Red zone targets for Cowboys top playmakers is terrible look for Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy needs to change this yesterday.
Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals
Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The Dallas Cowboys and their fans are on the same page, according to Mike McCarthy's Wednesday press conference.The head coach identified run defense, penalties and red zone offense as three "blinking lights" that need improvement.

McCarthy has had to answer for the Cowboys' red zone woes all week after the Cowboys' embarrassing Week 3 loss to the Cardinals.

After three games, Dallas is tied for 27th in the NFL in touchdown rate inside the red zone. They've also failed to score on five straight goal-to-go chances, which is the longest dry spell of Dak Prescott's seven-year career.

A legitimate silver lining? The Cowboys have entered the red zone 15 times this season, which is the most of any team. So moving the ball isn't the issue. The play-calling, however, needs changing ... and perhaps less overthinking.

Why do we say that? Checkout the red zone target distribution -- specifically the lack of targets CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup have got.

Cowboys red zone target share is a wild look for Mike McCarthy

These stats back up the notion that McCarthy has gotten too cute in the red zone.

We've seen handoffs to Peyton Hendershot inside the five-yard line. Hendershot admittedly should've scored if he cut upfield instead of following his blockers, but that's exactly why you don't give your third-string tight end handoffs in goal-to-go situations.

Additionally, McCarthy has called a startling number of screens. Rico Dowdle found the end zone against the Cardinals on a screen, but Pollard has 10 yards on three receptions and zero touchdowns to show for it. We're not opposed to putting the ball in Pollard's hands, but throwing at or behind the line of scrimmage allows the defense to get downfield and stop the play in its tracks.

This doesn't even mention the baffling volume of RZ running plays.

Back to the passing game, it's shameful Pollard and Dowdle combined have double the red zone targets as Lamb. Beyond that, Jake Ferguson alone has more targets than Lamb, Cooks and Gallup combined.

Gallup's lone target vs the Cardinals could have went for six -- or at least drawn a pass interference penalty and set the Cowboys up with 1st and goal from the one-yard line -- but the refs picked up their flag and it wasn't a high-percentage play to begin with.

The same can be said for Lamb's two targets. Very quietly, Lamb has just seven red zone touchdowns since the 2021 season, which is less than Ezekiel Elliott (24), Amari Cooper (11), Dalton Schultz (11), and Pollard (10).

Nothing about the target distribution is pleasing to the eye, but it's still early in the season and McCarthy acknowledged he needs to change things up. That said, fans' patience will wear thinner with another lackluster showing against the Patriots.

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