Mac Engel

Who’s to blame for Cowboys’ pathetic passing game?

Dez Bryant, right, Terrance Williams and the Cowboys’ passing game are struggling this season.
Dez Bryant, right, Terrance Williams and the Cowboys’ passing game are struggling this season. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The comparisons are aplenty and the concern is legitimate that Dez Bryant is not Michael Irvin 2.0 but rather Terrell Owens 3.0.

One long-time NFL observer/analyst told me: “Dez impersonates a No. 1 receiver. He has a few big games left, but not many. And he blisters like he still got it.”

Comments like that leave a mark. The evolution of Dez Bryant this season is not that much different than Terrell Owens’ final year with the Cowboys in 2008. Like Dez, T.O. struggled to get open and win one-on-one match-ups.

T.O. played two more decent years in the NFL after the Cowboys cut him when he was 35.

Dez is only 29, and well-liked by his teammates and the organization.

The Cowboys are a running team, but Dez and the passing game have become such a problem that this area will be targeted for major changes in the off-season if they miss the playoffs. That means cutting receivers and possibly the offensive coordinator.

There is no good reason this passing “attack” should rank 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL.

Dez is the face and spirit of the Cowboys’ vertical game, but if you want to see why it has become “three yards and a cloud of dust,” look no further than our favorite little point guard from SMU. Cole Beasley led the Cowboys in receptions last year with 75. He has 30 this season.

“I’m like, ‘It’s going to get better,’ but it hasn’t,” Beasley said at his locker on Thursday.

No, no it hasn’t.

“It’s been a weird year. Hope we put it together,” Beasley said. “If we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Change that going to are and we’re there.

We didn’t know it then, but the Broncos showed the world how to stop the Cowboys when the running game doesn’t run, way back in Week 2.

Teams have taken Beasley from Dak Prescott. Other than Jason Witten over the middle, there is nary a threat to complete a vertical pass.

Taking away Beasley should not mean the Cowboys’ passing game falls apart. Yet here we are.

As good as Dak is, he has not demonstrated he can turn an average receiver into a good one by throwing a ball into his lap.

When Dak and the Cowboys passed for 268 yards in a Week 1 victory against the New York Giants, they established their benchmark for the season. Dak hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards this season. He did it twice last year as a rookie.

“For us, our passing game complements our run game and at times our passing game has to take over and be the strength of our offense,” Linehan said.

Sounds great.

Do the Cowboys have a date in mind?

The Cowboys have one receiver who went over 100 yards in a game this season: Terrance Williams with 141 yards in the win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cowboys are one of five teams that has not passed for more than 300 yards in a game; they are joined in that Ring of Honor by the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.

Hitting 300 yards passing is not necessarily reflective of a great team, or a great game. A bad team can fall behind and throw its way to a big number in a blowout loss a few times a year.

You will notice, however, of the teams that have not thrown for 300 yards, only one has a winning record: The Ravens are 7-5.

So, what say you, Mr. Dez?

Who knows? Normally one of the most vocal, not to mention entertaining, players on the team with the media is not talking these days.

He was never going to age well like some receivers, namely Larry Fitzgerald. To age gracefully as an NFL receiver means to be an exceptional route runner with exceptional hands. That’s not Dez. He runs about three routes.

His strength is his willingness to go to hard places and to win 50/50 balls.

Dez is not talking, but the numbers are doing that for him. He has 58 receptions and five touchdowns.

Dak simply doesn’t trust to throw it to Dez unless there is an opening, and the receiver isn’t creating the space.

“In the NFL, guys aren’t wide open. It’s tight,” Linehan said. “You have to assess if [throwing to Dez covered] is a chance that is something you should take at that point. You learn that.”

Would the Cowboys cut Dez after this season? Possible, but unlikely considering he’s still well-respected by the team and has two years remaining on his contract.

The more likely scenario is replacing the coordinator, because that is always the easiest cut/blame in pro football.

They all deserve a measure of blame because the Cowboys’ passing game should not fail because they can’t get it to point guard Cole Beasley.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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