Amari Cooper quickly paying dividends for Cowboys

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FRISCO, Texas -- Amari Cooper doesn’t run. He glides. At least that’s what it looks like.

His feet seem to barely hit the ground. He changes direction effortlessly, spinning a defensive back into knots.

He's also made his transition to the Dallas Cowboys look effortless, making an impact in his first two games since the Cowboys traded a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for him Oct. 22.

“He’s a great receiver,” quarterback Dak Prescott said after Sunday’s 27-20 victory against the Eagles. “And when you bring in a great receiver like that who runs the routes like he does and gets separation, I told you I didn’t think it was going to be a hard transition to get on the same page with him.”

His quick transition has not surprised Cooper.

“I expected to come in here and make plays to help this team win, definitely,” Cooper said. “And obviously they expected me to do the same being that they traded for me.

"Obviously we have some things to work on, me and Dak. We’ve talked about it, but we’re creating that chemistry. We’re going to get better.”

Two games into his Cowboys career, Cooper has 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. He has led the Cowboys in targets and receptions in both games. With just three full practices before his debut against the Tennessee Titans last Monday night, he had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. With just three more practices last week, he caught six passes for 75 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ten of Cooper’s 11 catches have gone for a first down. He is already second on the team in first-down receptions, in just two games. Cole Beasley is first with 23.

“He's got very good quickness, body control, very good understanding of how to release against press coverage,” coach Jason Garrett said of Cooper. “I think he’s a disciplined route-runner when they play off, in terms of understanding the depths he needs, the angles he needs, how to beat a guy, how to get himself open in a zone.

"I think he's got a very good feel for how to run routes in man-to-man coverage. He's got quickness and burst. ... He gets people off of him, but he also has body control, the ability to change direction, put his foot in the ground and go the other way and again, establish the angles coming to the quarterback. Does a very good job of competing at the ball and I think he's demonstrated each of those things over the last couple of weeks.”

The Cowboys admitted their error in how they constructed the wide receiver position to start the 2018 season by giving up next year’s first-round pick in the deal.

The last time the Cowboys made such a bold move at wide receiver came in 2008, when they gave up first-, third- and sixth-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Roy Williams. In his first two games, he had two catches for 10 yards.

In Williams’ defense, Brad Johnson was his quarterback with Tony Romo out with a broken pinkie. But even after Romo returned that season, Williams never had more than three catches or 51 yards in a game.

In his first half of work as a Cowboy against the Titans, Cooper had three catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. In the first half against Philadelphia, he had five catches for 51 yards.

Cooper is giving Prescott something he did not have the first seven games of this season and something he did not have at all last season: an outside receiver who can consistently win on his route-running, not just his athletic ability.

As good as Dez Bryant was, he won more on his athleticism than by breaking down defensive backs. He could go up and over defensive backs to make acrobatic catches. Bryant had one game last season with more yards than what Cooper had against Philadelphia. Bryant had 98 yards on five catches against the Los Angeles Rams and was targeted 13 times in that game.

Cooper and Prescott have connected on 61.1 percent of their targets. Bryant and Prescott connected on 53 percent of their throws last season.

When the Cowboys traded for Cooper, they hoped his presence would make things easier for their other receivers.

Allen Hurns has three catches since Cooper was acquired and two have gone for 20 yards or more. In the first seven games, he had three catches of 20 yards or more. Michael Gallup has two catches of 20 yards or more in the past two games. He had three such catches in the first seven games.

Eight different players caught a pass against the Eagles and Titans.

“The ball got spread around to a lot of people and when we do that, that’s when we’re at our best,” Beasley said.

In the first seven games, the Cowboys never converted better than 41.7 percent of their third-down tries. In the past two games, they have converted 45.5 percent and 50 percent.

“When you add a guy like that who can win one-on-one, doing different things, winning short, winning down the field, winning across the field, intermediate routes, it certainly helps you,” Garrett said. “It gathers a little bit more attention from the defense and it opens up opportunities for other guys and it benefits you as well.”