Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods knew the questions about defending Jared Cook were coming before he even stepped to the podium to address the media Thursday after practice.
That's typically what happens when the opposing tight end had a huge game — as Cook did when he recorded nine catches for 180 yards vs. the Rams, tied for the most receiving yards in the league — the previous week.
“He's definitely a problem,” said Woods, adding that Cook is just one of several skilled players the Denver defense will face. “We’re going to have our hands full for sure.”
In Oakland's 33-13 loss to the Rams, the Raiders often worked to isolate Cook, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 254 pounds, on Los Angeles safety John Johnson III, who is just 6-feet tall and 209 pounds. Though Cook won that matchup several times, Johnson III also came away with a crucial interception in the end zone.
Given Johnson III’s mixed results against Cook, Woods plans on using a variety of strategies to limit Oakland’s top tight end.
“He has size, he can run, and he has great hands,” Woods said. “He's basically like a receiver playing tight end. He's hard to match up, whoever you put on him — a linebacker, a safety, a corner — just because of all those attributes. We're going to do a little bit of everything against him, so hopefully it's successful.”
It will be especially important for the Broncos to show they have progressed from last week’s struggles against tight ends. In Week 1, Seahawks tight end Will Dissly recorded 105 yards and a touchdown on just three catches. Dissly opened the scoring with a wide-open 15-yard reception off play action in the first quarter. Two Seattle possessions later, Dissly broke multiple tackles on a 66-yard catch-and-run that set up a field goal.
“[Dissly]’s a good player, but we can’t do that,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said Monday. “We missed four tackles. The coverage wasn’t great, but we missed four tackles. The [next] play he made down the seam, again, our eyes are bad and we’re out of position. That’s been a problem for us and we’ve got to fix it. We’ve got to coach better, and we’ve got to play better, and that’s the facts.”
If those issues aren’t fixed, Joseph said, it will make defending Oakland a very difficult task.
“He’s going to be a true challenge,” Joseph said Wednesday. “He has great ball skills. He runs a 4.5 [40-yard dash]. We have to have a great plan to get him contained. We can’t walk in here on Monday and say we didn’t contain him. If we don’t contain him, it’s going to be a long day for us.”
The Broncos have historically done a solid job against Cook. In five previous meetings, Cook has recorded just 10 catches for 96 yards and no touchdowns against Denver. Still, because of his size and his well-rounded skill set, Cook is a threat on any downfield passing play. And given Jon Gruden’s affinity for versatile tight ends, Cook figures to be a big part of Sunday’s game plan.
“He’s a mismatch and a great receiving tight end,” Gruden said Wednesday. “I look at the film and he should’ve had more yards. If you give certain coverages, certain matchups like this game sometimes presents — if you’re lucky enough to have the wild card that can win — you can put in all kinds of plays to help him be a dominant player. That’s what we try to do with Jared on a weekly basis. I’m really impressed with his football aptitude, his competitiveness and his versatility. He can do a lot of different things.”
Rookie outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who was covering Dissly on the 66-yard gain, knows the importance of limiting Cook’s production on Sunday. It starts with building a solid game plan throughout the week and then executing it on the field.
"[We need to] know what he can do and try not to let them do it," Chubb said Wednesday. "Whether it’s me guarding or a [defensive back] guarding him, dropping the coverage and stuff like that, we’ve just got to make sure we contain him and not let him get too big on us."
Chubb may be just one of several Broncos to defend Cook on Sunday. Dealing with the 31-year-old won’t be a one-man task.
“Our job is to go out there and shut him down,” safety Will Parks said Wednesday. “[We’ll] try to see where his tendencies are. … Our job is to go out there and strap down, so that’s what we’ve got to do.”