In yesterday’s analysis of red zone targets, I noted that the Cowboys didn’t get Dez Bryant involved enough as they approached the opposition’s goal line. Even over the course of the entire field, Bryant was underutilized. The wide receiver saw 137 targets on the season. While that sounds like a lot, it ranked Bryant just 11th in the NFL. Of course, the types of routes Bryant runs are just as important to his success. For the first year, I tracked every route run by each Cowboys player. Below, you can see how often each of the top players were targeted on certain routes.
- Back Shoulders: Austin (3), Bryant (7), Ogletree (1), Witten (0)
- Comebacks: Austin (5), Bryant (14), Ogletree (7), Witten (0)
- Corners: Austin (3), Bryant (4), Ogletree (3), Witten (0)
- Curls/Hitches: Austin (18), Bryant (21), Ogletree (9), Witten (41)
- Digs/Ins: Austin (6), Bryant (7), Ogletree (4), Witten (10)
- Drags: Austin (7), Bryant (5), Ogletree (2), Witten (7)
- Fades: Austin (2), Bryant (3), Ogletree (1), Witten (0)
- Flats: Austin (4), Bryant (0), Ogletree (0), Witten (13)
- Go’s: Austin (12), Bryant (19), Ogletree (3), Witten (0)
- Hitch-and-Go’s: Austin (2), Bryant (1), Ogletree (1), Witten (0)
- Outs: Austin (7), Bryant (3), Ogletree (2), Witten (56)
- Out-and-Up: Austin (0), Bryant (1), Ogletree (1), Witten (2)
- Posts: Austin (13), Bryant (7), Ogletree (4), Witten (4)
- Scrambles: Austin (6), Bryant (7), Ogletree (3), Witten (2)
- Screens: Austin (4), Bryant (6), Ogletree (1), Witten (1)
- Seams: Austin (2), Bryant (0), Ogletree (0), Witten (9)
- Slants: Austin (22), Bryant (33), Ogletree (11), Witten (0)
- Smashes: Austin (1), Bryant (0), Ogletree (0), Witten (0)
- Wheel: Austin (0), Bryant (1), Ogletree (0), Witten (0)
By breaking down the Cowboys’ passing game like this, we can get a sense of how Jason Garrett generally tries to get the ball to each of his weapons. Since Austin is the Cowboys’ slot receiver, you’ll see some routes (smashes, seams, flats) that the other receivers don’t run simply because they can’t necessarily do it on the outside. You can see that Garrett uses Austin quite a bit on underneath routes in general; the receiver was targeted only 34 times on routes that were designed to be run more than 12 yards downfield.
Bryant was used more extensively downfield, especially over the second half of the season. He leads the team in many of the routes simply because he was targeted the most often, but he ran a particularly high number of back shoulders, comebacks, and slants. However, we need to see more fades to Bryant in 2013—the receiver who possesses elite ball skills was targeted on only three fades in all of 2012. It’s also interesting to see that Bryant ran only three out routes all year. Ogletree’s routes don’t stand out too much, although the ‘Boys like to utilize his quickness out of breaks with comebacks and curls.
Finally, you can see that the Cowboys use Witten in a really limited role, likely because 1) there aren’t as many routes to run for tight ends and (2) he’s not a particularly big downfield threat. Witten was actually targeted on only 10 different routes all year, including 41 curls/hitches and 56 outs. It’s also interesting that, despite lining up out wide quite a bit, Witten wasn’t targeted on a single slant all season.
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.