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Cowboys Receiving Threats Are No Longer Threatening

Jess Haynie

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There are plenty of factors in the Dallas Cowboys' recent losses. Some, such as the absences of Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee, are painfully obvious. One that may not be so easily evident is the lack of firepower in the Cowboys' receiver and tight end groups.

This past offseason, Dallas chose to bring the same crew back from last year's promising 13-3 results. They already had Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley under contract. Terrance Williams was re-signed to a modest four-year, $17 million deal. They even brought Brice Butler back on a minimal one-year contract.

Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown were selected in the fourth and seventh rounds, respectively, of April's draft. Those would prove to be the only moves that Dallas made to infuse some new talent at receiver.

At tight end, Dallas relied on the returns of James Hanna and Geoff Swaim from season-ending injuries to fill out the depth chart. They also had hopes for second-year project Rico Gathers, who'd spent 2016 on the practice squad.

So how are these guys doing so far this year?

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

Let's start at the top. It has been a rough season for Desmond Demond Bryant, who despite playing in all 10 games so far is on pace to be below 1,000 yards and less than 10 touchdowns. These are hardly the numbers you want from a guy making franchise WR money.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. "Dez doesn't get throw the ball enough! Of course his numbers are down!"

According to ESPN, Dez Bryant is tied for fourth in the NFL in targets this year. He has been thrown at 98 times, the same as Larry Fitzgerald. Only DeAndre Hopkins (117), Antonio Brown (114), and Jarvis Landry (107) have been credited with more targets so far this year.

Of the top-ten receivers in targets this year, WR or TE, Dez has the fewest catches and yards and the second-worst average for yards on his receptions. His longest single play this season was for 36 yards, which is the second shortest among the top ten.

Bottom line; Dez Bryant has been the least efficient franchise receiver in the NFL so far this year. The question for the Cowboys to figure out is how much of that is on Dez and how much of that is on his quarterback.

What The Dallas Cowboys Offense Must Prove On Monday Night 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant and QB Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott doesn't like to lob it up or throw into tight spaces, which is where Dez Bryant has made his money over his career. When Dak does try these throws, they looked forced and uncomfortable and have led to some turnovers. There is a clear compatibility issue between Bryant and Prescott.

That said, Dez isn't the same guy who used to make plays on those tough throws. He is an old 29, with extra loss of athleticism from his physical style of play. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, because we've only been saying it since he entered the league in 2010. The way Bryant punishes cornerbacks, which Chris Collinsworth highlighted on Sunday, comes with a price. His own body has also suffered in these exchanges.

This is one of those debates where both things can be true at the same time. Dak doesn't give Dez the best opportunity to succeed, but Dez isn't as capable of success as he used to be. And because both things are true, it gives defenses even more freedom as they don't have to be as concerned about Dez Bryant as they used to be.

Naturally, the trickle-down effect of Dez becoming less threatening hurts the rest of the receivers. However. that's not their only problem this season.

Jason Witten

TE Jason Witten

Speaking of older guys... Jason Witten.

It pains me to talk of Jason as some fossil given that he was born just six days before I was. However, while we're still both prime for watching Parks & Rec reruns and playing Cards Against Humanity, 35 is a tough age to be playing tight end in the NFL.

When we're winning, Witten's inability to get yards after the catch is something we can joke about. I've more than once compared him to your uncle playing touch or flag at the family picnic. But Jason's decreasing threat level on the field is now a real issue for the Cowboys offense.

Witten is still such a fabulous route-runner that he can get open to make the catch. But that is where his plays end, and defenses are able to scheme for that accordingly. A safety or linebacker only has to be in the vicinity and they can close and make the tackle. There's no threat of Jason going over the top, or beating his man to the edge and turning up field.

Like with Dez, there is less general fear factor now with Jason Witten on the field. Are you starting to see the cumulative effect that has on opposing defenses, and thus on the Cowboys' ability to execute?

Cole Beasley

WR Cole Beasley

Nobody has taken a bigger hit to their production this year than Cole Beasley. Last year's receiving leader has just 26 for 195 yards after 10 games. Cole has found the endzone four times, but that is the only saving grace to an otherwise low year.

While some of this is due to more throws going to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams than in 2016, there is also a major drop in efficiency.  Last year, Prescott and Beasley connected on 77% of the throws that went Cole's way. So far in 2017, that number has plummeted to 59%.

Why is it harder for Beasley to get open? Last year's surge has led to increased attention from opponents. Beasley is seeing more coverage than he used to, sometimes even double-teams from a corner and safety..

Consider that for a minute. Cole Beasley is getting double-teamed. Beasley; not Dez Bryant.

The Cowboys should be making defenses pay for that. Dez Bryant should be making them pay. The fact that it's not happening goes back to our original premise; Bryant is no longer able to take over a game and make life easier for his teammates. The fact that a defense would rather double-team Beasley than Dez speaks volumes about how he's now perceived.

Dallas used to make defenses pick their poison. For that to work, the poisons have to actually kill you.

Cowboys Headlines - The Dak Prescott Hype: Why It's Completely Okay To Buy In

QB Dak Prescott

This isn't to say that Dak Prescott is totally absolved. Not even close. He has to work on throwing his receivers open with better ball placement. Dak also has to be more willing to take chances, and then figuring out the right times and situations to do it.

Sounds like Tony Romo in his first few years, doesn't it?

Still, Romo rarely lacked a true top receiver to help make the offense work. From Terrell Owens to Miles Austin to a younger Dez Bryant, Tony had that guy who commanded respect at all times. He also had a younger Jason Witten putting together a Hall-of-Fame career.

Obviously, there's nothing Dallas can do about it now. They have who they have for 2017. But clearly, even with Ezekiel Elliott out of Roger Goodell's doghouse of horrors next season, the Cowboys have to address the WR and TE positions. They have to give Prescott more to work with in case Elliott were to be lost again for any reason, or even just if they came across a rushing defense who didn't allow Zeke to produce.

Back in July, I wrote about the possibility of Dez Bryant being released after 2017. At a certain point, Dallas is going to have to ask itself what it's getting for that $16 million cap hit each season.

As for Witten, we'll see if Jason has another year in him. If he doesn't retire, the Cowboys have to strongly consider bringing in someone to take over as the number-one or who can at least be more of a threat on passing downs. You have to put some fear back into your opponents. People respect the hell out of everything Jason Witten's done in his career, but they no longer fear what he might still do.

Dallas has to restore the pick-your-poison offense, and to do that they have to add more lethal options next offseason. It just might be their biggest need, even more than anything on defense, for 2018.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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15 Comments
  • Victor Estrada

    The receiving corps needs a major overhaul! Nobody has the ability to create an separation down the field. I would not be surprised to see Dez go after the season, his skills are defintely not what they used to be.

  • Hector Espindola

    Indeed, Dallas has multiple problems and I wish this one would be on top. Sadly, I can´t see them adding more lethal offensive weapons in contract year of key players like Martin or D Law, while, at the same time the FO is urged to find a reasonable replacement for Lee or next season anything would work -again- and that kind of player won’t come cheap in FA. What scares me is that Dallas has never won a game without Lee, so it’s clear what the major problem is, between the many problems popping out. Since years ago, this team is about to be a couple of players distance of the SB and I must insist there are core positions which need more than roster depth or having the defense the least time in the field, till young players pan out. Finally, coaches need to find ways to make Dez, Beas and Terrance x-factors!!!

  • Michael Barthel

    Time to draft James Washington. Get rid of Terrance Williams and give butler and Noah Brown more chances. We have alot of needs in the draft. But first Garrett and marinelli need to go asap. We put up with Garrett for 7 seasons now and he has given us 2 winning seasons and average teams. 3 great players go down and he doesn’t know how to coach. I think dez numbers went down cuz Romo would throw it to dez no matter what dak won’t. But for real Garrett needs to be gone we go thru the same stuff every year and Garrett either surprises and gets bounced in first round or he comes out and puts a average team out there. If he and marinelli are there next year then Jones in incompetent and doesn’t want to win then. Garrett will never get it done and has already had plenty of time to show us and has failed

  • TreFKennedy88

    I love Dez but the foot injury from 2015, a new qb and his refusal to master route running has caught up to Him, i say we draft a new Wr come April

  • Adam Mwakikoti

    It’s the O-line. When we have the O-line we score 30 per game and nobody’s crying. Then we lose our best O-line man, Dak gets sacked 6 times in one week, and has been running for his life since. What can these receivers do if Dak is getting murdered because he has no protection??? Tony Romo was 8-8 with a shotty O-line, and Dak and these receivers won’t be any better than that without one either. You idiots can put your heads BACK in your asses now, because despite the CLEAR and OBVIOUS logic that goes into this situation, you’ll never get it. You’ll just keep blaming skill players and doing whatever morons do.

    • Jess Haynie

      Other teams have dealt with o-line weaknesses. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have had some shit offensive lines and still been MVPs. A big way they deal with it is having receivers who can get separation quickly, and being QBs who know how to deliver the ball in tight spaces.

      • Adam Mwakikoti

        That’s like putting a sugar packet under a wobbly table. You used the wrong adjective. It’s NOT a “BIG” way to try and cover up O-line issues, it’s a haphazard way to cover up a BIGGER issue. You don’t want your QB running for his life every game, and Dak hasn’t proven that he can perform under duress consistently. The other receivers we have don’t separate well, and one guy that does, whomever you get, is not going to make a difference with a QB running for his life every play. Some of you have never been professional athletes and thus, you simply don’t understand the hierarchy of importance in terms of positions. You don’t skip steps, you don’t work on the syrup before you make the pancakes, you don’t put the sugar packet under the table. Trading Dez for Thomas DOES NOT help you offensively at all,and it’s is plain and simple a STUPID IDEA. The Dallas Cowboys need to make more creative plays, and bolster their O-line so we never have a situation where a back-up left tackle gets KILLED by a dude nobody’s heard of. The rest of you crying for extreme personnel changes have ZERO simply don’t understand the logic that goes into this process.

  • Russ_Te

    “Cole Beasley is getting double-teamed. Beasley; not Dez Bryant.”

    That’s it. The successful defensive blueprint everyone knows about except Jason Garrett…

    I think things can be – should have been after Atlanta – done now:

    Ask yourself what would help Dez, and it’s a speed WR who stretches coverages. One of the opponent’s advantages right now – and why they can rotate down on Beasley – is nobody is going to torch them over the top. Coverages all nudge up, it has this passing game stopped, and Garrett sits on his hands about it.

    Butler. If I am not benching Williams – and he used to cash in off the attention paid to Dez, and not now – then I am getting out of 2 TE and going to 3 WR. Stretch the coverages with Butler. If the FS does not go with him, put the ball on him. If a CB and S have to run with Butler, Dez looks much better underneath.

    That is the Dez future now, here or elsewhere. Power, possession WR. Garrett is already late adapting to that.

    Gathers. I’ll take an occasional missed block, to get that mismatch into the route trees. Dak will cash that in, and I’ll bet he’s lobbying for it now. Garrett, asleep on it.

    • Jess Haynie

      You guys do realize that Scott Linehan is our offensive coordinator, right?

      • Russ_Te

        Sure but all at Garrett’s veto. If Linehan wants status quo after it stops producing, up to Garrett to step in. Or maybe Linehan wants changes that Garrett is refusing to make.

        This situation on offense is reminiscent, although not as bad yet, as the waning games of the Parcells era, in which his 3-4 defense was getting smoked most of the time. He ran base alignments and emphasized execution, and when that started consistently failing he would not make any changes. DC Mike Zimmer, made some kind of public remark implying they were at odds on it.

        Which they usually will not do of course, they keep it in house. But I’ll put Linehan on the plank if it will bring change… ;^)

  • Jared McEvoy

    Nice article but where is the part about Terrance Williams? He is bad. He has sprinkles of good plays but he is not a number 2 wr. We need to draft a number 1 guy and let Dez be number 2. We need someone who can stretch the field but also execute the intermediate routes. We have young studs at qb and rb. We now need a young stud at wr too. Also, lets see what Rico has to offer. We need to see what we have in him.

    • Jess Haynie

      I think Williams could be fine as the 4th option in the offense if the guys ahead of him were better. He’s a very good run blocker and we’ve seen him make plays at times. The knock on him is that he can’t step up when we need more from the depth chart, but the bigger issues now are at the top of the WR and TE charts.

  • http://www.dallascowboyschat.com Cowboysdude

    This team is no longer threatening……when the owner decided that Dak was the ‘hot hand’ and jettisoned Romo it was over……

    • E Deplorabus Unum

      Sadly this is true. Dak can extend plays, but he’s not going to be the 30k yd passer Tony was. He simply can’t spread he ball around the same way, few ppl that played could. Now we’ll spend 5 yrs blaming everyone else but Dak since we have our ‘franchise qb’ than can’t score TDs without a league rushing champ and pristine protection.

  • dallas1966

    The best article regarding this issue of a lack of a deep threat, at wide receiver and tight end, to stretch the football field.
    The Cowboys have the personal in Noah Brown , Brice Butler and Rico Gathers, but some reason, the coaching staff would rather the opponents defense dictate our offense, with the non productive starter, because of stubbornness to have talent incorporated into the current situation. What happened in 2015, has reared it’s ugly head again this season, instead of Romo and Dez, it’s Zeke and Sean Lee. Where other teams, for example the New England Patriots, can keep on ticking when hit with injuries,, the Cowboys coaching staff, appears clueless, stubborn, arrogance and incompetence to maintain stabilized winning on a consistent basis.

Dallas Cowboys

5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Sean Martin

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5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.

If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.

Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.

1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons

The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.

In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.

This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor

Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.

The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.

For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.

The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.

Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

3. Revenge Against the Falcons

The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.

Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.

Cowboys en Español: 3

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

4. Running Through December

The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.

This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.

It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.

Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.

5. Thanksgiving Tradition

For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.

The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).

Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.

Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.

Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.

Tell us what you think about "5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring

Jess Haynie

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James Hanna

In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC

Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.

James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.

That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.


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Player News

Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.

There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.

Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.

Bobby Belt on Twitter

Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.

Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.

Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC

Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.

Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.

If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.

The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.

Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.

Tell me what you think about "Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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