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Cowboys offseason bet of receiver-by-committee with an unproven QB has backfired

An offseason decision to go wide receiver by committee can only work if you have a developed passer.

Dallas Cowboys v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Cowboys made a decision this offseason that Dak Prescott could win with a committee approach at receiver. That decision, so far, is not working out and the passing game has severely handicapped this offense. It really all comes down to two missteps in the evaluation process:

  • A mis-evaluation of the quarterback’s development and skill set as a passer
  • A mis-evaluation of the capabilities of the receiving corp they chose for this committee

In five games, we’ve seen all four of Dak Prescott’s interceptions come off the hands of his receivers.

We have seen this quarterback struggle with accuracy and anticipation, which is a big contributor to these issues. We have also seen him put the ball between the numbers and it get tipped in the air or flat out dropped. With that said, Prescott has been, at best, an average quarterback that leaves much to be desired. He’s played like an average passer at his best but he’s also surrounded by receivers that are below average. It’s the bed that this organization made for themselves and it’s really what most analysts expected back in June:

The receiving corps is deeper now because they’ve given themselves several relatively talented options to replace Bryant (Tavon Austin comes over from the Rams, Deonte Thompson from the Bills, Allen Hurns from the Jaguars and Michael Gallup from the third round of the draft). But none of those guys look as though they can be lead dogs out wide, and veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are also best-suited for complementary roles.

Throw in that the top candidates to replace Witten are 2015 seventh-round pick Geoff Swaim (nine career catches) and 2016 sixth-round pick Rico Gathers (zero career catches) and you begin to wonder if Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will have any pass-catchers he can rely on in 2018.

This is in no way an endorsement for bringing Dez Bryant back in the fold. You don’t have to look far to see the organization’s reasoning there.

Bryant didn’t deserve to be made the scapegoat for the passing woes last season but he wasn’t innocent either. To be clear, would Bryant be the best receiver on this current roster? Absolutely, but is that really saying much for a guy whose three-year catch rate is 49.2%? The debate of whether or not you need a premier receiver is tied directly to the abilities of your passer. Prescott is not at the level of the quarterbacks that can elevate the players around them and for a lot of folks, that’s the deal-breaker.

For this quarterback to be successful, he needs receivers that can elevate him like DeAndre Hopkins did Sunday for Deshaun Watson. If the front office is debating whether Dak needs a premier receiver on offense, the answer just spun right through their defense in overtime to set up a game-winning kick that beat them. Watson is talented, he’s a first-round pick, but he’s not a finished product yet. Watson’s skill players don’t need him to make perfectly-placed passes 100% of the time when they have the ability to bail him out.

Deshaun Watson struggles with spotty accuracy just like Dak. He had four games under 60% in completions in seven played as a rookie and he’s had some this season too. Watson’s career completion percentage is 63% and Prescott’s is slightly higher at 65%, not very far off from each other.

The Texans have a lot of problems of their own but at least their skill players give them a chance in every game. Watson has six 100+ yard receiving performances in five weeks of football with three different receivers. Hopkins has three of them, including 151 yards he hung on the Cowboys, Will Fuller has two, and one by rookie Keke Coutee. In 12 career games, 42% of games that Watson has quarterbacked featured a 100-yard receiver with two games that featured two receivers reach that mark.

In 36 starts (week 17 of 2016 omitted) Prescott has only had a receiver top 100-yards seven times or in just 19% of his starts. Dak is 6-1 in those games, with the only loss coming to the Packers in the 2016 Divisional Round. Five of those 100-yard receiving performances came from his rookie season, four belong to Dez, one to Jason Witten. In 2017, Terrance Williams had a quiet 141 yards in week nine’s win over the Chiefs. Dak’s last 100-yard receiver was Rod Smith in week 14 of last year, 81 of the 113 total yards came on one play.

Let’s bring this back to the present Cowboys passing offense which is what nightmares are made of. Not only has this team gone eight games without a receiver reaching 100 receiving yards, the Cowboys along with the Bills are the only team without a receiver to accumulate 200 receiving yards on the season.

Cole Beasley is the leading receiver and he only has one game where he gained more than 70 yards. Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns both have catch rates in the 40% range while also being two of the bottom-five in separation. Tavon Austin has the fourth-most yards on the team but is averaging less than two targets per game. Austin had a big 44-yard catch on an incredible escape by Prescott that almost negated that crucial sideline drop.

That’s the problem with this crew, quarterback included, when the light comes on, it only flickers. This team is just incapable of building any sustainable offensive success from week-to-week. The opponent knows the drill, stop Ezekiel Elliott, stop the Cowboys. These guys put up less than 300 yards of offense on a Texans defense that was giving up about 400 per game.

On Monday’s episode of “The Break”, Nick Eatman had a really interesting comment about a conversation he had with an alleged Cowboys assistant coach:

“A coach told me this the other day, one of the assistants told me: ‘Our guys don’t win. Our receivers do not win. They never win the ball.’ Me versus you. My two hands versus your two hands and I win the ball. They don’t.”

Eatman has never shied away from his criticism of this quarterback either but the above comment is a huge indictment on the whole offseason evaluation process. “Our receivers do not win.” The Cowboys set out to make this team as friendly as possible for a young quarterback and this is where we are after five games? Every one of the veteran receivers that they brought in were off teams with better options. How can we make an honest evaluation of Dak Prescott without considering what he’s working with? The Cowboys bet that their quarterback could make due with a stable of complementary receivers and they lost.

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