ST. LOUIS — Even though it was presented as a one-man highlight, the product of quick feet and sharp instincts, Brandin Cooks’ dazzling touchdown Friday night might have been more the result of his quarterback.
Make no mistake. Cooks’ jab step and quick burst turned a 10-yard gain into a 25-yard touchdown during the New Orleans Saints’ 26-24 win over the St. Louis Rams, but quarterback Ryan Griffin’s ability to stand in the pocket with three pass rushers closing in was equally impressive.
“He did a great job of putting it on the right shoulder for me to be able to make a move real quick and get up under it,” Cooks said.
Cooks makes it sound easier than it looked. Griffin was immediately under siege after taking the snap, with linebackers Johnny Milard, Alec Ogletree and another man closing bringing pressure from the right, center, and left sides of the line. Instead of speeding up, tossing away the ball or checking down, Griffin instead stood in the pocket, spotted his man and delivered a perfect strike to Cooks, who was running an out route to the left sideline.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines had good coverage on the play, but Griffin delivered his pass to Cooks’ shoulder, where only the receiver could get it. After reeling it in, Cooks took a jab step to the sideline, causing Gaines’ hip to turn. Cooks then quickly cut back to the middle of the field and outran LaMarcus Joyner to the end zone.
Benjamin Watson was there to help block but was out of position after Cooks changed directions.
Griffin wasn’t as impressed with himself or the play as some observers.
“On the one play, they happened to bring an all-out blitz,” Griffin said. “I know I just had to get it out to Brandin, and he did his job; made somebody miss to get in the end zone.”
Still, that one moment provided some initial answers to two of the biggest questions of camp: Is Griffin good enough to challenge incumbent backup Luke McCown? And can Cooks translate his practice success to the field?
The answer to both questions appears to be yes. If the Saints have it their way, neither Griffin or McCown will see the field this year — but if Griffin proves capable of being the top backup, then the team will need to only carry two quarterbacks.
As for Cooks, these are the kind of plays the Saints envisioned when they traded up to draft him. Most other wide receivers would have been down immediately after catching the ball. Cooks, however, has the ability to turn routine receptions into spectacular moments.
Tyrunn Walker knows how to fill up a stat sheet. The second-year defensive lineman finished with six tackles, one sack, three tackles for a loss, and one quarterback hit.
It was an impressive performance, but he owes a couple thank you notes to some of the other guys who were on the field.
If not for a strong cornerback blitz by Trevin Wade that flushed Rams quarterback Garrett Gilbert out of the pocket, Walker’s sack, which registered a loss of 14 yards, likely would have ended up as a mere pressure. And on one of his tackles for a loss, a poor blocking performance by Mitchell Van Dyk, allowed him to make an easy run-stuff.
This is not intended to take from Walker’s performance — he put himself in position to make both plays by beating his blocker — but it’s important to note how the stat sheet filled up.
Strength to the left
One interesting development Friday night was that the Saints ran 12 times to the left side and seven times to the right. Four runs were up the middle.
Last season, the Saints ran 195 times to the right and 136 times to the left.
Six of those runs to the left came during the first two series Friday night, while the starters were still on the field.
Perhaps this speaks to the trust the Saints have in left tackle Terron Armstead, but on one of the bigger runs of the first quarter, a 19-yard gain by Mark Ingram, it was tight ends Watson and Jimmy Graham opening the hole.
1. Ingram: It almost feels like cheating putting him on this list because his performance was so obviously good. But after logging runs of 19, 22, and 22 yards, leaving him out in the cold would be an egregious error.
2. TE Josh Hill: The tight end had the play of the game when he picked up 50 yards on a catch-and-run. He first stepped out of two tackles, then stiffarmed another man to close out the big gain.
3. S Pierre Warren: It’s difficult to grade members of the secondary off the TV version of the game (the All-22 film is not available until the regular season), but the rookie flashed with a near interception.
1. WR Brandon Coleman: Dropped two passes, one of which resulted in an interception after he let the ball bounce off of his hands.
2. LB Ronald Powell: The rookie had a really nice sack, but negated the goodwill by being flagged for three penalties. Giving away yards is a good way to lose the trust of the coaching staff.
3. K Shayne Graham: He missed an extra point and drew the scorn of coach Sean Payton during the postgame news conference.
Next three up
3 p.m.-4:50 p.m. CDT
7:50 a.m.-10:40 a.m. CDT
7:50 a.m.-10:40 a.m. CDT
Until Aug. 13, practices are held at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The Advocate will tweet observations throughout. Follow @RVargasAdvocate, @UnderhillAdv,