After two weeks of questions about his receivers’ seeming inability to make plays in training camp, Sanjal Lal should have been beaming about the result’s from last Thursday’s 24-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Most notable was rookie third-round pick Michael Gallup beating man coverage for a 30-yard touchdown on a go-route on the opening drive.
But Lal, forever the teacher and tactician in his first-year as the team’s receivers coach, found some fault with Gallup’s touchdown catch. He was most excited about what this group did away from the ball, namely two pancake blocks Gallup and Allen Hurns and a chopblock by Tavon Austin.
“I’m going to that because everyone wants to score 30 yard touchdowns on a go route,” Lal said when asked why he pointed out the blocks before big touchdown catch. “Everybody wants to have the ball. This group is unique because they have bought into the other aspects. That is what I am most proud of. You are expected to run good routes, catch the ball, all of that. Above and beyond what this group is going to be different about is what they do away from the ball that is what is pleasing to me. “
In addition to the pancake block, Lal said Hurns had a seal block on a 12-yard scramble by quarterback Dak Prescott that allowed him to get six extra yards and a first down. He also highlighted a strong and aggressive route by Terrance Williams on the back side of Gallup’s touchdown catch that made it seem like the ball was going to him.
Of course, beating one-on-one coverage and winning down field is what everyone on the outside is focusing on most with this new and revamped receiver corps following the departure of former No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant in the offseason.
It’s important because of the expected plan of opposing defenses to focus on stopping running back Ezekiel Elliott and the team’s potent ground game, forcing the unproven receiver corps to make plays outside.
And after one game preseason game, the Cowboys seemed to do that well. There was Gallup’s catch. Gallup also had another opportunity but the ball was underthrown. Hurns had a big 13-yard catch on slant on third down to move the chains. Tavon Austin caught two passes for 25 yards.
The Cowboys had success with two imporant cogs, Cole Beasley (groin) and Deonte Thompson (Achilles), sitting out with injuries.
But Lal was not moved.
“I am not even going to say we are going to win down the field yet,” Lal said. “As a coach we are not where we need to be on a nine route yet. But we are getting there. We will get there. We are not there yet.”
Lal said he is trying to instill a mentality in receivers and recognition that if you have press coverage and no help from the safety you have to win that matchup.
That is certainly what Gallup saw against the 49ers. He knew the ball was coming to him after lining up.
“Coach tells us all the time you’ve got to be able to win [deep] routes,” Gallup said. “If they’re going to load the box, you’ve got to have wide receivers out there putting out production. It was a one on one matchup. I was thinking he was throwing to me”
Lal acknowledged “Michael ended up winning” the route and getting the touchdown.
But all was not perfect and it was pointed out to him by Lal and coach Jason Garrett during film session.
“There is a lot he can do better,” Lal said. “He could have stacked him better. He could have saved more than 2 yards to the sideline. And Michael knows this. But what we really liked is he came out the other end and Dak trusted him to come out. He put the ball out there for him.”
Said Garrett: “There is a lot to learn about how he released off the line of scrimmage and how he ran the early part of the route. I do think he did a good job of hanging in there on the play. Dak made a great throw, did a good job of controlling the safety and threw the ball with the right trajectory. Obviously, right where you want to throw it and Michael did a good job of finishing it. But I do think early in the route he needs to be better, the release wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be and the early part of the route just really wasn’t what we’re looking for.”
What’s encouraging to all is that the Cowboys believe they have players on the roster to succeed in the passing game and win their one-on-one battles.
They also expect the week to week production to be similar to what transpired against the 49ers with contributions from a wide variety of players, rather than one go-to player.
“It almost should be you don’t really know at the end of the day who is going to have a great game,” Lal said. “One week it could be one guy the next week it’s the next guy cause everyone is doing their part. If we get in the first game against Carolina and we are not getting separation outside then we are in trouble then you have the right to say ‘well they either got to do it better or you need more talent.’ But behind the scenes, what are the guys away from the ball doing?”