FanPost

The 2017 Cowboys Offense: A Postmortem Examination, Part II - They Can't Catch, but at Least They're Slow

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Note: Congrats to FuzzyLogic1 for writing one of the best FanPosts I've ever read. He takes a topic that we've been discussing here at BTB and adds a lot of hard data and visual aids to the case for some definitive conclusions. Outstanding work and we're proud to move it to the font page! -- Dave

From 2012 to 2014, Dez Bryant was unquestionably a top-five wide receiver in the NFL. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy averaged 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns per year, putting him on a historically great pace that saw him record the third-most receiving touchdowns in NFL history through a player's first five seasons - trailing only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, two of the greatest to ever play the game. He was paired with a productive Z receiver in Terrance Williams, one of the league's best slot receivers in Cole Beasley and the ageless wonder Jason Witten at tight end. By any estimation, the Dallas Cowboys seemed to have one of the better pass-catching groups in the NFL.

That didn't last long.

Despite adding fourth-round pick Ryan Switzer in the 2017 NFL Draft, and despite an offseason in which Dez Bryant was said to be the healthiest he's been in years, the receiving corps was a major source of disappointment throughout the 2017 season. At least according to the popular narrative, the Cowboys receivers simply couldn't get any separation down the field, giving Dak Prescott nowhere to go with the ball. Even when Dak did deliver accurate throws, a litany of drops and deflections ended drives and led to a bunch of interceptions.

So, how much truth is there behind this narrative? Did the receivers - all highly productive in the past - really just suddenly and collectively forget how to play football? Are they to blame for Dak Prescott's sophomore slump, or is Dak himself to blame for the sudden drop-off? Well, let's jump in and find out.

Separation Anxiety

Of all the complaints about the Cowboys receivers in 2017 - and, lemme tell ya, there were plenty - by far the most common was that they simply can't get any separation. You know the narratives here. Dez is slower than my grandma, rest her soul. TWill and his useless hands are blanketed on every play. Cole Beasley caught a nasty case of dementia during preseason and just plum forgot how to football. Jason Witten is finally starting to show some signs of age in his 37th season.

Well, okay, that last one is mostly true. But otherwise, a look at the tape suggests a more nuanced situation. First and foremost, the NFL's "Next Gen" stats - drawn from real-time location, speed and acceleration data - allows us to quantify the amount of separation that receivers create on routes in which they're targeted. I suspect this data isn't quite as precise as it seems, and it doesn't capture all the subtlety and complexity that goes into the passing game, but it gives us a decent baseline to start with.

In the table below, 2017 numbers are shown with 2016 numbers in parentheses.

Receiver Separation Cushion Depth of Targets Catch Rate
Dez Bryant 2.4 (1.8) 5.1 (5.2) 11.8 (15.3) 52.3% (52.1%)
Terrance Williams 3.1 (2.7) 6.3 (6.3) 9.6 (12.5) 68.0% (72.1%)
Cole Beasley 2.4 (3.4) 6.3 (6.7) 7.5 (16.1) 57.2% (76.5%)
Jason Witten 2.4 (3.0) 4.8 (5.6) 7.3 (15.4) 72.4% (72.6%)
NFL Average 2.74 5.84 10.8 60.9%

Lots of interesting info here. First, it's clear that our receivers simply weren't able to create enough separation this year - with one notable exception. Terrance Williams averaged 3.1 yards of separation per target, which is well above the NFL average. Indeed, it ranks him just inside the top ten among wide receivers. Everyone else is considerably below average. Cole Beasley was a master at creating separation last year, ranking in the top five, but he sees the steepest decline from 2016 to 2017. We'll get to the reasons why later. Dez Bryant is also noteworthy, but for the opposite reason: his average separation actually increased by six-tenths of a yard.. and it's still below average! Yikes.

The second column shows the average amount of cushion a receiver is given at the snap. We need to be careful about drawing strong conclusions from this particular stat because there are many variables here, but I think it's notable that Dez is given relatively little cushion. He ranks in the top (bottom?) ten among receivers in average cushion (note that the NFL average is artificially low because it also includes TEs, who are naturally given less cushion), suggesting that teams simply do not respect his deep speed. In fact, defenders played him even tighter this year than last. That should already have been obvious, but it's nice to have data to support it.

On the other end of the spectrum, teams are giving both TWill and Beasley a generous cushion. I suspect this is happening for different reasons, however. TWill is something of a limited route-runner, so defenders know they'll primarily have only a couple of routes to defend: the vertical, the deep comeback and the post. Those are easier to defend if you can give the receiver more cushion, and although Williams is also effective on slants and drags, his marginal speed means defenders are still in decent position to come up and make a stop.

Beasley isn't feared because of his speed, either, but defenders clearly do respect his exceptional short-area quickness and crafty route-running. One false step in coverage against Beasley's explosive acceleration and a five-yard quick out or pivot can easily turn into a chunk play. Instead, defenders typically play Cole soft, willing to sacrifice easy short completions in order to protect against bigger plays. Defenses have actually adjusted the way they cover Beasley this year and done away with many of the easy completions, but more on that later.

Another very interesting trend from the table above concerns the depth of targets, which is the average number of yards the ball traveled in the air on passes in which the receiver was targeted. Think of it as a roundabout measure of the average depth of a receiver's routes. In 2016, every single receiver was far above the NFL average, which is typical of an offense descended from the Air Coryell. But in 2017, every receiver except Dez was well below the NFL average. Even Dez, the longtime master of the fade route, was just a yard above average. And yet, despite being targeted on much shorter passes on average, every receiver's catch rate - again, except Dez - dropped.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this trend, but I've got a few thoughts. First, the offensive line clearly was not up to par this season, and Dak often had less time to throw than he'd been afforded in 2016. That means more three-step drops and quicker-developing routes. I'd intended to do a post focusing specifically on the OL as part of this series, but because of time constraints, I probably won't get around to that. Suffice it to say, the Great Wall of Dallas it was not.

Second, the receivers may have particularly struggled to get open downfield, forcing an adjustment to shorter throws. This makes some sense, as the predictability of our scheme makes it somewhat easier for opponents to defend down the field. The utter lack of speed in our receiving corps surely doesn't help, either. And third, it may relate to the tentative play I mentioned in the first part of this series, as Dak seemed to develop a real reluctance to pull the trigger as the season wore on.

In any event, let's get down to business and take a look at each of our primary receivers to get a better sense of what they bring to the table - and whether they might be part of the problem. Full disclosure: I'd intended to provide a thorough film breakdown for each receiver, but I lost many of the gifs I'd made and it would take too long to remake them. So, you'll have to bear with me here. I've improvised as much as I could, but I don't have all the clips I wanted to use. Now then..

Dez Bryant

Dak Prescott may have been the primary target of many fans' ire this season, but Dez Bryant surely wasn't far behind. Our $70 million receiver's season was defined more by drops, fumbles and sideline antics than by spectacular leaping grabs and dynamic runs after the catch. There are plenty of stats to illustrate Bryant's ignominious decline - he ranked 72nd in both DVOA and DYAR, ranked among the league leaders in drops and registered just six touchdowns in 16 games - but this chart pretty much tells the story.

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Success rate, as the name suggests, measures the percentage of plays that are considered "successful" - gaining at least 50% of the required yardage on first down, 70% on second down and 100% on third or fourth. The chart shows Dez's success rate compared to the NFL average for each of the quadrants on the field, and it ain't pretty. He was well below average in every quadrant except the short middle, with deep left and deep middle passes being especially troublesome.

It's worth noting here that, according to the man himself, Dez played through tendinitis for much of the season. As a player who has always been reliant far more on physical ability than refined skill and technique - winning primarily with a combination of violent physicality, tremendous ball skills and explosiveness - it's fair to assume an issue like tendinitis might have hampered his ability. Of course, that also raises the question as to why, according to reports, he'd apparently played through it without reporting it or receiving treatment. Anywho.

Some of the issues with Dez have been obvious for years. In fact, last year Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins gave a pretty concise - and, unfortunately, accurate - summary of defenders' thought processes when covering Dez:

"For real, though, to be honest, when you look at film and break down your opponents and the receivers that you're facing, you notice what they like to do. Take away the slant and the dig, and when they get in 21 personnel and Dez is inside the number, you take away the corner post, he doesn't have nothing else."

"It might be a stutter-and-go. Ain't no slant-and-go," Jenkins said. "I ain't never seen him run a real post route.

"Everything's got to be a double move to get him open because he's not fast."

That sounds about right. In any event, on to the tape!

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Speaking of Janoris Jenkins, he draws the coverage on Dez Bryant on our first play, a 2nd & 4 from the second quarter on opening night. Give Jackrabbit credit - he puts his film breakdown to work. He knows from the situation and alignment that a go route is coming, so he does what most corners do against Dez these days. Instead of jamming, he uses quick footwork and body positioning to force Bryant into a wide outside release. He has no fear of getting burned deep, so he simply squeezes Dez into the boundary to take away any throwing windows. Dak forces it anyway because that's what his read tells him to do, but there's simply nowhere to put the football.

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Next up, the third quarter of the Kansas City game, with the Cowboys driving deep into Chiefs territory. On first down from the 29 yard line, Dez has tight single coverage and no safety over the top, which is an automatic trigger for the go route. The throw goes long by a yard or two, but that's not the important thing here. Look at Dez's route: he gets a free release, uses a delayed stutter-step and then fades to the pylon. Because the cornerback has no reason to bite on the fake, and because Dez doesn't have the speed to run by anyone, this again allows the corner to use the sideline as a second defender. A perfect throw may have given Dez an opportunity to snag the ball and drag his feet for the score, but this shouldn't require a perfect throw in the first place. Dez allows himself to effectively be taken out of the play, presenting a vanishingly small target for Dak to hit on what is already a low-percentage play.

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Next up, late in the second quarter of the Green Bay game. I actually really like this play design. Dallas aligns in a bunch set to the field, out of which they run a PIN concept - Terrance Williams runs a post with Jason Witten working the in route underneath (hence the name - post + in route), while Dez again goes vertical down the boundary against single coverage. He's being covered by Davon House (#31), who isn't particularly fast, yet he can't get any separation. This again allows House to stay on Dez's hip and squeeze him into the boundary, requiring an absolutely perfect throw if the play is to have any chance of succeeding.

This has always been a problem for Dez, but it's one he's been able to overcome in the past to some extent through exceptional ball skills and body control and a typically very accurate Tony Romo throwing him the ball. Well, Romo has gone off into the sunset, and it appears at least some of Dez's physical talents have as well. Whether he takes a closer split to give himself more room to work with, fights harder on his release to avoid being squeezed to the boundary or even starts to take more inside releases, it's clear that he must do something differently if he hopes to have success on these routes in the future.

Of course, the other major issue is drops. Dez has always had the occasional focus drop, where his attention strays - usually to thoughts of turning upfield to make a play - and he lets an easy one bounce off his hands. This year has been something different entirely. He's dropped slants. He's dropped digs. He's dropped vertical shots. He's had drops that resulted in interceptions. He's dropped passes in just about every possible way.

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This might be the worst and most inexplicable drop of them all. Simple slant route against a premier corner in Chris Harris, Jr. Dez gets in and out of his break very quickly and gets enough separation to make the catch and potentially run for some nice yardage, but then.. yikes. What even is that? It appeared as though Dez may have misjudged the pass given his hesitation, but either way, he still gets both hands on it. Consider me flummoxed.

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This is a dime by Dak, locating the ball perfectly on Dez's back shoulder where only he can bring it in. Dez locates, squares up and extends to haul it in, except.. he doesn't. CB Brandon Dixon (#25) manages to make late contact, but it appears Dez was struggling to complete the catch even before that point. This is the kind of catch Dez is being paid to make, and he needs to do it far more often than he has recently.

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Woof. I don't even know what happened here, but it almost looked as though Dez drifted off on the route and wasn't prepared for the throw. Dak deserves some blame here as well - he puts a little too much zip on it for such a shallow curl route, and the ball is about a yard behind target - but Dez still ought to be able to make this catch more often than not. There were a number of these routine plays where the ball wasn't quite perfect, and Dez couldn't do anything to bail his QB out.

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Another fairly routine completion that turns into a drop. The play is set up pretty well: from a trips formation, Dez is the primary receiver on a basic in route. Williams runs a clear-out, while Beasley is on a drag route to occupy the linebacker underneath and open up a window for Bryant. Dez does a nice job of being physical in his release, knocking away the corner's hands and getting into his body before breaking hard inside and shielding the throw. Unfortunately, the ball hits him squarely in the hands, which seems to be a bad place to put a pass these days.

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One final drop, which leads me into my final points. First of all, how 'bout that throw from Dak? Good stuff. Dez is running one of his best routes, the dig, and he creates plenty of separation to give Dak a clean throwing window. Unfortunately, he lets the ball get into his body, can't secure it quickly enough and the ball pops loose for an incomplete once the safety lays wood on him. Far from the most egregious drop of the season, but another one that simply shouldn't happen for a receiver whose game is built on toughness, physical dominance and possession.

Now, I mentioned the dig because there are still a few things at which Dez excels, and the dig route is high among them. Dez is generally not what you'd call a precise route-runner, but he's as good as there is in the business running the dig. Take a different look at the above play, from the early 4th quarter of the Chiefs game, with the Cowboys at 1st & 10 on their own 41.

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Simple concept, but certainly effective. Dez and Beasley are stacked to the field side. Dez runs a 15-yard dig with Beasley running an over route underneath. Bryant does a great job selling the vertical stem, putting the corner in a bind because there are several possibilities off this stem (go route, dig, deep post, curl). He shows a simple fake outside before making a fantastic break inside, squaring up quickly and presenting a big target. He does his job perfectly and Dak delivers an excellent throw into a rapidly closing window, with the ball out of his hand just as Dez is entering his break. Of course, Dez is then thumped by the deep safety and loses the ball. C'est la vie, I guess.

The other thing at which Dez is still very, very good is slant routes. No surprise to anyone who watches the Cowboys, but you may not have realized just how good he's been on these quick-hitters. In fact, by some measures, Dez is the best receiver in (modern) history at running this particular route. To wit:

If you're wondering, Dez's success rate on slants is an absurd 94.9%. Slant routes are intended to be high-percentage plays by their nature, but a near-100% success rate is just bananas.

Dez gives you other things, too. Despite his down year(s), opposing defenses still pay respect to the man who once terrorized the league. He isn't receiving double teams and rolled coverages quite as often as he once did, but he still draws extra attention often enough to free up other players. For instance, here's a (poorly telestrated) example by Babe Laufenberg from the second Giants game.

This sort of thing happens more often than fans realize, even if the Cowboys aren't always able to take advantage of it. This is the kind of impact you simply aren't going to get from a Noah Brown or Lance Lenoir or whomever else you might wish to replace Dez Bryant with - at least not until those guys prove they warrant that level of attention. Here's another example of Dez's subtle influence:

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This has become one of our staple redzone plays, and it's typically extremely effective. It's a basic RPO call, so Dak has the option to hand the ball to Zeke or to pass. Cole Beasley is on the receiving end of a touchdown here after running a nice little slant, but look at the free safety. He's lined up on the left hash, but he bails quickly at the snap to get in position to help on Dez Bryant. This, along with the linebackers biting hard on the run action, completely vacates the middle of the field and leaves Beasley with just one man to beat - which he does as well as anyone in the league. Defenders may not fear Dez like they used to, but make no mistake: they know he can still kill you in the redzone.

Terrance Williams

I'm not sure there's a player on the roster who gets more undue flak than Terrance Williams. Aside from the occasional "Damn it, Terrance!" moment, T-Will has quietly gone about his business as a solid and reliable Z receiver. He came back to Dallas on a four-year, $17 million contract, and whether that looks like a bargain or a massive overpay depends largely on your expectations. If you're expecting a dynamic, high-volume receiver who can elevate an offense through his own stellar play, you're better off looking elsewhere. However, if you're looking for a guy who is almost always available, does his job well and has a knack for the occasional spectacular play, well, T-Will's your huckleberry.

Take a gander at his Success Rate Over Average:

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That's pretty dang good, all things considered. Williams came to the Cowboys in 2013 from the Baylor football program, where route trees look more like utility poles. That route-running inexperience has shown throughout his time in Dallas, though he's slowly improved and expanded his repertoire over the past few years. I suspect the bigger issue is the way in which he's used. As the Z receiver, Williams is primarily a vertical threat, tasked with stretching the field, creating big plays and clearing defenders to open things up for others.

Unfortunately, this isn't a role to which he's very well-suited. His deep speed is only average, and his inclination toward body-catching means he presents a smaller catch radius than other receivers. He's still capable of making plays down the field, but they tend to come more off broken plays, where he has a fantastic feel for when to break off his route and how to work himself open to help his quarterback. Ask Tony Romo how much he enjoyed running scramble drills with T-Will.

But enough rambling, let's get to the good stuff.

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Okay, well, maybe not the "good stuff." This is another simple RPO, this time against the Eagles, with T-Will running a slant as the primary target. The throw isn't perfect - Dak could and should have led Williams a tad more toward the hashes - but it's on time and accurate enough. As he is wont to do, T-Will lets the ball get into his body rather than extending to make the catch with his hands, and the result is a drop that turns into a costly interception. You just can't have a receiver making this kind of mistake so consistently.

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More of the same here, unfortunately. T-Will and Jason Witten are aligned with very tight splits, nearly stacked, and they run a simple spacing concept from this formation. Witten runs to the flat, while T-Will runs a quick five-yard hook. The ball comes out maybe a little bit hot, but it's otherwise on time and on target. Instead of aggressively working back to the ball, extending and snagging it out of the air, Williams passively waits and again lets the ball into his body. And again, he tips it up for an interception, which the Packers' Damarious Randall returns for six. This play, if you'll recall, proved to be a critical turning point in an important game.

Williams' drop issues weren't as pervasive as Dez Bryant's, though, and for the most part he was pretty reliable. In fact, I'd say that he was our best and most consistent receiver this season. Admittedly, that isn't exactly high praise, but there was plenty to like about T-Will's play this year. For instance:

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On 2nd and 15 in the first quarter of the Kansas City game, the Cowboys break out a play that's a staple in both Air Raid and Air Coryell offenses: the hitch seam. It's a very simple mirrored concept, with both outside receivers running hitches and the inside receivers running seam routes. It's a favorite against Cover 1 looks, especially when the outside corners are playing off coverage. T-Will is a threat on go routes in this situation, so the corner looks to gain depth quickly to protect against the vertical. That gives Williams an easy first down, but he does a great job of turning it upfield for a 27-yard gain to set up a touchdown on the next play. Nothing super flashy, but a nice, heads-up play.

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Another mirrored concept, this time against Philadelphia in the season's final game. The outside receivers run sluggos, while the inside receivers run out routes (well, Beasley runs a pivot route, but same idea). This is built on our simple slant concept, and T-Will does a great job of selling it. The defender bites hard on the slant, Williams cuts back upfield and he's got a probable touchdown.. if the throw is accurate. Instead, Dak's lower body goes stiff, he doesn't step through and transfer his weight effectively and he air-mails it. Either way, heck of a play by Williams.

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Well, I had the All-22 shot of this play but I lost it, so this will have to suffice. Though you can't see Williams' break upfield, this play is really all set up by his release. He gives a quick, hard fake inside before releasing outside, causing cornerback Quinton Dunbar to turn inside before scrambling to recover. This left him out of position, as his momentum made it impossible for him to stay with T-Will as he broke his route back inside. Again it's nothing spectacular, but the result is a ton of separation and as easy a throw as Dak will get in the NFL. For all the talk of our receivers not being able to separate - and there's certainly some truth to that - there were still opportunities for Williams throughout the season that didn't pay off because of poor throws or lack of recognition on Dak's part.

Cole Beasley

A great tight end is often a quarterback's best friend and security blanket, but a great slot receiver can fill the same role by creating easy throws and getting quick, early separation. We saw that in 2016, as Dak looked to Cole Beasley early and often, resulting in a career year for the diminutive slot machine. In fact, you could make a pretty compelling argument that Beasley was the best slot receiver in the NFL last year. Among other things, he created more separation when running routes from the slot than anyone else in the league:

Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys (3.41 separation at target)

Slot separation: 3.48 (74.7 percent of targets)

Out wide separation: 3.15 (18.4 percent of targets)

Air yards per target: 6.9

It was a career year for Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley with 75 catches for 833 yards, both of which led the team. Beasley led all 15 slot receivers in this sample with 3.48 yards of separation on his targets from the slot. There were times this year, especially in the early going, where Dak Prescott seemed to favor Beasley over all other receivers. The Dallas slot receiver only averaged 6.9 air yards per target, making him a reliable option in the short-to-intermediate passing game for the rookie quarterback. Prescott didn't truly begin to connect with Dez Bryant until later in the season after the receiver was further away from his injury absence. Nevertheless, Beasley looks like a solid offensive building block for the Cowboys offense over the next few seasons.

This year, however, has been a whole different story. Check Cole's SROA chart:

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Oh dear, that's an awful lot of red. In fact, he was less successful than average in every quadrant of the field for which he had enough targets to qualify (he didn't register enough targets for deep left and middle). So, what in the world happened? Well, first and foremost, opponents have changed the way they defend him. Beasley was routinely given bracket coverage this season, particularly on third downs and in other situations where he's normally a go-to target. Asking any receiver to win consistently against bracket coverage is tough, much less a 5'8" slot receiver.

Second, defenders have done a better job of taking away his most common routes. He doesn't have the size or deep speed to be a real vertical threat, and the way Scott Linehan & Co use him has made him somewhat predictable. That's not necessarily his fault, but nonetheless, he does have some distinct limitations. And third, Dak's issues with accuracy and timing cost Beasley on a number of opportunities, especially on quick outs that are predicated on precise timing and placement.

Still, Beasley remains a weapon when used properly. His incredible short-area quickness and agility allow him to create separation in a hurry, and he's a skilled and crafty route-runner as well. He's even shown a bit of elusiveness and speed to make plays after the catch, though that's never been his strongest attribute.

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This is just a run-of-the-mill play from the first Redskins game, but it exemplifies Beasley's absurd suddenness. Josh Norman has excellent quickness, but Cole just smokes him off the line. This happens on practically every snap unless the defender presses, and that comes with its own risks. Miss your jam and Beasley can be gone in a flash, which helps to explain why - as I mentioned above - Beasley is typically given a generous cushion. This play ultimately results in an incompletion due to a poor throw, but he creates separation with ease against one of the game's premier corners.

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I showed the RPO that went for a touchdown to Beasley earlier in this post, with a little assist from Dez, and this play is practically a mirror image. Though the safety doesn't bail quite as hard to help on Dez, the threat of the run again causes the linebackers to commit, opening the middle of the field and leaving Beasley one man to beat. Which he does. Badly. A subtle head-fake to the outside and a hard break inside to the slant is all it takes to secure another redzone touchdown, though Dak helps to sell it by looking briefly to Dez on the fade before coming back to the slant.

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You'll have to excuse the graphics on these next few gifs - I swiped them from Twitter to replace the ones I lost earlier. Anyhow, this is another of our red zone/short-yardage staples. We move the pocket by rolling Dak out to the strong side, with Beasley running a quick out and Williams essentially acting as a clear-out. The defender likely knows what's coming, but because Beasley is so quick, he's able to create enough separation for the throw anyway. And, as an added bonus, he also has the burst and agility to turn it upfield for the score.

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I love me some pivot routes, and Cole Beasley runs them as well as anyone in football. The defender is actually in pretty good position here initially with outside leverage, but Cole sells the inside stem really well and forces the corner to overcommit. He chops his feet, cuts hard back to the boundary and sets up yet another easy throw for the first down. I do not envy any corner who is asked to cover him in space. Practically uncoverable.

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Goodness gracious, this is some crafty stuff. It's man-to-man across the board with two deep safeties on 3rd & 10. Terrance Williams runs a clear-out to occupy the strong safety. He isn't really biting, but it doesn't matter. Beasley takes an outside release and sells the post route - putting his defender in a trail position to the field - before putting on the brakes and cutting hard to the sideline. The defender has absolutely no hope, and Dak does a great job putting it right on target for an easy chunk play.

I haven't touched on Brice Butler in this post because it sounds like he's probably out the door, though I think he's deserving of more snaps and targets than he's been given here. His combination of size and speed - and his ability to extend and make catches away from his body - make him a nice fit in an Air Coryell system, arguably more so than any of our other current receivers. I also haven't covered Noah Brown because he hasn't seen much action, though that may change moving forward. Ditto Ryan Switzer, who I'm pretty high on - assuming he ever gets to see the field on offense. And to be honest, I'd planned to cover Witten individually but I just don't feel like sinking any more time into this part of the series. So, deal with it. Oh! I do have Witt's SROA chart, though, and it's actually pretty dang solid.

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Anyway, where does our receiving corps stand after a frustrating 2017 season? Well, I think a few things are clear. First and foremost, we simply don't have nearly enough speed if we're going to continue running the Air Coryell/Air Garrett system. Defenses have no cause to respect our vertical game, and they don't. This allows them to sit on other common routes - curls, digs, etc. - with impunity. And while I'll get into this further in another post, I don't think this system is a good for for our players anyway. Dak is not a vertical passer, and the reliance on go routes, curls and other deep, timing-based routes doesn't play to his strengths. Cole Beasley is the only receiver who consistently creates high-percentage throws for Dak, but because of the other receivers' limitations and lack of speed, defenses can afford to bracket him often and take away a lot of those throws. Ryan Switzer could potentially do the same thing, but our insistence on playing Witten on virtually every snap means he won't see the field.

Second, I think it's fair to say that both Dak and his receivers deserve plenty of blame for the failings of this offense. Dak's issues have really hurt, but the receivers have also dropped far too many passes on their own, and they aren't capable of consistently separating to create easier throwing windows. Still, the narrative that our receivers are "never open" or "incapable of separating" overstates the case. Dez is still a force on digs and slants and still commands respect from defenses. Terrance Williams is better than he's given credit for by most fans. And Cole Beasley remains virtually uncoverable when he isn't being bracketed. Unless they've all completely forgotten how to catch (which it sure seemed like at times this year), I think the situation may be less dire than it appears.

So, that's it for Part II. Next up on the docket: are our offensive coaches really that terrible? The answer may surprise you!

(No, it won't. Because yes, they are.)

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