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Ask not what the Cowboys can do for Amari Cooper, but what Amari Cooper can do for the Cowboys

We don’t know how it happened so quickly but the pairing of Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott has been aces.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We’re channeling former President John F. Kennedy with the titling of this article, but it’s fitting when talking about the pairing of Amari Cooper and the Cowboys offense, especially Dak Prescott. This front office deserves credit for pulling the trigger on this trade, but even they may not have expected Cooper’s impact to be this immediate. You can’t vilify the Cowboys front office for the “receiver by committee” approach without praising them for fixing that problem. In a league where draft picks are gold, this trade will be dissected with every reception Cooper makes based on his first-round price tag.

Right now, his impact cannot be overstated. Cooper’s arrival has resurrected a pathetic passing attack and is a big reason why Dallas has the NFC’s sixth-best odds to earn a postseason berth. Cooper’s fingerprints are all over this team’s offensive revival and it starts with the quarterback. Nobody has benefited more from Cooper’s arrival than Dak Prescott:

It’s truly hard to fathom one player having this much of an impact on an entire unit but Cooper has been the juice this offense desperately needed. Dak Prescott hasn’t been perfect but he’s made substantial strides over the past few weeks. We see it in his passer rating, completion percentage, and many more areas. Prescott just had his best passing game of the season against Washington. When these two teams met a month earlier, Prescott had a 96.5 passer rating but it wasn’t his finest hour of football. Dak lost two fumbles, one of which was inside his own 10-yard line and it resulted in a defensive touchdown. Prescott still had a chance to win the game late but he was ultimately a big reason why the Cowboys lost.

On Thanksgiving, same opponent and Dak started shaky again by walking into at least two of the four sacks from the first half. As noted above, Dak’s fumble at his own goal line was a huge factor in the previous loss to Washington. He held the ball trying to find a receiver, and ultimately paid the price when nothing opened up. This time, when presented with the similar situation of his team facing second and and long at their own nine-yard line, Prescott did not make an untimely mistake. Instead, Dak tossed the ball 30 yards over the middle to Amari Cooper, who sprinted some 60 yards to the end zone. This play was a back-breaker after the two had already connected on a 40-yard score earlier. After Prescott added a rushing score, it ended up being too much for Washington to overcome. Just like that, the Cowboys offense had their third 400+ yard day after being held relatively in check a month earlier. Dak was 22 of 31 for 289 yards, two touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown, and zero turnovers. Prescott posted his season best 121.6 passer rating, which ranked fifth in the NFL this week. Suddenly, Cooper’s threatening abilities in the passing game opened up an entire offense.

It’s not just the quarterback who is benefiting either, Ezekiel Elliott has returned to dominance on the ground. In Elliott’s first meeting with Washington, he gained 33 yards on 15 carries, with 2.2 yards per carry, his worst day since week two of last season. This time around, Elliott rushed a season-high 26 times, for 4.6 yards per carry and 121 rushing yards on the day. Elliott battered Washington’s sixth-ranked run defense that only allowed 95 yards per game. Now, Washington’s run defense ranks ninth and allows over five more yards per game than they had previously. Elliott’s big day was third-best among rushing performances of the week.

So, how about Amari Cooper? Yes, he had a tremendous YAC performance this week but it was how he did it that was most impressive. Cooper caught eight passes on nine targets for 180 yards and those two big scores. If you take out those two huge plays, Amari still averaged 8.3 yards per catch on the other six receptions. Cooper ranked second among receiving performances this past week.

Let’s shed some light on his biggest contribution this past week because it’s a telling indicator of the team’s three-game win streak. On 14 third-down attempts in the game, Dak looked for Amari six times, Cooper converted five times for 78 yards, and one touchdown. Cooper accounted for 83% of the team’s third-down conversions and the Cowboys improved from 36% in the first meeting to 43% last Thursday. In four games with Cooper, he’s converted 54% of his third-down opportunities. Overall, the Cowboys offense went from third-worst, only 31% on third down, to fourth-best (49%) in the last month. Without question, Cooper is contributing heavily but he’s helping others on third down, too. Outside of Cooper’s performance, his teammates combined for 73% of the 26 total third-down conversions in the last month. That’s exactly what they need to do in order to take advantage of Cooper’s requirement for extra attention.

It’s not really much of a debate anymore about this trade. Clearly, Amari Cooper has shown to be a far better investment than what the Eagles are getting in Golden Tate. The doubters can talk about the price but the Cowboys made a long-term purchase, not a short-term rental. Besides, Cooper is not only looking like the safer bet for the future, he’s dominating the present:

The “Amari Cooper Effect” is very real and it’s defined this second-half push by the Cowboys. There are still some very big matchups that lay ahead of the division-leading Cowboys, but Amari Cooper finally gives them a formidable offense. If this offense continues it’s ascension, while their defense continues to play at a high level, the Cowboys might be hitting their stride. At the very least, that combination just might be enough to send this young team to the playoffs. Nobody saw 3-5 turning quickly to 6-5 and leading the NFC East coming for these Cowboys. So, if that postseason goal is met, everyone from Jason Garrett down to the ball boy should extend many thanks to Amari Cooper for saving a whole lot more than one season.

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