Sturm: Can the Cowboys offense really produce 4 1,000-yard players? And does it matter?

Iamtdg

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By Bob Sturm 2h ago

There are many things about this NFL training camp that matter with regards to us crowning another league champion in five months’ time. There are also plenty of things that probably don’t matter, but are being discussed because they affect things like fantasy football or Madden ratings next season.

I would argue this topic is way more the latter than the former.

Football is a sweet symphony of many parts making beautiful music together. We never have much success trying to isolate the specific effect of one player without the other 10 guys trying to help him. How many countless quarterback debates have been waged with people trying to assume that if this guy had the same team as that guy, he would prove to be better? Why can’t my team get my guy the parts he needs, and what would our guy do if he had all the fun parts Patrick Mahomes has to play with?

I would argue that having special individual parts is significant, but to what end? If my team is accumulating over 400 yards a game, does it matter how many players are being used to get to that magic number of 6,400 yards over a season (16 games times 400 yards)? What if we four receivers each had 700 yards — is that markedly different than two receivers with 1,400 yards?

Running backs are their own case study. Are you a run-share team with no player getting more than 200 carries in a year? Or do you use your bell-cow back like we do in Dallas and try to run Zeke near 320 times (20 carries a game all year long)?

Does it matter?

Well, it’s all a matter of degrees. I would argue this is the biggest difference between the major college game and the NFL. At LSU or Alabama, you can assume they have six RBs who might be better than most on their opponents’ roster, and they can use them all or just run a complete conveyor belt of talent on a year-by-year basis. They can do this at all positions — this wealth of talent is what keeps the rich staying rich. No salary cap, no real roster restrictions of relevance. No injuries matter too much, as they just take the wrapper off a new player if an injury occurs, and odds are that guy is also a four-star stud who everyone wanted and he is just waiting his turn, too. They just hog the talent and stay awesome. You look longingly at their recruitment list and complain quietly.

The NFL is not designed this way. All roster numbers are capped, and salary expenditures are, too. You can accumulate the best talent possible, but the rules make sure that everyone gets a chance at nice players. Injuries hurt much more because you likely do not have “special” in reserve. Very seldom does a team not play its most talented options because they want to redshirt so he can get stronger and more mature. If you are on an NFL roster and you can play, they are not waiting very often.
The team with the high-end players can usually boss the league if they are healthy and as good as their contracts suggest. And this year, it is highly suggested the Cowboys have weapons everywhere.

So let’s have the very conversation that Michael Irvin and CeeDee Lamb had last week on TV.

“Can the 2020 Cowboys have three 1,000-yard receivers?” was the question, and to the shock of nobody, they both feel like it can be done right away. I won’t stress how uncommon that is for a rookie receiver, even if he is on a horrible offense and gets all the targets. But for a rookie to join a top offense and instantly become a main cog — well, that would be some Randy Moss stuff right there. Lamb is going to be great, but Moss was singular, so that is a very high bar.

I would also have a couple followups to that question:

“Can the 2020 Cowboys have three 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher?” and “Does it really matter and correlate with the win-loss record?”

First things first. Below is the six-decade history of the Cowboys in this regard. Please note that in 1961, the NFL went to 14 games, and in 1978, they moved to 16 games as we have today. 1,000-yard seasons have been badly watered down from 83 yards per game to 71 and now down to 62.5. When we move to 17 games next year, it will drop to just 58 yards per game to get to 1,000 for a season, so at some point here we should recognize the bar dropping for a number of reasons statistically. If you simply went on yards per game, our standard in 1960 for 1,000 yards would equate to about 1,416 over 17 games, so we should make sure we are looking at apples and other apples, not zucchini or rutabagas.

Also, the rules have changed plenty to encourage more offense because it is smart to put some entertainment into your entertainment business. And, finally, coaches have understood the most important truth of all time: A bad pass is seven yards. A good run is five yards. Shouldn’t we pass more at all times?

Ok, now, I want you to study the following graphic which is the Cowboys’ track record by year as it pertains to 1,000-yard receivers and a rusher. They have never gone four-for-four, but they have put three together on three different occasions.

Cowboys 1,000 Yard Seasons - By Year

RB NO. 1
WR NO. 1
WR NO. 2
WR NO. 3
2019Ezekiel ElliottAmari CooperMichael Gallup
2018Ezekiel Elliott
2017
2016Ezekiel Elliott
2015Darren McFadden
2014DeMarco MurrayDez Bryant
2013DeMarco MurrayDez Bryant
2012Jason WittenDez Bryant
2011
2010Jason WittenMiles Austin
2009Jason WittenMiles Austin
2008Terrell Owens
2007Jason WittenTerrell Owens
2006Julius JonesTerry GlennTerrell Owens
2005Terry Glenn
2004
2003
2002
2001Emmitt Smith
2000Emmitt Smith
1999Emmitt SmithRocket Ismail
1998Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1997Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1996Emmitt Smith
1995Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1994Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1993Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1992Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1991Emmitt SmithMichael Irvin
1990
1989
1988Herschel Walker
1987
1986
1985Tony DorsettTony Hill
1984Tony Dorsett
1983Tony Dorsett
1982
1981Tony Dorsett
1980Tony DorsettTony Hill
1979Tony DorsettDrew PearsonTony Hill
1978Tony Dorsett
1977Tony Dorsett
1976
1975
1974Drew Pearson
1973Calvin Hill
1972Calvin Hill
1971
1970
1969
1968Lance Rentzel
1967
1966Bob Hayes
1965Bob Hayes
1964
1963
1962Frank Clarke
1961
1960

Last year’s team missed the playoffs altogether (8-8), the 2006 team was a wildcard team that lost in Seattle (sorry, Tony) and the 1979 team went 11-5 but was also quickly dismissed by Los Angeles in a game best-known for being Roger Staubach’s last, with left guard Herb Scott catching his final pass illegally.

Not exactly an overwhelming correlation to success: The three teams that had three 1,000-yard seasons were all between mediocre and decent, and none won a single playoff game. I am not suggesting it is bad to have great performers, but I also don’t know if anyone should care beyond the fantasy football owners.

That said, I think the four obvious candidates to pull it off in 2020 — Lamb, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Gallup — are all capable, and the three returning players did it last year. Sure, the team did not have a great year in the win column, but tracing that back to good players at offensive skill positions would be a massive stretch that I will leave for those in the media who focus on their stretching.

Can they do it? Sure. But what is the overall point? Last year, they nearly got to all of the absurd team-yardage stats. It was statistically crazy. But while that team pretty much matched Kansas City in yardage, it certainly did not in wins or trophies.

We can safely report for anyone unclear on football: Total yardage has very little to do with total wins. Efficient offense is closer, but total team excellence is what really gets you there. We know this, but sometimes it is good to prove it.

Now, it is interesting to see that there are a few teams in NFL history with three 1,000 yard receivers. Did any of them also have a 1,000-yard rusher?

I am happy you asked. Let’s look:

Teams With Three 1,000 Yard Receivers

YEAR
TEAM
RECORD
RB NO. 1
WR NO. 1
WR NO. 2
WR NO. 3
1980
San Diego
11-5, lost AFCCWinslowJoinerJefferson
1989Washington10-6, missedMonkSandersClark
1995Atlanta9-7, lost WCHeywardMetcalfMathisEmanuel
2004Indianapolis12-4, lost DIVJamesHarrisonWayneStokley
2008Arizona9-7, lost SBFitzgeraldBoldinBreaston

These are the five teams who have had three 1,000 yard receivers. Two also had rushers hit 1,000!

I am guessing nobody mentioned the famous Falcons team of 1995, who had June Jones and Jeff George with a version of the spread offense that absolutely put productivity to the test. They finished 9-7. Then there was the actually famous 2004 Colts, who ran into the Belichick wall in Foxboro. Make no mistake, though: They were pretty awesome.

The 1980 Chargers were amazing with Air Coryell and Chuck Muncie at RB and an amazing number of targets. They probably should have won the Super Bowl that year.
The 1989 Washington team missed the playoffs altogether (thanks to the 1989 Cowboys and Steve Walsh), Craig Heyward was a force running the ball for that 1995 team in Atlanta and Edgerrin James was the lead RB for both the 2004 Colts and the 2008 Cardinals despite missing a lot of time in Arizona during the season and finished with 514 yards.

Look, 1,000 yards is an arbitrary number, and some teams just missed it by 10 yards or made it by 10 (see: Steve Breaston’s 1,006 receiving yards for Arizona ’08). I don’t think this means much of anything.

But assembling talent does. It creates matchup issues all over the field and can drive a defense crazy because you simply let them declare their own demise with however they decide to play you. You should have answers everywhere.

Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott have never had this much, although Randall Cobb did post 828 yards last year as the fourth potential 1,000-yard weapon, so it was hardly out of range even before CeeDee Lamb arrived.

Can they do it? Absolutely!

Does it matter? Only for you fantasy owners. I wish your teams good health and good luck, but that will be my only fantasy advice all year. It has no bearing on the real thing, other than the obvious. Good teams have really good players, and the 2020 Cowboys have no shortage at those important spots.
 

1bigfan13

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Sturm loves throwing out 2000 words to explain something that is relatively simple.
Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. Seems like in most of his articles he goes on long-winded tangents before he finally gets to the point of the article.

As for this article, it's been proven long again that having a great offense doesn't instantly make you a contender. I'm actually hoping that we don't come anywhere close to having three 1,000 yard receivers. I'd rather see the offense work with shorter fields, due to improved special teams play and more turnovers; and I'm hoping that we're playing from ahead a lot more this season. In 2019 a lot of of Prescott and the receivers yards came about because the Cowboys were playing catch up for most of the game.
 

Iamtdg

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Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. Seems like in most of his articles he goes on long-winded tangents before he finally gets to the point of the article.

As for this article, it's been proven long again that having a great offense doesn't instantly make you a contender. I'm actually hoping that we don't come anywhere close to having three 1,000 yard receivers. I'd rather see the offense work with shorter fields, due to improved special teams play and more turnovers; and I'm hoping that we're playing from ahead a lot more this season. In 2019 a lot of of Prescott and the receivers yards came about because the Cowboys were playing catch up for most of the game.
I hadn't really thought about it like that, but I do now.
 

Cowboysrock55

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Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. Seems like in most of his articles he goes on long-winded tangents before he finally gets to the point of the article.

As for this article, it's been proven long again that having a great offense doesn't instantly make you a contender. I'm actually hoping that we don't come anywhere close to having three 1,000 yard receivers. I'd rather see the offense work with shorter fields, due to improved special teams play and more turnovers; and I'm hoping that we're playing from ahead a lot more this season. In 2019 a lot of of Prescott and the receivers yards came about because the Cowboys were playing catch up for most of the game.
I mean I'm all for a high flying and exciting offense but yards are overrated. I just want to score points and bury teams. If that means Dak only throws for 200 yards in the process, I don't care. Give the offense short fields and have Lamb rack up TDs. It means far more then continually having to drive the ball 80 yards to score while racking up yards.
 

1bigfan13

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I mean I'm all for a high flying and exciting offense but yards are overrated. I just want to score points and bury teams. If that means Dak only throws for 200 yards in the process, I don't care. Give the offense short fields and have Lamb rack up TDs. It means far more then continually having to drive the ball 80 yards to score while racking up yards.
Exactly!

It's kinda disingenuous when people keep spouting on about the Cowboys have the #1 offense in the NFL in 2019.

The real improvement that we need to see is in red zone TD scoring efficiency. Last year they ranked 16th in the NFL.....scoring a TD on 57% of their red zone trips. The year before that (the 2018 season) they were ranked 26th overall only scoring a TD on 51% of their red zone trips.

That's the area where we need to see improvement from Dak and the offense. A lot of that improvement will fall on the shoulders of Prescott. In the red zone you're working in a more condensed area so his decision-making needs to be quicker and the passes need to be more accurate than they've been. But I also have to bring up the fact that the strategy & play calling in the red zone was a little too hit or miss under Garrett. Hopefully red zone efficiency is an area where McCarthy's presence can give the offense a bump.
 

ravidubey

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I mean I'm all for a high flying and exciting offense but yards are overrated. I just want to score points and bury teams. If that means Dak only throws for 200 yards in the process, I don't care. Give the offense short fields and have Lamb rack up TDs. It means far more then continually having to drive the ball 80 yards to score while racking up yards.
Totally agreed!

Two additions, I think it is important for the best offenses to demonstrate the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and for at least three big (25+) passing plays every game.

That ability not only builds confidence, it transfers a lot of pressure from the offense directly to opposing defenses (including those of future opponents).

Exactly!

It's kinda disingenuous when people keep spouting on about the Cowboys have the #1 offense in the NFL in 2019.
Agreed, very disingenuous.

I HATE the "top five" offense bullshit arguments given how so much those yardage numbers were racked up against the worst teams in the NFL or while coming back to make blowout losses look closer than they actually were.
 

Stasheroo

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Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. Seems like in most of his articles he goes on long-winded tangents before he finally gets to the point of the article.

As for this article, it's been proven long again that having a great offense doesn't instantly make you a contender. I'm actually hoping that we don't come anywhere close to having three 1,000 yard receivers. I'd rather see the offense work with shorter fields, due to improved special teams play and more turnovers; and I'm hoping that we're playing from ahead a lot more this season. In 2019 a lot of of Prescott and the receivers yards came about because the Cowboys were playing catch up for most of the game.
McCarthy has come out and said that their 'plan' is basically to jump on opponents, as early and as often as they can. And I feel they're successful in building any sort of a lead, they can then allow their pass rushers to tee off, and the offense can rely on Zeke and the running game to control the flow and close out the game.

They certainly look to have the overall weapons to do just that.
 

L.T. Fan

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Even if the team has 4 1000 yard producers that’s not what wins games. It’s how the offense does once they reach the 20 yard line. Someone has already alluded to this analysis and it’s the most important aspect of scoring. Settling for field goals will rarely win games.
 

1bigfan13

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McCarthy has come out and said that their 'plan' is basically to jump on opponents, as early and as often as they can. And I feel they're successful in building any sort of a lead, they can then allow their pass rushers to tee off, and the offense can rely on Zeke and the running game to control the flow and close out the game.

They certainly look to have the overall weapons to do just that.
Hopefully we do see a more aggressive Cowboys offense earlier in games. Under Garrett it seemed like in most games they were content coming out throwing weak jabs. The slow starts could've been due to Garrett's inadequate game plans as well.
 

1bigfan13

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Since we're on the red zone topic, last year both Super Bowl participates, KC & SF, ranked 20th and 21st respectively in red zone TD scoring efficiency.

And in the 2018 season Super Bowl Champion New England ranked 26th overall in red zone TD scores.

That's a bit surprising. Clearly it's an area that you want to excel in but apparently it's not as important as it's made out to be.
 

Rev

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Since we're on the red zone topic, last year both Super Bowl participates, KC & SF, ranked 20th and 21st respectively in red zone TD scoring efficiency.

And in the 2018 season Super Bowl Champion New England ranked 26th overall in red zone TD scores.

That's a bit surprising. Clearly it's an area that you want to excel in but apparently it's not as important as it's made out to be.
Well to be fair not every team has the two greatest QBs to ever play.
 

Stasheroo

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Hopefully we do see a more aggressive Cowboys offense earlier in games. Under Garrett it seemed like in most games they were content coming out throwing weak jabs. The slow starts could've been due to Garrett's inadequate game plans as well.
Honestly, I blame so much of the problems on Garrett. Not only was he not good at his own job, he also had a poor, limited Rolodex of connections to the coaching community. The polar opposite of Mike McCarthy, who went out and assembled an all-star-cast of assistants.

Garrett's shortcomings affected the organization from top to bottom.
 

ravidubey

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Since we're on the red zone topic, last year both Super Bowl participates, KC & SF, ranked 20th and 21st respectively in red zone TD scoring efficiency.

And in the 2018 season Super Bowl Champion New England ranked 26th overall in red zone TD scores.

That's a bit surprising. Clearly it's an area that you want to excel in but apparently it's not as important as it's made out to be.
Yeah, who cares about efficiency, what matters is successful scores.

Oh yeah, and scoring more than the other team. All of those teams had good defenses and sturdy DLs.

Dallas' philosophy has been to draft CBs, Injured Will's, and DEs and the Hell with everything else. It creates fast, bend-don't break defenses that always do break when the game is at its most intense.

The Jones' look at their defense's yardage numbers and congratulate each other.

That's the biggest reason why we never win anything. They can't fathom how DT's that produce no stats greatly impact the game.
 

1bigfan13

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Yeah, who cares about efficiency, what matters is successful scores.

Oh yeah, and scoring more than the other team. All of those teams had good defenses and sturdy DLs.
I think you misinterpreted what I posted. Red zone TD scoring efficiency means the number of times a team is inside the 20 and scores TDs as opposed to settling for FGs or not scoring at all. 7 points vs settling for 3......that's definitely not one of those meaningless efficiency stats that are so often thrown around.

But your point is valid about how having a good defense often compensates for a lack of scoring.
 

Genghis Khan

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I have to clarify I actually like Sturm's wordiness normally (although sometimes he could get to the point quicker but I do realize more casual fans than us read his articles too so maybe it's necessary).

My issue with this article is that it's almost entirely fluff. It feels like a mid-June, nothing else to talk about article instead of a middle of August, middle of training camp article.
 

Rev

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I can proudly say that I haven't read one Sturm article. I aint got time for that.
 

Simpleton

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I have to clarify I actually like Sturm's wordiness normally (although sometimes he could get to the point quicker but I do realize more casual fans than us read his articles too so maybe it's necessary).

My issue with this article is that it's almost entirely fluff. It feels like a mid-June, nothing else to talk about article instead of a middle of August, middle of training camp article.
I usually like them too since he's generally one of the more thoughtful Cowboy writers around but I often find myself skipping entire paragraphs as he belabors an obvious point.
 
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