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Cowboys Target Practice: Who'll Catch The Ball Against The Buccaneers?

Who'll be on the receiving end of Romo's passes on Sunday?
Who'll be on the receiving end of Romo's passes on Sunday?

Kevin Ogletree had fantasy football players everywhere scrambling to add him to their rosters after his week one performance against the Giants. In the game against the Seahawks, Ogletree was targeted just once while other receivers made the headlines with dropped passes and incorrectly run routes.

The Cowboys have their home opener against the Buccaneers on Sunday, and one of the questions about that game is who'll be at the receiving end of Tony Romo's passes?

One way of getting a feel for that is to look at which receivers have been targeted how often over the last two games. After all, the number of "looks" a receiver gets in a game is usually a good indication of which receivers have the quarterback's and the coaches' confidence.

After the break, we look at how the Cowboys have distributed their targets in the passing over the last two weeks, and what that could mean for the Buccaneers game.

The NFL started keeping track of targets with the beginning of 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.

With that out of the way, here are the numbers for the passing game after two games:

Jason Witten 15 6 68 40% 4.5 0 1 26.5
Miles Austin 13 9 136 69% 10.5 2 0
Kevin Ogletree 12 9 140 75% 11.7 2 1 118.1
Dez Bryant 12 7 102 58% 8.5 0 0 86.1
Felix Jones 7 4 40 57% 5.7 0 0 73.5
DeMarco Murray 6 6 40 100% 6.7 0 0 94.4
John Phillips 3 3 22 100% 7.3 0 0 97.2
James Hanna 1 1 10 100% 10.0 0 0 108.3
Total 69 45 558 65% 8.1 4 2 97.4

No major surprises here. Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are the go-to guys, while Ogletree's numbers reflect his stellar outing against the Giants. The numbers also reflect Garrett's philosophy of spreading the ball around among his weapons:

"We believe in our offensive football team, and we believe you have to be able to use all the weapons at our disposal and attack different ways."

"You can find something bad in our offense every week. Dez catches 10, what happened to Ogletree? That’s a philosophy you can take, but our philosophy is everyone has a role, and everyone can do their job to the best of their ability. The quarterbacks throws to the right guy, and let’s keep going on. Whoever the right guy to make the play at the time, he’s got to make the play."

What Garrett also makes clear is that once you're targeted, you need to make the play, and a look at the passer rating to each receiver shows that both Witten and Bryant have come up short so far. Ogletree is a pleasant surprise and Miles Austin looks to be back in the form that made him one of the star receivers in the league. And throwing the ball to DeMarco Murray also looks like a very good option.

On Sunday, the Cowboys host one of the most porous secondaries in the league: The Buccaneers have allowed 801 yards in two games, and their 400 passing yards given up per game ranks them last in the league, almost 90 yards lower than the 31st ranked team.

Since the Cowboys passing game is not predicated on just one or two players, and much more about spreading the ball around, the passing game should be clicking on Sunday. The Cowboys receiving corps should be at full health on Sunday, and in theory, Garrett has enough capable receivers to involve all receivers equally in the game.

In reality though, I'd expect Romo to look for Austin early and often. Witten will also likely get a few looks early on, but if he develops another case of the dropsies, I'd expect the Romo to look elsewhere for a dependable receiver. And while the Bucs have given up passing yards like they were having a firesale, they've also notched a league-high five interceptions, so Romo will be looking for guys who can be where they're supposed to be. Consistently.

Ogletree led the Cowboys with 114 receiving yards in week one, Austin was the leading receiver with 63 yards against the Seahawks. Who do you think will lead the Cowboys' receivers on Sunday?

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