Why won’t the Dallas Cowboys use this weapon?
With the absence of starting quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant, and big play running back Lance Dunbar the Dallas Cowboys are averaging a putrid 20.2 points per game in 2015, good for only 25th in the league. While many hope that the move of starting Matt Cassel at quarterback will jumpstart the offense, there remains a potentially explosive weapon the Cowboys have yet to employ.
One reason Dallas has struggled to score is the lack of big plays. Without the teams’ two most explosive players on the field (Bryant and Dunbar) the Cowboys must find big plays from others like rookie receiver Lucky Whitehead.
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In his two years at Florida Atlantic University the diminutive Whitehead was a playmaker. As a receiver, Whitehead averaged 10.8 yards per catch and 9.3 yards per carry.
More importantly, the 5-10 native of Bealeton, Virginia was a terrific kick returner averaging 24.0 yards per kickoff return and 15.6 yards per punt return. Meanwhile, Dallas is averaging only 21.6 yards per kickoff return and a woeful 3.5 yards per punt return (second-to-last in the NFL).
As the Cowboy’s primary punt returner, inside receiver Cole Beasley seems content to simply field the ball. Rarely does he attempt a return (he has called for 10 fair catches while attempting only 6 punts) and even when he does he is ineffective; his longest return being only 12 yards.
This is problematic because the lack of a return game continually puts the limited Dallas offense in poor field position. Against the New England Patriots in week five’s 30-6 humiliation, the Cowboys’ average starting field position was its own 18-yard-line.
Without explosive playmakers, one can’t expect the Dallas offense to consistently drive 80 yards or more to score. Even worse, if Dallas is unable to flip the field position with kick returns and the offense is unable to pick up a first down, the opponent’s ensuing drive is likely to begin closer to mid field than its own end zone.
Which brings us back to Whitehead. Despite his prowess as a collegiate return man, he has received no opportunities to return at kick this season.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been content to allow Beasley and running back Darren McFadden give them next to nothing as returners. So if Whitehead is not going to be used in the return game or as a receiver (he has been targeted only twice this year), why is he on the roster?
Whitehead is not going to contribute unless he has the ball in his hands. And lacking explosive playmakers, Dallas should make a concerted effort to get him involved.
As a raw and unpolished receiver, it is unlikely that Whitehead will be a threat in the passing game. But Dallas could take a page from numerous college teams and get him the ball on quick slip screens or fly sweeps where he can use his 4.29 40-yard-dash speed to get to the edge and take advantage of defenders in the open field.
Moreover, it seems that Dallas doesn’t trust Whitehead to handle return duties. The question is, what does Dallas have to lose?
The reward is worth the risk. Dallas desperately needs big plays to help set its offense up for success.
With a roster lacking speed and firepower, Dallas must be willing to take chances. The past three weeks since Romo’s injury have been spent playing things safe and close to the vest, a strategy resulting in three losses.
Whitehead is capable of being a game-breaker, either positively or negatively but if the Cowboys are unwilling to fire every weapon available, the season may be lost before the cavalry even has the chance to save the day.