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Cowboys Should Target Witten Less, Bryant More

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Dez Needs More Targets Than Witten

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LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30: Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by DeAngelo Hall #23 of the Washington Redskins after a pass reception in the second quarter at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Cowboys should get the ball deep to Dez Bryant more often in 2013. Of course, Dallas should really be looking to target Bryant more often all over the field; his 137 total targets ranked him just 11th among wide receivers.

While the Cowboys have multiple weapons across the field, we need to see that number jump this season to put Bryant among the league’s leaders. Both Demaryius Thomas and Roddy White saw more targets in 2012, despite the fact that both played on more run-heavy offenses—Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan both threw at least 33 fewer passes than Romo—and both play with at least one other really talented receiver.

Looking back at 2012, here’s how the Cowboys’ targets were distributed:

Jason Witten: 146
Other Tight Ends: 21
Dez Bryant: 137
Miles Austin: 115
Kevin Ogletree: 55
Other Receivers: 53
DeMarco Murray: 41
Felix Jones: 34
Other Running Backs: 31

That adds up to 633 aimed passes (excluding spikes and passes thrown away). Assuming that number remains steady in 2013, how should the Cowboys distribute the looks? Well, let’s take a look at the completion percentage and YPA to each player.

Witten: 75.3 percent, 7.1 YPA
Other Tight Ends: 76.2 percent, 6.7 YPA
Bryant: 67.2 percent, 10.1 YPA
Austin: 57.4 percent, 8.0 YPA
Ogletree: 58.2 percent, 7.9 YPA
Other Receivers: 64.2 percent, 6.8 YPA
Murray: 85.4 percent, 6.1 YPA
Jones: 73.5 percent, 7.7 YPA
Other Running Backs: 74.2 percent, 5.7 YPA

When we break it down like this, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so vital to get the ball to Bryant. He totaled 2.1 YPA more than Austin while still catching nearly 70 percent of his targets. Using these numbers, let’s take a look at how the Cowboys’ target distribution should look in 2013. We’ll have to do a little guesswork for the rookies.

Witten: 110 (down 36)
Gavin Escobar/James Hanna: 60 (up 39)
Bryant: 163 (up 26)
Austin: 110 (down 5)
Terrance Williams/Other Receivers: 60 for Williams, 40 for others (down 8)
Murray: 50 (up 9)
Randle/Other Running Backs: 30 for Randle, 10 for other backs (down 25)

In this scenario, the Cowboys would be cutting into Witten’s targets quite a bit. That’s a sound strategy, as the tight end recorded the worst efficiency of his career on a per-catch and per-route basis last season. In “stealing” targets from Witten and the backup running backs, the Cowboys can look for their talented backup tight ends and Bryant more frequently.

Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.

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