Close friends Chidobe Awuzie and Amari Cooper get close | So Good News
That doesn’t take away from what Awuzie and the Bengals defense have done this season. According to Pro Football Focus , he’ll have plenty of traffic with the No. 1 receiver during assignments.
The website ranks Awuzie as the 14th-most covered cornerback, and he has allowed one fewer touchdown than Sauce Gardner and three fewer than Jalen Ramsey. In those 14, he allowed the sixth-lowest passer rating. Better than Trevon Diggs and inferior to Marlon Humphrey. He was targeted just 41 times and allowed 18 interceptions.
After watching him blow up the Falcons last Sunday, it’s no wonder Kyle Pitts was allowed only 20 yards after a goal-line interception. The guy ahead of him, who allowed 19 YACs, got 17 lines. The gag in the building might be Awuzie’s worst play of the year, the NFL’s fastest projectile, when he went step-by-step with Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill and fumbled the pass before Hill caught him.
Coaches love his old-school soul. His teammates will love his competitive spirit, which will be on display Monday against his best friend. Cooper is grinding as a backup quarterback, but he’s still a top-20 receiver with 34 catches, 422 yards for a 12.4-yard average and four touchdowns.
“You’d be surprised. It doesn’t really come up in conversation,” Awuzie says of discussions about a future matchup. “Obviously, we’ve been teammates for a long time. I’d ask him something, whether he’s done getting me a pass or getting me, but he didn’t go beyond that.
“It was obvious, but it didn’t need to be explained,” he said of the March trade that put Cooper in Cleveland. “We know we have to face him twice this year. It’s going to be an interesting matchup… I’m excited to see what it’s like to face him in the game. I’m excited for challenges like that because he’ll test where I’m at.”
Awuzie puts his friend in an elite group of route runners from around 2015, when Cooper was the fourth overall pick in the Raiders’ draft: “Keenan Allen, Julio Jones. Of course, Davante Adams. Stefon Diggs is creeping in there. Justin Jefferson and Ja “Marr (Chase) are two young men.”
(For slot receivers, Awuzie ranks the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd in the top group, along with guys like Julian Edelman, Cole Beasley and old friend Andrew Hawkins.)
When Awuzie describes Cooper as a chess game, it sounds like his playing field.
“Amari has tactics,” Awuzi says. “In the chess world, we’d say he’s a tactical player. He might be down a piece or a couple of pieces, but he’s looking for a tactic to win big to swing the game in his favor. You might think, ‘You’re against him, but you’re not really positional.’ .
If you want to experience Cooper’s professionalism and approach to the game (football, not chess), you have to go back to Sunday in Baltimore. What would have been the game-winning drive, his 34-yard catch from Brissett with 2:18 left, was canceled out by a strange penalty in Cleveland’s 23-20 loss. It didn’t seem like much, but not to Cooper.