Breaking Down the ‘Boys: How to fix the Cowboys’ red zone offense – Part II

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Earlier this week, I proposed one way to fix the Cowboys’ struggling red zone offense. That suggestion—to run the ball more often, particularly on first down inside the 10-yard line—wasn’t always the best option for Dallas last year because the offensive line simply couldn’t generate a push. While Dallas doesn’t necessarily need to run more frequently next year, they do need to run more effectively, especially near the goal line.

Another way to improve red zone efficiency is to target the right players in the passing game. That’s made easier close to the goal line because it becomes very difficult for defenses to double-team a particular player; pretty much everyone is working in tight quarters. Below, I charted the red zone efficiency for Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant since 2010.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Bryant is the best of the bunch. He’s caught 62.9 percent of his red zone targets, converting 37.1 percent of them into touchdowns. Both of those marks beat out Witten and Austin, the latter player by a wide margin.

And the veteran tight end’s red zone numbers over the past three seasons might actually be inflated. Over the course of his career, Witten has caught only 55.1 percent of his red zone targets, converting 28.9 percent into touchdowns. Those aren’t great numbers for a tight end.

You can see that Witten checks in below the game’s top tight ends. Rob Gronkowski, who is admittedly one of the top red zone threats in the NFL, has scored on exactly half of his career targets inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. You could argue that Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have received better quarterback play, but that’s certainly not the case for Vernon Davis, who still checks in above Witten in both red zone catch rate and touchdown rate.

Simply put, Witten isn’t effective in the red zone, particularly near the goal line. The reason might be that he thrives on using intelligence to run crisp routes and find holes in defenses. When the field is packed tightly with defenders, though, receivers need to use athleticism to make plays. Witten offers the Cowboys’ offense a number of advantages, but elite athleticism isn’t one of them.

Over the past three years, Witten and Austin have received the most red zone targets on the Cowboys with 43 each. Bryant—the team’s top red zone option—has just 35. In 2013, we really need to see the ‘Boys transition away from Witten and Austin when approaching the goal line and make a more concerted effort to get the ball into the hands of their fourth-year superstar wide receiver.

Part 3 will be released on Friday July 12th.

By: Jonathan Bales
Breaking Down the ‘Boys: How to fix the Cowboys’ red zone offense – Part II Breaking Down the ‘Boys: How to fix the Cowboys’ red zone offense – Part II Reviewed by Mr. DCStands4 on 11:28:00 AM Rating: 5

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