NFL

NFL Talking Point: Can Cooper Kupp break Calvin Johnson's receiving record?

By Sports Desk December 25, 2021

Much like the fight for the Lombardi Trophy, this season's MVP race is wide open.

A lack of consistently convincing performances from quarterbacks, who have enjoyed a monopoly over the MVP award since running back Adrian Peterson won it in 2012, has led to discussion over a skill-position player potentially taking home the most prestigious individual NFL honour. 

And among the leading non-quarterbacks in the conversation is Los Angeles Rams star Cooper Kupp.

Kupp has established a phenomenal rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford in the latter's first year with Rams.

That connection has seen Kupp emerge as the clear number one receiver in the NFL from a statistical standpoint.

However, with reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers on a charge for a Green Bay Packers team with the number one seed in the NFC in their sights, the prospect of Kupp actually taking home the prize look slim.

Yet he could still end the 2021 NFL season with a slice of league history.

Kupp has 1,625 receiving yards and 122 receptions so far this season, making him the first NFL player to have 1,600+ receiving yards and 110+ catches through his first 14 games of a season.

With one first already secured, another is not out of the realms of possibility.

No wide receiver has ever totalled 2,000 yards in a single season and Kupp would need to average 125 yards over the final three games to achieve that feat.

Given he is averaging 116.1 yards per game, that aim may prove to be out of his reach, but Calvin Johnson's single-season receiving record could be attainable.

Johnson racked up 1,964 yards in the 2012 season. That would likely also be beyond Kupp in a 16-game season, but with the advent of the 17th regular-season game, Kupp has a clear opportunity to overhaul him.

Indeed, if Kupp averaged 116.1 yards over the next three games that would take him to 1,973 yards and a place atop the all-time list.

And the schedule is a favourable one as Kupp looks to continue producing at such a rate.

Week 16 sees the Rams face a Minnesota Vikings defense conceding 380.6 pass yards per game, the third-most in the NFL, before they then face a Baltimore Ravens team that has given up more passing plays of 20 yards or more (61) than any other in the league.

A matchup with a San Francisco 49ers defense that entered Week 16 ranked 12th in yards per pass play allowed with 5.31 would present a distinctly tougher challenge. However, even in the Rams' blowout loss to the Niners in Week 10, Kupp still caught 11 passes for 122 yards.

Kupp has received double-digit targets in all but one game in 2021 and is doing an excellent job of continually creating separation from defenders.

He has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, 63.6 per cent of the time, above the average of 60 per cent for wideouts with at least 25 targets.

His burn yards per route average of 4.1 is the best among receivers who meet that threshold, indicating that no wideout in the NFL is generating more separation than Kupp when he beats his defender.

Kupp is a skilled separator who receives a consistently heavy workload. That may not be a recipe for him winning MVP but, given what he has done with his target share to this point, it is a mix that can put him in position to end the regular season in record-breaking fashion.

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    After all, he has already won 22 trophies across a managerial career spanning 27 years that has seen him coach 10 different clubs in five different countries. Indeed, he this month became the first coach to win each of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and LaLiga.

    There is no questioning Carlo's credentials, then, but victory against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in Paris really would take the 62-year-old into 'GOAT' territory as the outright most successful coach in terms of major European honours.

    Ancelotti is currently level with Alex Ferguson and Giovanni Trapattoni in that regard with seven UEFA club competition triumphs – three Champions Leagues, three Super Cups and one Intertoto Cup, a much-derided competition that is now defunct.

    Many would suggest a better barometer of determining the true Greatest of All Time would be to simply look at how many Champions Leagues or European Cups, as it was formerly known, a manager has won. In that case, Ancelotti is level with Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane with three apiece.

    Triumphing for a fourth time in UEFA's showpiece competition, having previously done so with Milan in 2003 and 2007, and Madrid in 2014, would therefore set Ancelotti apart from the rest.

    The hugely experienced coach has a great record when it comes to Champions League finals, too, with victories in three of his previous four such matches. The only exception to that? In 2004-05 when Liverpool famously beat Milan on penalties in a game they trailed 3-0 at half-time.

    CARLO'S CUP PEDIGREE

    The glitz and glamour of a Champions League final was far from Klopp's mind in that campaign when in his fourth season in charge of Mainz. The 2004-05 season was just as memorable for the German club's supporters as Liverpool's, though, as they finished 11th in what was their first top-flight campaign.

    Seventeen years on, Klopp now has a shot at becoming one of 17 multiple-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League, level with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and even Manchester United great Ferguson.

    He went all the way with Liverpool in 2019, triumphing over domestic rivals Tottenham, but his previous two finals in the competition ended in disappointment, with defeat against Bayern Munich as Dortmund boss in 2013 and against Zidane's Madrid as Liverpool manager in 2018.

    Zidane may have been replaced by Ancelotti in the Madrid dugout, but this weekend presents Klopp – and indeed Liverpool – with a shot at redemption. Having won two trophies already with the Reds this season, Klopp's cup final record looks a lot better than it did just a few months ago.

    He has now won eight of his 18 finals, which compares to 16 victories from 22 finals for Ancelotti across all competitions. In percentage terms, Klopp has won 44 per cent of finals he has contested, while Ancelotti has won 73 per cent.

    A FAMILIAR FOE AWAITS

    Ancelotti and Klopp are no strangers to one another, of course, with Saturday's showdown set to be their 11th meeting in all competitions. Ancelotti edges the overall record from the previous 10 encounters with four wins to Klopp's three.

    Despite managing an Everton side far inferior to Klopp's Liverpool, Ancelotti lost just one of his three Merseyside derbies during his season-and-a-half in charge of the Toffees.

    That includes three successive games without defeat, culminating in a 2-0 win in February 2021 – Everton's first Anfield victory since 1999 and their first win either home or away over Liverpool since 2010.

    Ancelotti certainly had Klopp's number in the most recent of their battles, although the results of his two finals against English clubs in European competition have been mixed – the aforementioned shoot-out loss in 2005 and a 2-1 win two years later, both during his time with Milan and both against Liverpool.

    The Italian has certainly stood the test of time, with his 70 per cent win rate in his second stint with Madrid bettered only by the 75 per cent enjoyed the first time around in the Spanish capital, and now a shot at history – a fourth Champions League and an eighth European trophy – awaits.

    Against a familiar opponent in both Liverpool and Klopp, and in a city where he helped grow Paris Saint-Germain into a force to be reckoned with just over a decade ago, the stage is set for Ancelotti to further strengthen his claim as being the greatest of them all.

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    He replaces long-time GM Kevin Colbert, who in January announced his decision to step down after the 2022 NFL Draft.

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    Rafael Nadal recorded his 300th grand slam match win by easing into the third round of the French Open, beating Corentin Moutet in straight sets.

    The 'King of Clay' is in search of a record-extending 22nd major title at Roland Garros, where he was dethroned by Novak Djokovic last year.

    On this evidence, Nadal is in the form to re-establish his dominion of the tournament, overcoming a spirited home hope, who enjoyed the benefit of vocal support from the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Wednesday evening.

    Nadal will see room for improvement having failed to serve the match out in the third set, but a 6-3 6-1 6-4 win was never in doubt.

    The tone for a procession was established when Nadal raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set, and Moutet's dream of playing his idol soon appeared to be turning into a nightmare.

    Nadal won the second set in commanding fashion behind an excellent first serve, but found Moutet's resistance more stern in the third.

    That spirit was exemplified by Moutet breaking Nadal's serve with the Spaniard ahead 5-3. However, Nadal immediately responded in kind, dominating Moutet from the back of the court and wrapping up a landmark victory when the Frenchman sent a lob long at the end of an entertaining rally.

    Nadal will face Botic Van De Zandschulp in the third round.

     

    Data Slam: Nadal 107-3 opponents

    As well as being his 300th grand slam match win, Nadal's triumph was his 107th at Roland Garros. He has still only tasted defeat in Paris three times. The fifth seed won all 11 of his first-serve points in the second set of another impressive display.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Nadal – 27/22
    Moutet – 16/24

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Nadal – 1/2
    Moutet – 0/3

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Nadal – 7/12
    Moutet – 2/4

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