DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys offense has hardly been as prolific as years past. At 2,240 yards of total offense through seven games, not only are they the fourth-fewest in the NFL through eight weeks, but they also are tied with the 1964 team for the 14th-fewest in club history through the first seven games of a season.
Former Cowboys tight end and current Monday Night Football color commentator Jason Witten believes he knows what is ailing Dallas, and also that the trade for receiver Amari Cooper will fix it.
"When you look at it, yeah, the big plays of wide receiver 1 being able to do that over the top, all of that stuff is going to be great," Witten told "Dennis and Cowlishaw" on 103.3 ESPN [KESN-FM] Friday. "But I look for the underneath stuff. Nothing comes easy for this offense. You really watch it, it's like, man, every yard is a hard yard, and when you watch some of these other offenses around the league, not just the top ones with Kansas City and New Orleans, but when you watch Dallas, it's like so hard to get a first down."
The Cowboys are tied with Washington for the seventh-lowest yards per play in the NFL at 5.3. Among the teams in the bottom-10 of yards per play this season, only Washington has a winning record at 5-2. All of the other squads are either hovering at .500, such as the Philadelphia Eagles, who are ninth, or below even like the Cowboys.
Dallas also has the sixth-fewest first downs in the NFL with 130. Among the bottom-10 in this category, only the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks join Washington as the three teams who can sport winning records despite leading in such a troublesome category.
Witten believes a multiplicity of factors have played into the Cowboys offense looking awkward and ineffective.
Said Witten: "Obviously they want to run the football and impose their will in time of possession and I get all of that. But I think Amari is going to help them on early down and distance. We all think of it as third-and-7, Dak hasn't had that guy when they see a lot of coverage, eight-man down in the box that he can just count on, two yards inside the numbers, 14 yards, and just let it fly and that guy is going to win consistently."
Dallas is smack in the middle compared to the rest of the league in terms of yards gained on first down at 5.76. On second down, Dallas gains 8.42 yards on average, tied with Tampa Bay for the eighth-most in the NFL. However, in terms of passing, on first down, the Cowboys gain 6.28 yards passing, the 10th-fewest in the NFL. On second down, Dallas gains the 12th-fewest yards on second down at 6.24. In 2016, by comparison, the Cowboys passing offense generated 6.60 yards passing on first down (16th) and 7.92 yards on second down (first).
Some of the problem has been with the dearth of options Dak Prescott has had to throw to.
"You have that in [Cole] Beasley in the slot," Witten said. "He is that. Some of those guys have shown it. I think [Michael] Gallup has had some pretty good weeks these last couple of weeks. But I think Cooper can be that. Bang a slant in there. It's like I used to say: Y-option is like routes on air. They can't cover it when we're rolling. And I think Cooper can provide some of that, and of course stretch the field."
Monday night, as the Cowboys host the Tennessee Titans at AT&T Stadium, it will be an evening of debuts: Witten as color commentator doing a game covering his former team, and Cooper assuming No. 1 receiver duties for Dallas. Witten has an idea of how the Cowboys could use Cooper, who has had just the bye week to adjust to his new team.
"I think simplify," said Witten. "You probably don't move him around a ton. Say, okay, you're going to be the X. Here's what we're going to do, and I look for them to get him involved early in some of those plays."
Do you think Amari Cooper is the secret to unlocking the offense in Dallas? Are you excited to hear Jason Witten commentate on a Cowboys game? Share your thoughts on Monday Night with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.