Dallas fans miss Dez, but blame can't all be passed to WRs

FRISCO, Texas -- After every game, the calls grow louder from segments of Dallas Cowboys fans, asking their team to re-sign Dez Bryant.

When Bryant or his route-running coach, David Robinson, puts videos on social media of the three-time Pro Bowl receiver working out, fans yearn for the days of old when Bryant was averaging 91 catches for 1,312 yards and 12 touchdowns from 2012 to 2014.

Those days are gone, and the structure of the Cowboys' offense has changed dramatically from that era, which Bryant acknowledged in a tweet this week.

As the Cowboys’ passing offense struggles, the committee of receivers that has been called on to replace Bryant has taken the brunt of the criticism as the absence of Bryant makes Cowboys fans' hearts grow fonder.

What they fail to remember is Bryant was part of last season’s slide into the abyss for the passing game, which has continued in the first five games this season.

Twice in the first five weeks, Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns have said the receivers have been open, which was seen by some as a shot at quarterback Dak Prescott.

“When things aren’t going well, you know everybody looks for someone to blame,” Beasley said. “And I do feel like we’ve gotten a lot of it, but a lot of other people have, too. It’s not just us. It’s just kind of how it goes and whether it’s true or not, we still got to go in and just do our job. And we’ll have our chance to show what we can do. We just got to do it.”

Said Hurns, “We’re not saying it’s not us. We’re saying it’s not just us.”

There have been times when Prescott has had a clean pocket and failed to deliver a clean throw, or the receivers have failed to create separation. There have been times when the offensive line has not protected well enough.

“Everybody’s got a piece of it,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “There’s not one area where you say if we got that shored up, we’d be an elite passing team. It’s everybody. We’ve all got to look at ourselves. We’ve all got to do a better job.”

It didn’t help that owner and general manager Jerry Jones started the week on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas wistfully talking about a No. 1 receiver. In one sense he said Bryant had not been a No. 1 receiver the last several years, which the statistics show, but in another he was disparaging the receivers on his team.

Jones was part of the decision-making that led the Cowboys to the committee. He could have done more in the offseason to get the Cowboys a No. 1 receiver.

The Cowboys tried to make the big splash by signing Sammy Watkins, hoping that reuniting him with receivers coach Sanjay Lal would ignite the passing game. But Watkins opted to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. They signed Hurns and Deonte Thompson to modest, cost-effective deals. In the draft, the Cowboys looked at the top receivers such as D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton but did not select a receiver until taking Michael Gallup in the third round.

“It’s a new group of receivers, from the starters to the guys that are playing in roles,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “... I think, believe it or not, it feels to me, especially since our last home game, that we’ve got a little bit more consistency with the guys playing from their roles in practice during the week to their roles in the game.”

Prescott is coming off back-to-back games with more than 200 yards passing for the first time this season, but he needed overtime last week to reach 208 yards against the Houston Texans. In a league in which 300-yard passing days are the norm (there were 57 through Week 5), the Cowboys struggle to reach 200 yards.

The Cowboys’ top three wide receivers -- Beasley, Thompson and Hurns -- have combined for 36 catches for 379 yards and one touchdown.

In the first five weeks, eight NFL receivers in the NFL had more than 36 catches and 25 receivers had more than 379 yards.

The Cowboys have just 10 pass plays of 20 yards or longer. Four have come from tight ends, including three by Geoff Swaim. Ezekiel Elliott has two. The receivers have combined for four, with Tavon Austin accounting for two of them.

“I guess you can say it hasn't been as clean or we haven't gotten where we wanted to be as quick as we [wanted],” Prescott said. “I don't think we are far off. I think we have definitely made strides.”

Up Sunday are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the best pass defense in the NFL, giving up just 191 yards per game, and the best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey. Prescott said the Jaguars don’t play a complicated scheme. Beasley echoed the comment.

“They’ve got a lot of dogs on defense, and they play what they play,” Beasley said. “But that’s really the type of teams you like to go against because then it’s just our guys vs. their guys. And it’ll be really fun and a great challenge for us, and I’m looking forward to it.

“Anytime a team that plays a lot of man [coverage], there’s plays out there to be made. For sure.”

Can the committee make them?