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Cowboys Target Practice: Who'll Get The Ball Against The Redskins?

Felix Jones scoring his first touchdown of the year against the Jets.
Felix Jones scoring his first touchdown of the year against the Jets.

The NFL started keeping track of targets since the 2009 season. Targets are the number of passes thrown at a given receiver, irrespective of whether the receiver catches them or not.

Unfortunately, as a stat, targets are 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.

However, targets are a good indication of which receivers have the quarterback's and the OC's confidence. After the break, we look at how the Cowboys have distributed their touches in the passing and running game to date, and what that could mean for the Redskins game, given the injury toll so far

Here are the numbers for the passing game after week two:

Name TAR REC YDS REC% Y/TAR TD INT RATE
Austin 24 14 233 58% 9.7 4 0 130.7
Witten 23 13 212 62% 10.1 0 1 69.5
Bryant 8 3 71 38% 8.9 1 1 70.3
Ogletree 6 4 62 67% 10.3 0 0 100.7
Jones 6 4 27 67% 4.5 0 0 76.4
Phillips 4 3 27 75% 6.8 0 0 92.7
Holley 3 3 96 100% 32.0 0 0 118.8
Choice 3 3 29 100% 9.7 0 0 106.9
Murray 2 2 17 100% 8.5 0 0 102.1
Total 79 49 774 62% 9.8 5 3 99.9

No major surprises here. Miles Austin and Jason Witten are the go-to guys, while Dez Bryant's numbers reflect the missed 49ers game. Note that one name is missing entirely from this list: Martellus Bennett has not had a single ball thrown to him in two games so far.

Looking forward to the game on Monday - with Austin out and Bryant at least questionable - there are questions about whether Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley and Dwayne Harris would really be our number one, two and three receivers. And while that may be true on paper, the chart above suggests that Witten is the Cowboys' real number two receiver, and that Felix Jones (despite missing time with a separated shoulder in the 49ers game) is getting as many looks as the number three wide receiver.

While it's always an advantage to have your ace wide receivers 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 despite potentially missing both starting wide receivers, the Cowboys should have enough capable receivers on the roster to keep the passing game going.

Here are the numbers for the running game after two weeks:

Name ATT YDS YPC TD
Jones 26 69 2.7 1
Murray 8 21 2.6 0
Choice 8 9 1.1 0
Romo 3 9 3.0 0
Ogletree 2 3 1.5 0
Austin 1 -2 -2.0 0
Total 48 109 2.3 1
Total 48 109 2.3 1

The main concern in the running game is less about who gets the carry, but much more about gaining some ground on those carries. With 2.3 yard per carry, the Cowboys' ground game is ranked dead last in the league, and it's not even close. The next worst team, the Seahawks, are averaging 2.7 yards.

The Cowboys need to find a way to move the ball on the ground. Right now, it doesn't matter all that much who gets the ball as everybody has proven to be equally ineffective. Granted, the line had some say in those numbers as well, but at the end of the day, the decision on which RBs gets the start on Monday may ironically not be about their rushing ability, but about their ability to catch passes.

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