FRISCO, Texas — Amari Cooper is aware of the discrepancy.
The Dallas Cowboys receiver knows he’s averaging more than 3.5 times as many receiving yards in home games as he is on the road this season.
Ask him about it, and he’ll break down the reason by game and statistical category.
“I feel like if the targets were the same, the production would be similar,” Cooper told USA TODAY Sports this week. “There’s just always extenuating circumstances. I feel like if I was 100% the whole season — which would never happen — the game plan would be getting the ball early, often.”
Cooper offers explanations not as an excuse or to assuage himself. He is not concerned. Sure, he wants his 35.5 yards per road game production to more closely match the 126.3 yards he’s averaging at home. His 12.63 yards per target at home nearly doubles his 6.66 away.
But Cooper also understands he’s been targeted on average 10 times per game at home and just 5.3 on the road. So he’s not surprised his production varies, nor that five of his seven touchdowns have been in AT&T Stadium’s end zones.
Ahead of a Thursday game in Chicago, quarterback Dak Prescott wants to narrow the gap.
“Even that out for sure,” Prescott said Monday. “I didn’t know that (difference). It’s about going on the road and getting it done. … We’re going to need that going forward, shouldn’t matter if we’re on the road or at home, as we get deep into this thing.”
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‘I don’t go to coaches and say I want X amount of targets’
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says there’s “not necessarily” a clear reason why Cooper’s production has varied so drastically. Garrett added: “It’s probably a combination of factors.”
When he was held without a catch in Dallas’ 13-9 loss to the Patriots, all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s coverage was textbook. But neither team produced much by air on a cold, windy and rainy day.
During a 35-27 win in Detroit, Cooper caught three of eight targets for 38 yards. But fellow receivers Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb posted 148 and 115 yards, respectively. Cooper understood drawing coverage from a Pro Bowl corner like Darius Slay while his teammates went off was valuable to the team.
“The reason I don’t go to the coaches and say, ‘I want X amount of targets on the road’ is I truly feel like we have so many play makers on your offense that I don’t need 10 targets,” Cooper said. “MG can get the job done. Cobb can get the job done. Dak can get it done with his legs. Zeke (Elliott) is back there.”
Cooper also has battled injuries to his quad, knee, ankle and heel since training camp. In Detroit, Cooper was limited to 56.2% of offensive snaps in part due to injury. In the 24-22 loss to the Jets, Cooper’s quad ailment sidelined him after just three snaps.
The injuries raise questions beyond his physical availability. Throughout the season, Cooper has regularly been limited in or unable to practice during the week. When that happens, Cooper says, Prescott and coordinator Kellen Moore wonder how wise it is to feature him in a game plan. Cooper, an intentional thinker and speaker, won’t tell Prescott he’s functionally healthy if he’s not sure. And often, Cooper doesn’t know himself by kickoff.
“I’m not the type of person who, if Dak asks me how I feeling, I’ll just say, ‘I’m good,’” Cooper said. “I don’t want him to have that belief of, ‘He’s great—I’ll get it to him,’ if I’m not really great. So sometimes I can’t even say I’m good because I can’t factor in how much my adrenaline will make me feel better.”
The determining factor then often comes on Cooper’s first target, he said. Sometimes, he’s not even Prescott’s first read. But when he’s the best option in the progression and makes a play, then he and Prescott know: Cooper is in the game.
“It’s crazy,” Cooper said of playing through pain. “I got to do some research on that adrenaline.”
Cooper’s outlook vs. the Bears
Ahead of Thursday night’s Cowboys-Bears matchup, Cooper remained on the injury report for his knee but participated fully in practice all week. That surprised him, given his season track record and a bad landing on a somersault catch in last week’s Bills loss. The “shocking pain” was so intense, Cooper couldn’t get up at first. But “it’s healed better than I thought it would,” he said.
So he believes he can contribute as Dallas faces a top-10 passing defense for the third straight week.
The Bears have allowed just 6.13 yards per pass play (fourth best) and 222.2 passing yards per game (ninth). Their defense ranks seventh overall and on third down, allowing a 34.59% conversion rate.
The Cowboys offense stacks up favorably, leading the league with 432.8 offensive yards per game and 305.2 by air. Dallas’ 8.17 yards per pass play ranks best in the league. So, too, does its 48.98% success rate on third down.
All bode well for the Cowboys’ bid to maintain their lead atop the NFC East. So does Cooper’s health, better than it’s been most of the season. And the forecast, albeit windchills in the 20s and 11 mph winds, does not predict pass game-wrecking rain. Now, Cooper will wait to see how often he’s targeted.
“The more opportunities you have in any setting, situation, you’re going to be better off,” Cooper said. “It’s just like basketball: You shoot the ball more, you’re going to have more points. If you only have two shots, then you only score four points.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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