Quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant are the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys offense, but the team isn't utilizing its talented wide receiver in the proper way. Bryant is undeniably one of the great receivers in the NFL, yet he ranks just seventh in the league in targets.
Yes, Bryant sees lots of double-teams, but do you know who else does? Every great wide receiver in the NFL. Plus, there are creative ways to get the ball to Bryant no matter the coverage, such as throwing to his back shoulder and putting him in the slot, that the Cowboys aren't utilizing.
To give you an idea of the potential yards and scores the Cowboys are leaving on the board with their mismanagement of Bryant's skill set and their inefficient play-calling in general, check out these four eye-opening stats.
Quarterback Tony Romo has eight touchdowns and one interception when targeting wide receiver Dez Bryant.
One of the fears of throwing to Bryant too much, such as when he's in double coverage, is that the ball will land incomplete or, worse, get intercepted. But Romo's passes to Bryant rarely ever get intercepted because Brant is so effective when fighting for the ball.
No receiver with as many touchdowns as Bryant has seen only one pick come on his targets. Actually, of the wide receivers to score at least five times this year, every single one has had at least one interception thrown by his quarterback on his targets.
Further, Bryant's play has been so efficient that it makes sense to target him way more than what we're seeing. Take a look at the yards-per-target for Bryant, wide receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten since 2010.
There was no way Bryant could sustain the blistering pace he set in 2012, but he's still the Cowboys' most-efficient receiver by a wide margin. And if we were to look at yards per route, which factors in the receivers' abilities to get open, he'd be light-years ahead of Witten.
Romo has a higher passer rating when he stays in the pocket than when he gets rid of the ball quickly.
This might seem obvious, but it's actually pretty rare for a quarterback to be better when holding onto the football longer. Of the 30 quarterbacks to take half of their team's snaps this year, only seven have a higher passer rating when they stay in the pocket for at least 2.6 seconds as compared to getting the ball out quicker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The numbers are probably skewed since there's a selection bias at work on quick passes; quarterbacks only throw the ball really quickly when something is open.
Although the 'Boys have made an effort to keep Romo upright by having him implement a quick-trigger approach to passing this year, he's at his best when he buys time to make plays downfield.
Bryant has one of the lowest rates of deep targets in the NFL.
If Romo stays in the pocket longer, it will allow his receivers to get open downfield. Romo has one of the lowest deep passing rates in the NFL once again, and Bryant is one of the receivers who's losing out because of it.
Despite being an obvious talent in jump-ball situations, Bryant has the 11th-lowest deep target rate in the NFL (among 67 qualifying receivers). Only 13.5 percent of Bryant's targets have come at least 20 yards down field. In comparison, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith checks in at nearly three times that mark and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has been targeted downfield at almost twice Bryant's rate.
Romo has attempted a play-action pass on only 10.3 percent of his dropbacks.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Tony Romo has attempted the lowest rate of play-action passes in the entire NFL.
If that doesn't sound like a joke to you, consider that he has a 121.1 passer rating on those passes, a year after a 109.1 rating on play action. He also ranked last in play-action passes in 2012, by a wide margin.
Yet the Cowboys absolutely refuse to attempt more play-action passes. Now it sounds more like a joke, right?
The obvious answer for this phenomenon is that the Cowboys can't run the ball, so there's no reason to run play action. But guess what? You don't need to be able to run the ball to utilize play action. There's no correlation there at all.
Take a look at the top 10 quarterbacks in play-action passer rating.
That's Romo at No. 3, behind Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. After each quarterback, I added their team's rank in yards per carry. The average for this list is 17th, which is obviously below the league average.
Rivers and Manning in particular have absolutely dominated on play-action passes this year. Manning has attempted one on 29.3 percent of his passes, which is nearly three times the rate of Romo. Yet both Rivers and Manning play on offenses that have been horribly inefficient at running the football.
When you blindly accept vague ideas such as "you need to run to set up the pass," it leads you to run an offense and an entire team that's outdated and incapable of evolving.
The Cowboys' play-action passing rate and inability to get the most out of Bryant are just the tip of the iceberg for an organization that's stuck in the 1990s in just about every imaginable way.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus, unless otherwise noted.