Chris Cooley/DeMarcus Ware
IRVING, Tex. - For years, Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has tormented the Dallas Cowboys.
Cooley’s next reception will be the 423rd in his NFL career, breaking a tie with former Dallas tight end Jay Novacek and former New York Giants/Minnesota Vikings tight end Bob Tucker and moving into sole possession of 19th place in NFL history among tight ends. Cooley has reached 422 career catches at the start of his eighth season with the Redskins. Tucker needed 11 seasons; Novacek 12.
What is a little disconcerting for the Cowboys as they prepare to face the Redskins Monday night is not so much watching Cooley pass Novacek in the NFL record books, although that can’t be pleasant. Instead, they have to entertain the idea that Cooley now has company. While the Redskins’ star works his way back from a knee injury that has limited him to just two catches for 16 yards so far, another weapon has emerged.
Fourth-year tight end Fred Davis was considered by many to be something of a disappointment over his first three seasons in D.C. Critics questioned his fitness and work ethic, and lumped him in with the two other players Washington chose in the second round in 2008— wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly — as draft busts.
But the 2011 Davis hardly resembles that disappointing version. He showed up in training camp in the best shape of his young career, and drew raves for his work on the practice field, in the weight room and in film study. Through two games, he is tied for the team lead with 11 receptions and a receiving touchdown, and leads outright with 191 yards through the air for a team-high average of 17.4.
“They have a talented tight end group,” Dallas safety Abram Elam said. “Davis is a lot like Cooley.”
That’s not a good thing for the Cowboys, since Cooley is one of the most productive players in the league against Dallas. His 574 career receiving yards are second among active NFL players only to his teammate, wide receiver Santana Moss, who has 1,055. He and Moss each have six touchdown catches against the Cowboys, trailing only wide receivers Plaxico Burress and technically-still-active Terrell Owens, who each have caught seven touchdown passes against the Cowboys. Cooley’s 52 career receptions against the Cowboys are third among active players (Moss is first with 73).
This does not diminish at all what Moss has accomplished. But if the Cowboys have to tangle with “another Cooley” … yikes.
“Davis is really emerging,” Elam said. “He has good hands, and he’ll throw a strong block at you. Cooley’s a mainstay, a Pro Bowler — and with good reason: he makes a lot of plays.”
In part because of the knee, Cooley hasn’t made a lot of plays yet this season, but the Washington coaching staff has admitted to being more than a little intrigued by the idea of playing the pair together, creating mismatches for defenses who have to handle two players who are underrated blockers and exceptional receivers.
“They’re going to do some of what we call ’12 personnel’ — that’s one back and two tight ends,” Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking said. “(Cooley and Davis) are pretty similar. Everyone knows they can catch, but they also stretch the field really well because they both run so well.
“That’s a good safety net for them, because they know they can create a lot of mismatches with those guys. They’re a couple of really good weapons for (quarterback) Rex Grossman.”
As good as Cooley and Davis are, they’re not headed to the Hall of Fame just yet. The Redskins are, after all, coached by Mike Shanahan, which means they will rely on the running game as the basis of their offense. This year’s team has a new look, as the bulk of the carries have gone to Tim Hightower, who was acquired via trade in the offseason from Arizona and leads Washington with 45 carries for 168 yards (3.7 per carry) and a touchdown. The change-of-pace back is rookie Roy Helu, who has 76 rushing yards on 11 carries.
“Shanahan has used the same running game since he was going to Super Bowls in Denver,” Brooking said. “They use a lot of zone blocking, and the players they have now fit the scheme well. You watch their offense, and their thing is (for the running back) to make one cut and then get downhill. Hightower is probably a little more of a downhill runner, and the rookie (Helu) has a little more wiggle to him, he’s a little quicker. But they’re both good backs.
“It’s no accident that they’re 2-0. We have to be really sound in what we’re doing against this team.”
The rivalry is arguably the best in the NFL. Dallas holds a 60-40-2 edge all-time, but the series has been very even lately. The Cowboys split the season series with the Redskins last year, and have won four of the last seven, five of the last nine and six of the last 12.