Detroit — They played each other before, back in college, in the Southeastern Conference.
But Darius Slay said that’s not what was going on when he shut down one of the Raiders best receivers Sunday in the Lions’ 18-13 victory.
“Nah, that wasn’t it, because he’s like 10 times better than he was as a freshman,” the third-year Lions cornerback out of Mississippi State said of Amari Cooper, who caught just one pass for 4 yards against the Lions because the 24-year-old Slay is starting to look a bit like a shutdown defensive back.
Coming into the game, the explosive Cooper, out of Alabama, had 51 catches for 736 yards (14.4 per catch) and four touchdowns in nine games.
Cooper did not look anything like that Sunday.
And Slay left him on his knees at one point, with Cooper pounding the turf in frustration.
A lot of it was studying the film and not worrying a whole heck of a lot about the short slant routes, Slay said.
“I’ve been studying a lot more,” he said, “and I knew, at the beginning, my game plan.”
He said he knew Cooper could not have a big day if he obsessed about the short stuff.
“It ain’t going to happen with me, giving up slants,” Slay said. “I’m going to win with slants. You can throw slants all day.
“He dropped two slants he was supposed to have caught. But, hey, that’s his problem!”
Studying film reinforced the strategy, especially the Raiders’ 34-20 win Nov. 1 against the Jets.
“We watched the Jets game and they just stayed on them, pressing them, get on them, and make the receivers beat us,” Slay said. “You know, they’ve got talented receivers, but we’ve got trust in our guys, that they were going to compete.”
With Cooper neutralized — targeted only four times by quarterback Derek Carr, with three incomplete — the Raiders went to the talented Michael Crabtree 11 times. He caught six passes for only 50 yards.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Slay “is developing.” And yet, Caldwell is putting Slay on the opponent’s top receiver with frequency.
“You won’t see that every week with us, but he has the ability to play hard against some of the best ones in our league,” Caldwell said. “It just so happened the last couple of weeks he’s been able to handle it and handle it pretty well.
“But, every week’s a new challenge, you know? Particularly playing that position.
“You’re like a gunslinger. Somebody’s gunning for you week in and week out. So it’ll be another challenge for him next week.”
Asked about Cooper’s ineffectiveness, Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said, “I can’t speak to it, specifically.”
Well, Slay could.
“I feel like I shut them down, and I’m confident,” he said “My confidence is like a thousand.
“That’s what my job is to do: Just compete and help my team win.”
Slay did both, Sunday.
“Obviously, Cooper’s a good player for us,” Del Rio said. “We need to find a way to get him more involved.
“For him to come out of a game with one catch, we’ve got to do a better job there.”