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Putting A Finger On The Cowboys Offensive Woes

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Looking for a scapegoat for the Dallas Cowboys putrid offense? Try the team's least productive wide receiver, who also happens to be the 4th highest paid in the NFL.

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The offensive performance of the Dallas Cowboys has been beyond awful. They are 28th in yardage, 30th in total points, and 29th in passing TD. Only their rushing TD performance approaches the bottom side of NFL average at 18th. The estimable Mr. Ryle has penned a piece detailing Dallas's failures in addressing the running game. But that has been the one statistical bright spot, where they are tied for 9th in yards per carry and 11th in yards per game, missing the top 10 by 0.2 yards to the Arizona Cardinals. Compare this to passing where they are 29th in yards per attempt and yards per game (it would seem safe to say that Dallas has the 29th ranked passing offense, wouldn't it? they are also 29th in passer rating). One caveat -- I am typing this just before Monday Night's game, and the statistics from that game might change these ranks slightly. I think the listed numbers tell the tale pretty well, however, regardless of whatever small shifts may come from tonight's game.

I am ready to believe this offensive performance can be traced to one man, and it isn't Tony Romo. I've been biding my time and biting my tongue, but the amazing iron-handed performance of one catch for 9 yards on six balls that struck his hands has me ready to call out one of my favorite players.

I firmly believe that Dez Bryant is worth every penny of the $14 million dollars he is scheduled to make annually for the duration of his contract. Signing him at that price was the right move. And trying to retain Demarco Murray at the expense of franchising Dez would not have been.

But there simply is no arguing the point that spending that much on a WR means your offense runs based on him.  And Dallas's offense, and the capability of every weapon except Jason Witten (and, again, including Demarco Murray in 2014) is based on the idea that Dez demands double coverage and is going to make you pay, and dearly, nearly every time you single him up. Dez has been absent for much of the season, but since coming back, has not been worthy of a double team. When were we going to notice that his return added nothing offensively to the team?  How many back up quarterbacks will we blame before we actually take a look at the situation?

I ask these questions of myself, because I have been simply waiting for Dez to snap out of it. As a fan, I had convinced myself that it was the quarterbacking, or that it was the lingering injury, and that Dez would be Dez any time, now. Of course, it's too late for anyone to do anything about it, but I feel safe in saying that the issue is all Dez.

Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting that Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have been anything but sub par. The point is that back up quarterbacks ARE sub par, and Kellen Moore is not going to fix anything. Nor is any second-stringer on any team. When you have a back up, you pay your big time wide receiver to step up and make the team better-- win battles, win contested catches, get open, get touch downs.  Dez Bryant has done very little of that. In fact, he's very obviously been less effective than the much-maligned body-catching Terrence Williams we are so disappointed in.

Why do I say this?  Simple. Dez is simply the least effective yards per target wide receiver on the team this year other than Lucky Whitehead (who has basically been used as a running back), and it's not close. Cole Beasley has 7.06 yards per target. Terrence Williams has 8.57 yards per target, Devin Street has 10.3 and Brice Butler a cool 18.

Dez Bryant, game breaker extraordinaire and highest paid offensive player on the team? 5.57

Worse than that, however, has been the clanky hands. Ted Ginn Jr., one of the most famously hard-handed receivers in the NFL, is catching 46.3% of his passes. Dez has caught 42.9% and, since returning from injury, 39.3% of his targets. The difference is that Ginn is producing 8.06 yard per target and has eight touchdowns to Dez's two. Yes, two. For the unstoppable red zone threat from last year who many of us predicted to flirt with 20 touchdowns this year -- he has two.

And it's not for lack of targets. Despite missing five games, Dez has the third most targets on the team, just six behind Terrence Williams. Those claiming that Cassel won't throw down field to Dez are wrong-- Dez just isn't catching them.

"But wait," I hear his fans say, "it's the quarterbacking... Cassel is so inaccurate that it's causing Dez's catch percentage to drop!"

Well, then explain this:

Cole Beasley -- 2014: 75.5%        2015: 71.2%

Jason Witten -- 2014: 71.1%         2015: 73.0%

Terrence Williams -- 2014: 56.1%       2015: 55.1%

Gavin Escobar -- 2014: 69.2%        2015: 61.5%  (that's only one catch difference, actually)

James Hanna -- 2014:  66.7%        2015: 66.7%

Devin Street   --  2014: 28.6%           2015:  60.0%

Dez Bryant -- 2014: 64.7%              2015: 42.9%

Is Cassel only missing Dez? How come he's the only one that is missing a full THIRD of his catches from last year? Everyone else is near their same catch percentage... only Dez is dropped off. Dez has only had two games all year where he caught even 50% of his targets: the opener (5 for 7) and the second Philadelphia game (5 for 8). In every other game he has played, Dez Bryant has failed to catch more than half the balls thrown his way.

And if Dez is ineffective, teams don't double him.  That leaves an extra defender to play robber on Tony Romo as the Carolina Panthers did twice to great effect. It means an extra defender to come up and stuff runs. An extra defender to double Witten or Beasley on key 3rd down conversions. Compared to last year, teams are playing defense against us with 12 men on the field... and THAT is the issue with the offense. Joe Buck may have been making up bad things about Dez out of whole cloth on Sunday (overweight? REALLY?) but there was no need to. The reality has been bad enough.

It will only change when Dez Bryant re-asserts himself as a wide receiver who is worth quarterback money, rather than a wide receiver who is worthless without a quarterback.