Are you ready for another take on the Cowboys offensive woes? This one comes from inside the team, not outside analysis. In fact, this take suggests that a lot of outside analysis has been wrong.
Cole Beasley dropped these comments about the Cowboys receiving corps and their performance so far on the 2018 season.
Look elsewhere if you want to find blame for the Dallas Cowboys offensive struggles.
That’s according to Cole Beasley and the Cowboys receivers, who point to the game tape to show they’re getting open. They’re not pointing the finger at quarterback Dak Prescott, but are clearly not comfortable with taking the blame for the Cowboys’ 435 combined passing yards through three games, which is the second-fewest in the league.
“We’re just getting open. That’s all we can do,” Cole Beasley said. “If you watch the tape, that’s all you’ve got to do. A lot of people aren’t watching the tape. They’re just assuming. That’s fine.”
To some extent, Beasley is right. I have watched the game tape for each performance by the Cowboys in 2018, specifically focusing in on the offense. There have been opportunities in the passing game that are not being exploited. Beasley’s comments suggest it’s happening all the time, which would be somewhat of an exaggeration, but his underlying point holds - the receivers are creating opportunities. He even mentions the “s” word, a buzz word for the Cowboys ever since the offseason.
“Any receiver is frustrated when you get the ball three times. But any playmaker wants the ball and if they say they don’t they’re lying,” said Beasley, who said Prescott is handling it well. “Nobody is down in the dumps or anything. In our room, we get satisfaction out of getting separation whether the ball comes our way or not.”
There it is - separation. That’s been the key word applied to the Cowboys receiving corps and a big reason for the revamp this offseason.
The natural logic that would follow this goes something like: if the receivers are getting open, then the problem must be with the quarterback. Beasley tries to cover for that, but there is some implied finger-pointing here, no matter how much Beasley tries to be the good teammate and not go there.
Beasley wasn’t just trying to defend the receiving corps. He also defended Prescott.
“There are lot of things that keep the ball from getting to a receiver. A lot of variables,” he said. “You can’t just point at one unit, ever. Unless we were on tape not getting open, then you could say that. But until then, if you just look at stats, of course, people are going to say that we’re not good or horrible. If you look at the opportunities you’d know better.”
So following the logic chain of “a lot of variables” there are only really two here. Either Dak Prescott is not seeing or throwing accurately to the receivers, or the offensive line is failing to provide protection. In the Cowboys case, there is a little of both. We’ve documented the problems the Cowboys offensive line is having, but they aren’t the sole source of the problem.
Scott Linehan adds another piece to the puzzle with his recent comment. He doesn’t come out and say it, but he seems to imply the same thing Beasley is getting at, Prescott needs to trust his arm, and his receivers, and “sling it.”
Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan suggested a lack of experience between Prescott and his receivers.
“I’d just say we’ve got to trust some of the things more I think,” he said. “Stress when we have things, if we’ve got those plays, and we feel like our guys are running and winning [routes] and doing the things that they need to do … and as he gets to know them and get more of a background with them, he’s going to start having more success with that.”
If you have watched the game tape (the All-22 version), you would likely come to similar conclusions. For whatever reason, Prescott is not trusting himself to throw it deep or intermediate. There are times you can see him looking at a receiver, who by NFL standards is most definitely open, and not pulling the trigger. Other times, you can see a receiver will be open once he makes his break, but Prescott is not trusting that situation and so he doesn’t attempt the throw.
Prescott is the anti-gunslinger in 2018. He wants to protect the ball at all costs and will take the checkdown all too often, even to the team’s detriment. He’s not trusting his arm or the receivers and just slinging it.
Those who think that Prescott’s and Linehan’s comments yesterday about slinging it meant that the game plan is to come out and throw 50 times against the Lions (who have the top pass defense and the worst run defense), are likely misinterpreting what they are saying. More likely what they mean, and it’s the logic that runs through all of this, is that when the opportunity is there, Prescott must sling it, he must trust himself and let the ball go.
Obviously there are things that Linehan can do to help Prescott. As has been noted in other places, most notably an article in The Ringer, Dallas should start incorporating more play-action into the play-calls. Prescott seems to get a better rhythm on these, and the play-action, especially with Ezekiel Elliott rounding into form, will slow the pass rush and help fool the coverage.
The other thing Linehan needs to do is increase the amount of stack/bunch formations to give the receivers cleaner releases, and combine that with rub routes to open things for yards after the catch. Prescott’s natural tendency is to throw short, so give him some opportunities to hit guys and let them run after the catch. The Cowboys most effective play in the passing game so far seems to be slant/crossing routes to Beasley, let’s get more guys involved in that and get more confusion in the coverage in hopes of breaking some of those into big plays with yards after catch. If you want to criticize Linehan for the offensive woes, this is probably the area that rings the most true, he needs to alter his vertical passing routes concepts and incorporate some of these types of plays.
The offensive line needs to block better, Linehan needs to throw in some new stuff to accommodate Prescott and put defenses off the scent, but in the end Prescott needs to trust himself and his receivers. There’s a joke that says in the NFL if you’re single-covered, you’re open. That’s an exaggeration, but what it implies is that NFL receivers should beat single coverage enough times that the quarterbacks have to trust their receivers. They have to sometimes throw before the receiver makes his break and trust he’ll be there. The quarterback has to take some chances and trust that his receiver will make them pay off even with a defender nearby.
The Cowboys don’t need to sling it 50 times a game, but when the chances are there, Prescott most definitely needs to sling it.