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Amari Cooper working with Jacoby Brissett for more efficiency and better success on deep balls

BEREA — Amari Cooper is perhaps the NFL’s best route runner, so he gets open. He also believes he excels at making contested catches.

The diversified skill set makes four catches for 44 yards on 12 targets Sunday in the 38-15 loss to the Patriots hard to swallow for the four-time Pro Bowl receiver.

“That’s definitely not a good percentage in terms of balls being caught vs. balls being thrown your way,” Cooper said Thursday. “Definitely something that we have to work on and that’s why we practice. I would love to catch 12 out of 12. Just always room for improvement and that’s why we’re here.”

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Cooper dropped a slant and couldn’t hang onto another pass over the middle that was low. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett missed him on a go route and a crossing route on back-to-back plays late in the first half, overthrew him on a corner route and threw high toward the sideline on what appeared to be a miscommunication. The Patriots also had good coverage and broke up at least one attempt.

“We talk about some of the plays,” Cooper said of he and Brissett. “Definitely a lot of things I could’ve done better.”

Cooper quickly developed into Brissett’s No. 1 option in their first season together. Cooper leads the team with 31 catches for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

The production has been up-and-down throughout the season.

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He totaled 16 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 2 and 3 before being held to one catch for 9 yards against the Falcons. He rebounded with seven catches, 76 yards and a score vs. the Chargers, then had the dip vs. the Patriots, although he made a nice 15-yard touchdown catch in which he got both feet inbounds.

“Just wasn’t their day,” coordinator Alex Van Pelt said of Brissett and Cooper. “Really, they have a good bond, they have a real good relationship and they communicate really well. Sometimes it just does not come to fruition.”

The deep connection hasn’t been there. Cooper’s longest catch is 32 yards and his average is 11.2, behind receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (13.3) and tight end David Njoku (12.9).

“Of course, there’s always something you can improve on,” Cooper said of the long ball. “I would just say more reps maybe. Repetition is always a good thing. So more repetition with the go ball.

“And then as far as the game, there are a lot of things I could’ve done better on the go balls that I did have, as far as stepping on the DBs’ toes a little bit more, coming off with more speed vertically. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we work.”

Brissett’s trust in Cooper is obvious in the number of targets — 55 for the season — and was reinforced on a couple of difficult completions in the second half as the Browns tried to rally vs. the Patriots.

On third-and-12 in the third quarter, Brissett threw a 13-yard comeback to the sideline with cornerback Jalen Mills on Cooper’s back. On fourth-and-5 and in desperate need of a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Brissett gave Cooper a chance on an out-and-up in the end zone and he came down with it.

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“I pride myself on every phase of being a wide receiver,” Cooper said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand that I’m a good player when it comes to catching the ball while being covered. I think people only emphasize that I’m a good route runner and I get open and that’s what they see. That’s what they emphasize.

“But even when I’m not open, I can make those plays. I think people kind of look at like either/or. Like OK he creates separation a lot, so that’s what he’s good at. He may not be good at when he’s not so open, but that’s not really the case with me.”

Contested catches could be necessary Sunday in Baltimore against Ravens cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Humphrey is a two-time Pro Bowler who played with Cooper at Alabama, and Peters is a three-time Pro Bowler who matched up against him when they were in the AFC West.

“He’s always been a really great athlete and a really great competitor, so it’s going to be a challenge for us in the receiving room,” Cooper said of Humphrey. “As far as Peters, we came into the league the same year and I have some background with him, too. Great ballhawk coming off an injury, so don’t know how that’s affecting him, but they’re both really good players so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Humphrey has two interceptions this year and Peters one, so Brissett will have to be careful after throwing three in the last two losses of a three-game losing streak.

“As an offense that’s our No. 1 rule, no turnovers,” Cooper said. “I would say that’s something every week that we really harp on, so it’s no different this week.”

What has changed for some players is talk of having greater commitment. Safety John Johnson III said Wednesday players needed to do more outside the team facility to prepare.

“There’s always more you can do,” Cooper said. “When you go home, maybe you can watch a little less TV and more film. Maybe you can sleep less and watch more film, study the playbook. Maybe you can come in earlier.”

He said the receivers room, which he leads as the established veteran, does a good job studying the playbook and opposing secondaries. But after three straight losses, he’s being extra diligent.

“I’ve been getting here a little bit earlier,” he said. “Watching more film, taking care of my body more. Those are two things that I feel like I can improve on.

“It’s a very important game for us. I know the momentum of a win can do some amazing things to a locker room, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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