If you haven’t heard, Brice Butler appears to be a little disgruntled with how seldom his number was called in the 2017 season. As players often do, he made the media rounds to FS1 and others, and made some comments that are stirring up some controversy.
Brice Butler’s stats for the season were as follows: 15 receptions, 317 yards, three touchdowns, with 21.1 yards per catch. He didn’t feel like he got nearly the opportunities that he deserved and that will likely be the driving forced behind him not returning to the Cowboys in 2018 though he leaves the door open.
A lot of attention was paid to some of the more controversial statements that Butler made about Dez Bryant. Our own DannyPhantom covered that earlier.
Instead of going down that rabbit hole again, let’s take a look at some of the candid things that Butler said about the general topic of the Cowboys offense and coaches. This is where Butler’s comments really get interesting.
While the exchanges below involve Dez, they are indicative of a larger problem that has been discussed a few times on these pages The Cowboys offense isn’t evolving with it’s personnel. It really needs to.
Dez without Tony Romo needs to become a different kind of receiver. First, let’s read the exchange:
Question: I look at Dez Bryant and I’ve watched him a lot. ... Dez runs two routes, either an in-breaking route or a back-shoulder fade.
Question: So it makes it very easy to cover him because you don’t have to worry about the speed out. You talked about how you missed a throw sometime in practice with Dak, and you’ll work on it after.
That’s Shannon Sharpe talking about what he’s seen on film with Dez, and he’s not far off. Of course Bryant does run other kinds of routes, but percentage wise, the in-breaking pattern and the fade/jump-ball route dominate. They are patterns Tony Romo liked to run with Dez, especially the fade/jump ball. Romo was a master at placing the back-shoulder fade exactly where it needed to be, he also would place passes just high enough and deep enough for Dez to jump up and out-physical his coverage for the catch. Dak Prescott doesn’t throw the back-shoulder fade or the jump ball particularly well. Yet the Cowboys kept force-feeding it into the offense.
This is one example of how the Cowboys would do well to Dakify the offense. Dez is a beast on in-breaking patterns and slants. Yes, he dropped way too many passes this season, but if Dak and Dez worked a full offseason on their timing on these shorter, over-the-middle type of plays, and if the Cowboys would actually utilize Dez in this way much more often, things could really change for both players.
Back to Brice Butler’s comments, where he suggests that the Cowboys and Dez should consider moving him around more, even putting him in the slot some.
Butler: I think there’s things, in all fairness, that they can do to help Dez get the ball. I think if they put him in the slot and move him around and get him some [looks] underneath. He’s a physical receiver. I think he would [go with that], we actually spoke about that, and he said he would love to do it. It’s a hard position, you’ve got to run some different routes, your feet have to be a little quicker than on the outside, you’ve got to be able to react because the nickel might jump outside once your run up on him. Things would change, but I think they could do some things to help him as well, though. He has a different way of expressing his feelings, so a lot of times he gets a bad rap or perception because of what you guys see on TV.
Skip: So you guys are cool?
Butler: Yeah, we have a good relationship, we talk about a lot of things. In the last few weeks of the season, he was speaking about that, and I what I said to him was, ‘That’s what Larry [Fitzgerald] did.’ And Larry went from 80-90 balls outside to inside catching 110 again. Bruce Arians got there. I was like as long as you can work on that route tree in the slot within our offense, and our coaches could be creative in there, you can do it.
This bleeds into another subject broached quite often this offseason, the Cowboys lack of creativity on offense. Why do they have to play Jason Witten on every down? Why can’t they adopt more from other schemes instead of almost slavishly sticking to their vertical-passing, power-running scheme? Why haven't they moved this offense from Romo-friendly to Dak-friendly quicker? The answer to that, I presume, is 13-3. When Dallas had such success in 2016 without Romo and with Dak, the need to change didn’t seem that big. The 2017 season has brought that need into sharp focus.
The Cowboys would do well to start altering their approach, and discard some of their stubbornness. Again, Butler comments.
Butler: Our offense is a positive and a negative I feel because we have very talented players, we’ve got Cole Beasley, we’ve got Witten who’s played for ever, we’ve got Dez Bryant, we’ve got Zeke. But the thing that a lot of us will say - every one of us will say - is that when they find what your strength is, they kind of just, that’s what you do.
Question: So they put you in that box and you can’t come out of it?
Butler: That’s kind of what you do. For me for instance, I only ran verticals. I mean I ran other routes. You saw me run other routes, but really you only saw me run the vertical. And that’s not because I couldn’t.
While Butler finishes talking about himself and vertical routes, what he is saying could easily be applied to Dez and the routes he runs, as we noted above.
At another point in Butler’s day-long media-fest, he talked about how much input Tony Romo had into the offense, and how he basically ran things on that side of the ball, going as far as to say Romo was the coach on offense.
Butler: Tony Romo was the guy that installed the plays during the meetings during the week. He talked about all that stuff. When I first got there, I had never seen nothing like that. When I left Oakland, Derek Carr was a second-year quarterback. He was a kid. And my rookie year was Terrelle Pryor, so you know he wasn’t calling the plays. So when I first got to Dallas, when I saw all the input that Tony was telling us, I was like, ‘Dang, this is crazy. The coach ain’t really really coaching.’
Butler says the Cowboys will change the offense for Dak now.
Butler: Now it’s Dak as the quarterback, now it’s moreso offensive coordinator doing things. Dak is a rookie, Dak is a second-year player, he’s still learning. He doesn’t know the scriptures of the offense like Tony knew the scriptures of the offense. The Cowboys organization will start making it more Dak-friendly or whatever, more stuff off the run, more play-action passing and stuff like that because that’s his skill set. That’s what he does well. He’s a dual-threat quarterback.
It’s likely Brice Butler won’t return, teams generally don’t like players going public with this kind of stuff. But, it is instructive in that it kind of validates the things that plenty of people have been saying about the Cowboys offense later in the season and into this offseason.
There are improvements to be made, and the Cowboys need to re-think how they are utilizing their personnel. With Dak Prescott at quarterback, combined with the slowing of Jason Witten and the decline of Dez Bryant’s dominance, Dallas must alter what they are doing and fit the scheme to their current personnel. Can Scott Linehan do that? We are about to find out.