Cooper Kupp was 10 yards from the goal line and even farther away from any defenders. His first touchdown of the season was perhaps his easiest.
The wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, who have Super Bowl betting odds of +800, was in his first game with quarterback Matthew Stafford. They instantly had a connection. Kupp split the Chicago Bears’ safeties and was lost until his new passer found him wide open.
His 56-yard score was a mere demonstration of Kupp’s potential. This year has been beyond a breakout season. It’s been a highlight of his standout skill set that is being fully utilized.
Kupp, a third-round pick from Eastern Washington of the FCS, has been stellar in his fifth season. He paced the NFL during the regular season in receptions (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16). He became the fourth player since 1970 and first since 2005 to do so. His catches and yards totals are second in league record books.
Cooper Cupp vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Rams don’t have an easy task ahead. In this weekend’s Divisional Round, they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have NFL odds of -3.
However, Kupp has the potential to thrive against the Bucs’ secondary. And he has the 10th-best Super Bowl MVP odds at +3000.
“He is truly one of the most humble, special players I have ever been around. He doesn’t need all the accolades,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “He’s a legitimate candidate for a lot of awards, but he is about our team. He’s interested in leading the right way, making the plays that are instrumental and vital to the outcomes of our team’s success.”
Though at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, Kupp has been a red zone threat. That’s in part because the Rams schemed up creative ways for him to capitalize on scoring chances.
Against the New York Giants, Kupp lined up in the slot and zoomed behind the offensive line following the snap. Through all the turmoil at the line of scrimmage, Kupp found open space in the flat. Stafford flipped him the ball, and Kupp suddenly had a clear path to pay dirt.
According to Pro Football Reference, Kupp led the NFL with 26 receptions on 37 targets (70.3%) in the red zone which resulted in 205 yards and 13 touchdowns. Within the 10, he hauled in 11 of 18 targets for nine TDs.
Whether on standard routes, screens or double moves, Kupp was a reliable target anywhere on the field. And on any of those designs, his route-running capability shined.
In a matchup with Baltimore, Kupp was again in the slot. He ran forward and stuttered to his right, which drew linebacker Patrick Queen to the outside. Kupp cut inside and was wide open.
After he caught the ball, he was 10 yards from points. Kupp juked out another defender before eventually falling across the goal line.
“I don’t train in the offseason so I can achieve things for myself,” Kupp said. “I’m not thinking of productive goals or what I want to accomplish. The goal is, ‘What am I going to be asked to do this year and how can I make sure I execute the best I possibly can?’ Prepare myself for that.”
Kupp’s rise to the top tier of wideouts in the league has been steady. But this season has been remarkably unlike his previous ones.
Kupp’s Remarkable Season
Kupp lined up in the slot 62% of the time a season ago and 66% in 2021. And he has similar weapons and coaching staff around him.
But Stafford has been a pivotal difference. Stafford is ninth in DVOA, fourth in total quarterback rating and sixth in effective yards, according to Football Outsiders. Jared Goff, before he was traded away to the Detroit Lions, was 22nd, 24th and 16th.
In 2020, Kupp was targeted 126 times resulting in 96 catches for 1,052 yards. This season, he’s been thrown to on 196 occasions.
By looking Kupp’s way even more, Stafford has elevated the Rams’ offense. When thrown to, Kupp resulted in a 98.4 passer rating in 2020. This year, that number is 124.7.
Stafford has also located Kupp more downfield. The receiver’s average depth of target increased from 7 yards in 2020 to 8.6 this year.
Kupp noted contests are often decided by how rapidly a team can adapt. His chemistry with Stafford has been an example.
“It really is just a product of coaches trusting to put me in position to make plays for them,” Kupp said, “and the guys executing across the board enough to be able to get the ball out and give me opportunities. Just very thankful for the guys I have here.”
Against blitzes or a variety of coverages, Stafford consistently found Kupp. He was sometimes even throwing passes in windows with such little room for error they easily could’ve resulted in deflections or worse.
But they landed in Kupp’s hands. And he had the speed and instincts to do the rest. He’s on track to make even more of an impact this weekend.