ST. LOUIS — When Jared Cook burned the Arizona Cardinals with a record performance in the Rams’ 27-24 season-opening victory, it was assumed such efforts would become routine.
Well, everyone knows what can happen when you assume. You also can be wrong.
Cook hasn’t come close to matching his seven-catch, two touchdown, franchise-record 141-yard outing in his Rams debut. He made three receptions that went for at least 25 yards in the opener. In 11 games since, he has a total of three 25-yard-plus catches and has scored only two more TDs. In only one other game has he reached even 50 yards.
For someone who was not shy about talking up the Rams’ potential this preseason, the season hasn’t gone quite as hoped for him or his 5-7 team.
“I don’t think it’s what everybody in here expected,” Cook said Wednesday after practice. “We’ve had some games we let get away. You just have to deal with it.”
“It’s been about the same,” he said. “Some games just got away, some games you feel like you could have played better. A lot of times, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just keep playing and pushing forward.”
That Cook’s numbers have fallen short of his hopes is as much on the Rams as the tight end. After being targeted 10 times in the first game, he has been targeted as many as nine times only once. When Sam Bradford went down for the season, the Rams turned more to a rushing attack. As Zac Stacy has emerged as the focus of the offense, the Rams have averaged 10 more rushing attempts in their five games since Bradford’s season-ending knee injury.
“I’m fine with it because we needed that aspect of our game to open up,” Cook said. “We needed that running game after those first few games. We saw that you can’t pass the ball all game. The Dallas game was an eye-opener (a 31-7 loss during which the Rams rushed for 35 yards). You can’t pass the ball 40 times a game and have no run threat. We needed that to get done and now we have it going. It’s done nothing but help us.”
Cook’s job became more difficult in the weeks following his debut. After his spectacular start, defenses focused more on him, which also limited his opportunities. Cook was fine with that, too, as long as others made the most of their chances.
“It’s going to be hard to put up numbers like that every week, just in terms of how defenses scheme and play against you,” he said. “You have to be prepared and do what you can to make plays when your opportunity is called.”
It’s not like his season has been a bust, either. Cook leads the Rams in receptions (40) and receiving yards (537) and needs 101 more yards to set the franchise single-season record for tight ends.
“That’s all good, but that doesn’t make me satisfied at all,” said Cook, in the first year of a five-year, $35.1 million deal. “I just have to improve in areas of my play. I feel like I can help this team some more.”
Cook, 26, still should finish with career-best in receptions (49) and he also is on pace to surpass his career-best in yardage (759). He has drawn praise from coach Jeff Fisher for his run blocking and he hasn’t fumbled since being stripped of the football yards from the goal line in the opener.
With a trip to Arizona up next for the Rams, Cook isn’t necessarily looking at a game one repeat in part because the Cardinals figure to pay him more attention this time around. In a conference call Wednesday, Arizona coach Bruce Arians identified Cook as the Rams’ “biggest game breaker.”
Arizona has improved steadily over the past three months and its defense has climbed to eighth in the league, though it has had trouble against tight ends. Zach Ertz caught two of the Eagles’ three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 24-21 victory that ended a four-game winning streak by the Cardinals.
“Scheme-wise, they do a lot of the same things but they are not the same team we faced the first game of the season,” Cook said. “They’re bringing a totally different mentality than they did then. It’s not going to be easy.”
For Cook, not much has been since his dazzling opener.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.