Dez Bryant (880 receiving yards), Miles Austin (727) and Jason Witten (710) are all on track for a 1,000-yard receiving season this year. This may not sound like much of a deal, but it would be the first time in Cowboys history that there would be three 1,000+ yard receivers on the team in the same season.
In fact, before 2006, the Cowboys only once had two receivers topping 1,000 yards in the same season: Drew Pearson (1.026) and Tony Hill (1.062) did it in 1979. But since 2006, the Cowboys have done that four times. In total, the Cowboys have had nine individual 1,000+ yard receiving seasons since 2006. No team in the NFL has more over that span. Not the Patriots (8), not the Packers (8), not the Colts (7), and certainly not the Cowboys' division rivals (NYG: 5, PHI: 3, WAS: 2). Only the Kurt Warner-enhanced Arizona Cardinals have also had nine individual 1,000+ yard receiving seasons since 2006.
Here's a detailed breakdown of who the top three guys were in each year with Tony Romo under center:
The only other team currently on pace for a season with three 1,000+ yard receivers are the Atlanta Falcons, which goes to show just what an extraordinary feat that would be, even in today's pass-heavy NFL. In fact, there have only been five teams in NFL history with three 1,000+ receivers in the same season. The last of these five teams were the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, with Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Before that, the 2003 Colts, 1995 Falcons, 1989 Redskins and 1980 Chargers achieved that feat.
When the Cowboys selected Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and issued him the jersey number 88, they were hoping Bryant would follow in the footsteps of two of the previous 88s in club history - Drew Pearson (1973-83) and Michael Irvin (1988-99). Here's how Bryant compares to his two predecessors after 38 games:
And Austin and Witten are no slouches either: In the Cowboys record books, Jason Witten moved to number two and Austin moved into the number seven spot this season in career receiving yards; on the career TD receptions list, Witten is sixth, Austin is ninth.
There is one caveat to the passing numbers this season though, and that's that many of the yards were born of desperation as the Cowboys offense was frantically trying to turn around games in which they had fallen behind. Be that as it may, another reason why the Cowboys currently rank second in the league in passing yards per game is that Tony Romo is able to consistently find his top three targets, as the table below shows:
|Percentage of total passes targeted at Cowboys' top three receivers|
The drop in passes aimed at the top three guys in 2010 and 2011 is probably more a result of injuries than any strategic change in Garrett's playcalling tendencies. 2010 saw Romo out of action for 10 games, and 2011 saw Austin miss six games, while Bryant missed one and played hurt in a couple of others.
Ultimately though, the Cowboys have ranked in the top ten in passing yards for every single one of the last seven years. At this year's pace, they're on track for 4,750 passing yards, which would easily eclipse the franchise record of 4,287 set in 2009, and a (relatively) healthy receiving unit in 2012 is a big part of that.
Finally, for those of us who draw a measure of comfort from these things: over the last six years, the Cowboys made the playoffs every year the percentage of targets for the top three receivers was above 60%. This year that percentage is at 63% ...