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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.

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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.

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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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14 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.

  • 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

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Dallas Cowboys

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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