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Troy Aikman on Cowboys not using CeeDee Lamb in the 49ers playoff game: ‘The game is not that difficult’

A former Dallas great didn’t like what he saw from Kellen Moore and the Cowboys on Sunday.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys must find a way to get more out of CeeDee Lamb. Amari Cooper’s Cowboys future is a talking point right now given his salary. If Cooper isn’t in Dallas in 2022, CeeDee Lamb’s coronation as wide receiver #1 is being fast-tracked despite an inconsistent sophomore season in silver and blue.

Lamb’s drops were well documented throughout the season, but his production following the New England walk-off win dropped off sharply, eventually culminating in his five-target, one-reception game against San Francisco in Dallas’s 23-17 Wild Card loss. Pure and simple, that is unacceptable.

Cowboys great and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman spoke of Lamb’s usage this week on KTCK 96.7/1310 The Ticket.

Transcription by Mark Lane.

Dallas’s offensive ineptness against the 49ers was complete across all phases, but not finding a way to take advantage of a vulnerable secondary with what is supposedly the most talented wide receiving corps in the league was an abject failure. Lamb did have a pair of catches wiped out by penalties, including one against himself for not being set before the ball was snapped, but the fact remains that Dallas squandered a tactical advantage for 60 minutes while their season hung in the balance.

Lamb logged 79 catches for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns in 2021, one year after he set the Cowboys rookie receiving record with 74 receptions for 935 yards and five scores. The numbers look great when viewed from above, but when you consider that he recorded 33 catches over the first six weeks (5.5 per game), a pace that would have put him over 100 catches for the year, only to then manage 46 more over the next 11 contests (roughly four catches per game), is inexcusable. Lamb’s final 100-yard game of the season came in Minnesota with six catches for 112 yards.

That was Week 8.

There was much talk throughout the second half of the season about how the offense just didn’t look right after Dak Prescott returned from his calf injury, and rightly so. It wasn’t just the lack of a productive or consistent run game, worsened by Ezekiel Elliott’s partial PCL tear and Tony Pollard’s partially torn plantar fascia, but needless penalties from sloppy execution that often wiped out big plays. Lamb and Amari Cooper, who had been so dominant at times over the first six weeks, were suddenly average by way of their usage and number of targets.

There was talk about getting Cooper going early in games after the star receiver publicly called for it, but Lamb just seemed to fade into the background. Following his seven-catch, 89-yard game against New Orleans, Lamb averaged just 3.8 catches over the final six weeks. Take out the first Washington game in which he recorded seven receptions and you get the following: 6, 4, 3, 2, 1.

That’s your 1,100-yard, borderline number one receiver over the final five games of your season in which you had everything to play for between chasing the NFC’s top seed and then your lone postseason game. That’s pitiful.

The purpose of this piece isn’t to absolve CeeDee Lamb of any blame. He was sloppy with his route running at times and lacking in focus, as we saw with his drops and mental mistakes. He’s also a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout you may very well be leaning on heavily as soon as next season. You cannot have a gameplan that, as Aikman said, schemes around common sense. You didn’t use a first-round draft pick to select arguably the best receiver coming out of the 2020 Draft to not utilize him to his full potential.

As talented as Dallas’ receiving corps is, they don’t incorporate their weapons the way other teams use their elite pass catchers. Could you imagine what Cooper or Lamb could do with the number of targets Devante Adams or Tyreek Hill or Justin Jefferson see? It’s fair to place some accountability on the players themselves for running clean routes and getting open, but it’s also on the quarterback, the offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and the head coach Mike McCarthy to get the most out of their talent.

Simply put, there must be an honest discussion and introspection as to what went wrong this season with the passing game and why. Despite all of their resources and hours spent trying to diagnose and correct it, no one could do so. Dallas must understand why its stars were allowed to dim and then be extinguished as a once-promising season slipped away like so many before it.

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