Trade for Amari Cooper
Giving up a first-round pick is always a steep price to pay, but Amari Cooper is the kind of player who can justify it. There’s plenty of reason to have confidence in Cooper’s ability to get open and Dak Prescott’s ability to hit him consistently. The worry is how the coaches will integrate Cooper into their scheme.
In Oakland, Cooper’s best years were when he had 130+ targets and was very much part of the passing game. Last year, when his numbers dropped, his number of targets dropped to 96 and through six games in Oakland this season, he was averaging just five targets per game and on pace for a career low 85 targets.
Currently, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has fully embraced the idea of a wide receiver rotation, and the only players with more than 30 targets so far are Ezekiel Elliott and Cole Beasley. Given the talent at receiver, that makes some sense, but Cooper is a player that demands more targets and Linehan needs to recognize that. Furthermore, the Cowboys have a full two weeks to build chemistry between Dak and Cooper and need to take advantage of that and be ready to go by the time they gear up to play the Titans.
Change up some of the route combinations in the passing game
In the offseason, there was a lot of hype about the Cowboys’ new receivers coach, Sanjay Lal, and how his emphasis on fundamentals of route running would help this offense cater to Dak Prescott. We’ve definitely seen better route running from Beasley, who was already pretty good in that aspect, and Tavon Austin has shown significant improvement. Michael Gallup’s fairly quick development is also likely due to Lal’s presence.
However, the Cowboys are still calling their offense in a similar manner to last year. Many of the routes these receivers are asked to run are isolation routes that rely solely on the receiver’s ability to run themselves open. While this plays into the strengths of Beasley and now Cooper, the rest of this bunch simply aren’t good enough to do that yet.
The offense needs to use even more bunch formations for these receivers that utilize crossing patterns and rub routes to free up receivers at the line of scrimmage. This could provide open receivers quicker, which is necessary right now with how poor the pass protection has been.
Figure out the offensive line
Speaking of the offensive line, they’re not great right now. With Travis Frederick out, you’d expect backup Joe Looney to be the problem. He’s not, and has honestly been getting better and better each week. Connor Williams has been solid, but rookie mistakes are an issue with him still; and that’s fair, because not everyone can be Zack Martin levels of good in their rookie year.
Surprisingly, the biggest issue with the offensive line so far seems to be the tackles. La’el Collins is getting penalized too much and Tyron Smith is looking like a shell of himself, appearing to be susceptible to speed rushes like never before seen. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander has been coaching in the league for a couple decades, so he should have a bag of tricks to get these guys back in shape. He needs to reach into that bag now, because if the poor offensive line play continues, it won’t matter if Dak is throwing to Amari Cooper or DB Cooper.
Get the pass rush going again
The Cowboys have DeMarcus Lawrence, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, as well as some other potent secondary rushers in Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and recently returned David Irving. Through the first four games, during which Irving was serving his suspension, the Cowboys put up 14 sacks, averaging 3.5 sacks per game. Since Irving returned, though, the Cowboys only have five sacks.
This drop off in production has come against three teams with less than great offensive lines as well, particularly the Texans who only gave up one sack against Dallas. A lot of the pass rush to this point has been aided by Kris Richard’s eagerness to blitz, specifically with Jaylon Smith, but a defensive line with this kind of talent should be terrorizing the quarterback regularly. Recently, it hasn’t been the case.
Perhaps Richard and Rod Marinelli need to look at changing the way this defensive line attacks off the line of scrimmage, or maybe it’s just a slump they have to get out of. Whatever the solution is, the Cowboys need to fix this quick, because eventually the secondary won’t be able to hold their own as they have been.
Cut WR Deonte Thompson, sign Lance Lenoir from the practice squad
When the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, it seemed likely that one of their current wide receivers would be cut to make room for him. That turned out to be Brice Butler, though it should have been Deonte Thompson. The seventh-year wide receiver came in with some potential to be a big piece of this receiver corps. He has decent size, blazing speed - he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at his combine - and his route running was better than most.
However, Thompson has failed to really do anything so far. He’s only been targeted 18 times, and while he’s caught 12 of those, he’s averaging 8.6 yards per catch. He has demonstrated an inability to create separation or create yards after the catch, and his performance against Washington was downright miserable. Dak Prescott is getting help with Cooper, but he needs more receivers that can get open and catch the ball, and that’s not Thompson.
Lance Lenoir, on the other hand, is. He made huge improvements this year in the preseason as a receiver. His biggest weakness was as a returner on special teams, but that was never going to be his role with the team anyway. Lenoir was hailed by Lal in the summer as one of the best route runners on the team, and while he probably wouldn’t see many snaps, he’d already be an upgrade over Thompson.