of the field while Cooks blazes by on the outside. When facing the Falcons' preferred Cover-1 "Robber" scheme, where the two safeties are stacked vertically as opposed to horizontally, the math gets even better. Reliable targets like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will work the short game, forcing the "Robber" safety down into the box to take away intermediate crossing throws. That leaves a single free safety to deal with the Gronk/Cooks duo--an easy mismatch for the Patriots.
But Cooks' speed becomes an even bigger mismatch when he's not deployed on the outside. With the Pats working out of their trademark 3x1 "Dakota" alignment (three wide receivers on one side and a tight end on the other), Bill Belichick is free to line Cooks up off the line of scrimmage behind two other receivers and throw screens or run pick plays to him for easy yards. Turning it up a notch, the team could also deploy Cooks from the backfield, forcing a linebacker to account for him in a man-to-man look (Sean Payton used this concept with Cooks in the red zone, with fantastic results).
As polished as the Oregon State product is, his speed is his greatest asset by far. Against man coverage, that strength is only accentuated. With a master schemer like Belichick deploying Cooks on unprepared defenses, he'll be able to wreak complete havoc. The rest of the league better look out.