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Cowboys OC plans to shorten rotation at receivers for Lions game & that’s a great place to start

Scott Linehan has decided maybe less is more at wide receiver.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are implementing “some changes” on offense after they have fallen into offensive purgatory early in the season. Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott at least know that what they have been trying isn’t working. So, the offensive coordinator has decided to look at his roster that seemingly has 1,000 receivers and tighten up the rotation.

For the first three games, six of the seven receivers on the roster have worked their way in and out of the lineup. Now, they have had some bright moments, like this one to Tavon Austin in week two’s win over the Giants (remember how fun that was?!).

Then there was this one to the same guy even though it was during the middle of a terrrible game.

These ‘moments’ have been really rare to find in an offense that has rarely found success lately.

Scott Linehan is well aware of the angry mob steadily approaching “The Star” since this ‘slump’ started 11 games ago. He’s also well aware that in his 16-year NFL career calling offenses, he’s had a Top-10 offense in one area or another in 12 of them. Now, he faces a tough task of getting back to what worked for his personnel. That’s why tightening up the receiving rotation is a great place to start with the Detroit Lions’ number-one ranked pass defense coming to town.

A few days ago, we noted the passing offense being in such rough shape because there just hasn’t been much of a plan at receiver. The Cowboys have done more to take away from their passing game than help it. There has been no rhythm because there is literally no rhythm in how or when they deploy their receivers. Right now, Ezekiel Elliott and Geoff Swaim are technically the two pass catchers in snap percentage, over 90% for both. In targets, it’s Elliott (1st) and Swaim (4th). In receptions, Elliott (2nd) and Swaim (4th) again though both guys are the two lowest in yards per catch. Here is what the snap counts and production look like from just the receivers on this team:

Player Snap Pct. (Rank) Targets (Rank) Rec (Rank) Rec. Yards (Rank) TD
Cole Beasley 65.34% (3) 16 (2) 12 (1) 132 (1) 0
Allen Hurns 59.09% (4) 9 (5) 4 (6) 51 (5) 0
Deonte Thompson 45.45% (5) 12 (3) 9 (3) 83 (2) 0
Michael Gallup 44.89% (6) 7 (6) 3 (7) 31 (7) 0
Tavon Austin 26.70% (8) 5 (7) 5 (5) 81 (3) 2
Terrance Williams 21.59% (9) 3 (8) 2 (8) 18 (8) 0

One thing that stands out is hopefully what Linehan is talking about, and that’s getting a consistent rotation going. What happened to trading for Tavon Austin and “having a plan” for him? Austin has been one of the only bright spots in their struggles to find a passing rhythm. Terrance Williams has primarily been getting snaps as a run blocker with zero targets in the passing game in week three. Now, they are preparing to possibly lose Williams for a stretch so they added Brice Butler to the mix.

The coaches have to decide which guys are going to be most productive and use them against the Lions. Do you remember that NFL cliché about quarterbacks: If you have two of them, you don’t have a quarterback? Well, how about if you have seven receivers, you probably don’t have a chance for a clean passing game?

When you’re facing off against guys like Quandre Diggs, Darius Slay, and Glover Quinn, a plan is going to be needed. You can’t make it as easy for the defense. When you don’t have the respect of the defense for your receivers, you must find ways to earn it. You probably want to start with the most important question:

What mismatches do the Cowboys have that they can use?

A.) Short-area quickness/Speed- Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, and Cole Beasley

B.) Size & Athleticism - Rico Gathers, Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns

C.) YAC potential - All of the above if used correctly

It’s about finding a rhythm between your quarterback and his receivers that can be efficient. It’s unlikely that the Cowboys are going walk into this matchup and dominate this Lions defense at what they do best, cover the pass. At the same time, you have to find ways for a more efficient passing game. Linehan and Dak have said that they have added more wrinkles to the offense but what could that mean?

Well, hopefully it means much less Air-Coryell and vertical routes that don’t really fit the personnel. In order to create some success in the passing game, they will need to think more along the lines of the West Coast or Spread concepts. Try more underneath routes or rub routes. Heck, why not some pick plays? You run the risk of getting caught but check out how these pick plays have worked for the Saints and Patriots. Why use Rico Gathers as a blocker when you can run him on a crossing pattern? Most of all, get Dak Prescott comfortable using play-action. This should be a great game for the Cowboys to establish the run, against a Lions defense that surrenders 149 rushing yards per game, which is 32nd in the league.

If Scott Linehan is looking to tighten up his receiving corps, then that’s good news for the offense. Pick a few that the quarterback can start building chemistry with instead of having six guys with no chemistry. With as bad as this Lions run defense seems to be, the Cowboys don’t have to pass their way to victory. It’s just important for them to find something that resembles an efficient NFL passing offense, do that and they just might find themselves in the win column.

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