FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys led the league in offense during their 12-5 campaign last season.
No player has caught more touchdowns than wide receiver Amari Cooper’s eight, the four-time Pro Bowler who contributed 865 yards to the productive attack.
Still, the Cowboys traded Cooper and that would be a $ 22 million salary cap for Cleveland last month. They lost production as well as an experienced, veteran trail runner in the process.
How can the offense start compensating?
Let tight end Dalton Schultz, who Cooper equaled with eight reception tours, to explain.
“There is a lot of room for everyone on our offense to grow in terms of football IQ,” Schultz told local reporters by telephone on Monday. “To not only understand what the call is and what your responsibility is, but why Kellen tries to name the call and where those concepts flow into the game. … To understand more than just what is on the surface of these concepts, and perhaps the ultimate goal of what we are trying to achieve by performing or naming certain plays from certain situations.
“There is definitely a lot of room to grow there.”
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Undoubtedly, attacking coordinator Kellen Moore deserves some credit for the attack which averaged 407 yards and 31.2 points per game. But the Cowboys failed to sustain the balanced running pass attack with which they won six in a row earlier in the year. Run fits became more muddy, trails less precise. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy felt his team did not adapt properly to defenses’ increase in schematic variety.
Blowing up against opponents of the division that agreed, distorted the team’s season statistics. And still, Cowboys full-back Dak Prescott’s completion rate dropped from 73.2% in the first half of the season to 66.3% after the farewell, following a 53.5% performance in the game card loss against the San Francisco 49ers swung. Prescott’s passing rating over those periods dropped from 115.0 in six games to 97.8 after the bay to 69.3 in the playoffs.
Schultz, whose 75% capture percentage led all Cowboys guns that scored at least 40 targets, believes that stronger mental understanding of offensive wrinkles and technique nuances will alleviate some problems. The team jointly began the process Monday.
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About 30 Cowboys players have already joined consistent captain training sessions in March and April, McCarthy said recently. But with the official launch of the off-season program Monday, players now not only receive more direct power building instruction, but can also meet coaches in classrooms again for system installation.
Schultz and fellow Cowboys targets will also continue throwing sessions with Prescott, who was limited a year ago by rehabilitating two single surgeons. Schultz said the receiving corps is “definitely ahead” last year of finding time with Prescott, which owner Jerry Jones and McCarthy have each identified as a top-of-the-season priority.
The Cowboys will strive to not only return production but also deliver better efficiency this year, from a run-down game anchored by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to Prescott’s passing game with Schultz, third-year pro CeeDee Lamb, newly signed Michael Gallup (likely to miss the first few games while completing his ACL tear recovery) and free agent acquisition James Washington.
“To get the timing, the spacing, and the details of the passing match,” McCarthy said of OTA work. “Especially against maximum coverage and aggressive coverage, opportunities against which we did not fare the best last year.
“I always felt in the past that the off-season program was a real strength of how I operated and that we could make leaps, especially as a perimeter group.”
Schultz and his teammates know how necessary that growth is after beating Cooper and receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (602 meters, six touchdowns in 2021) lost this spring.
“Of course Amari is one of the best receivers in the league, my personal opinion,” said Schultz. “Of course we are a better offense with him. Unfortunately we do not have him, so the next step is to just let guys get up.
“I think these guys are ready to take the next step in this off-season.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’s Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.