In 2009, targets became an official stat which the NFL records in its gamebooks. Targets are the number of passes thrown at a given receiver, irrespective of whether the receiver catches them or not.
But just because it is an official stat doesn't make it an accurate metric. In fact, an argument could be made that it is far from perfect. For one thing, figuring out who exactly a pass may have been targeted at is decided by the official scorekeeper, which by definition introduces a level of inaccuracy. Secondly, even if a ball is thrown badly, it often ends up going against the record of the receiver who was in the general vicinity of where the ball was thrown, even though he may not have had even the remotest chance of catching it. Think of all the intentional grounding penalties that you were sure were going to be called, but the referees saw some player in the general vicinity of where the ball burrowed into the ground and ruled the play an incomplete pass.
Having said that, targets are still a good indicator of which receivers have the quarterback's and the OC's confidence. Here's a look at how the Cowboys have distributed their touches in the passing game over the first two weeks, and what that could mean for the Rams game.
|Name||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Receptions in %||Yards/target||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
No major surprises here. The Cowboys want Dez Bryant to be their go-to guy, but the Giants held him to only four reception on eight targets, which dilutes his overall numbers to some extent. Against the Chiefs, he had nine receptions on 13 targets, which feels more like the kind of numbers a number one receiver should be seeing. Garrett made that clear when he talked about Bryant yesterday:
"I think if the opportunities present themselves, you just want to keep attacking," Garrett said. "Dez is a guy you want to attack with. But you have other guys that you like to attack with as well. Dez is a guy that we have a tremendous amount of confidence in, but we have confidence in other guys, too."
But Garrett also points out that Bryant isn't the only target for Tony Romo; Austin, Witten, and Murray all have very similar numbers over the two games so far.
Looking forward to the game on Sunday - with the Cowboys healthy at all offensive skill positions - the question then is more about how the remaining receivers will split the targets. While it's always an advantage to have an ace wide receiver like Bryant on the field, the Cowboys passing game is not predicated on just one or two players, it's much more about spreading the ball around. And even if the Rams manage to take Bryant out of the game, the Cowboys should have enough capable receivers on the roster to keep the passing game going.
At the end of the day though, the Cowboys success on Sunday may hinge a lot less on who gets those passes, but much more on the receivers' ability to stretch the field: The Cowboys are ranked 26th in the league with their 6.2 yards per pass attempt. For a team that has ranked in the top ten of the league in YPA in every season since 2005, that is simply not acceptable.
The Cowboys have a number of weapons they can attack with in addition to Dez Bryant. But if they're going to play another dink and dunk game, those weapons will prove not to be very effective.