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Five Things to Know: The Cowboys Offense is Finished

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

1. The Cowboys Offense isn't Coming Back

Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray are very good players, and Dez Bryant is decent, but a combination of remarkably bad playcalling and a weak interior offensive line likely will prevent the Cowboys offense from being anything more than average in 2012.

Jason Garrett's playcalling is both predictable against the strengths of his players, not to mention against some of the most basic elements of football logic. Despite possessing one of the league's best big-play passers and two explosive, strong receivers, the overwhelming number of wideout routes called by Garrett are of short (but rarely the slant) or intermediate distances, which defenses have thoroughly decoded at this point, leaving Romo to often check down to Witten as a safety valve. That routine can move the chains somewhat, but it won't get Dallas to the end zone, and it won't let Dallas get a sufficient return on the investments made in Austin and Bryant, either.

Although his utilization of Dallas' receivers is impressively bad, Garrett's greatest failure is his indefensible refusal to use playaction passes - perhaps the most universally reliable element of any pro offense. Garrett's aversion to playaction is almost certainly on an all-time level. That aversion is compounded by his tendency to predictably call passes from certain formations, most notably the shotgun, rather than throw deep from a dropback formation when the defense might be at all looking for the run.

When you add the pushover interior offensive line in Dallas to the equation, you get a quarterback without much time to throw it to well-covered receivers, and a defense that all too often knows exactly what's coming. The only times Dallas will look consistently functional on offense is when it faces a weak run defense than can be bowled over (Baltimore) or a secondary with a glaring lack of talent. And even in those cases, the Cowboys have an all too extensive history of underachieving when it makes the least sense.

Miles Austin is skilled enough to outplay his circumstances to the tune of WR2 production and Witten will be a decent tight-end option because of Romo's checkdowns, but players like Murray and Bryant will struggle to be more than flex plays, and Romo will struggle to finish the year as a top-12 fantasy quarterback if Garrett remains in charge.

2. Gauge Darren McFadden's Value in Your League

A month of struggles is one thing, but Darren McFadden is heading into his seventh game this year and somehow has a rushing average of just 3.1 yards per carry. That figure would be at 2.6 yards per carry if not for a 64-yard run against Pittsburgh in Week 3. Even the most disciplined owner is probably a bit vulnerable to a buy-low pitch on McFadden at the moment.

No one could have anticipated that a healthy McFadden would see his fantasy value this low, so that makes him a good target for those needing running back production. Injury potential aside, it simply can't get worse for McFadden - his previous career-low rushing average was 3.4 yards per carry in 2009, but with averages of 4.4 (2008), 5.2 (2010) and 5.4 yards per carry (2011) in his other seasons, that 3.4-yard figure was obviously an anomaly.

With an average of 17.2 carries and 4.2 catches per contest through six games, McFadden's workload couldn't be much more favorable, and it's extremely unlikely that he's washed up at age 25. The sole issue appears to be poor execution of Oakland's new zone blocking scheme. If the team gets itself on track in that regard, McFadden's numbers should explode. Even if they don't solve their blocking issues, though, McFadden has enough of a carry and catch volume to pay off as an RB2 investment.

3. Pursue Brandon Lloyd

His puzzling lack of touchdowns and big plays in general has been a source of frustration for Brandon Lloyd's owners, but he's still a good receiver in a very good situation, and he's overdue for a flurry of touchdowns in the season's second half. If the Lloyd owner in your league is getting impatient, you could find a bargain wide receiver upgrade in Lloyd right now.

Lloyd's average of 11.6 yards per catch is quite strange when you consider that his career average is 15.0 yards per reception, with his average from 2010 and 2011 checking in at 16.4 yards per catch. Given that the 11.6-yard average is from just a seven-game span, the safe bet is on Lloyd regaining his 2010 and 2011 form one of these days, with a big improvement in his overall numbers as a result.

Lloyd saw eight or more targets in all but two of his seven games so far this year, with 12 or more targets in three games, so workload isn't an issue. He's on pace for an 80-catch season, which actually would be a career high. Since the will and the talent are both there, this is a ship that should get righted any second now. It's just a matter of Lloyd and Tom Brady getting comfortable with each other on deeper routes. Another thing to keep in mind is that Brady has just 12 passing touchdowns this season and an average of 7.4 yards per pass - history says his efficiency in both categories will surge dramatically soon, and Lloyd is likely to benefit in a big way when it happens.

4. Don't Go Overboard in Pursuit of Jonathan Stewart

In a futile attempt to hold on to his job, Carolina coach Ron Rivera is shaking things up in the Panthers' gameplan. Most notably, Rivera decided that the team will give Jonathan Stewart a chance to prove himself as a feature back, basically removing DeAngelo Williams and his $43 million contract from the lineup in an attempt to get the team's atrocious offense on track.

Implying that Williams is at all the problem with the Panthers, of course, is silly. So Rivera's decision to remove him from the equation suggests desperation and randomness rather than careful reasoning. Unless Stewart is a smashing success - something that isn't likely given his 4.1-yard rushing average and the broken identity of the Carolina offense - the desperation Rivera feels won't go away anytime soon, meaning he's liable to act out of it at Stewart's expense just like he's doing at Williams' expense in the meantime.

Williams' 3.5 yards per carry on the year is certainly disappointing, but it's the product of the Carolina schedule more than anything under his control. Indeed, against the Saints, Giants and Falcons, Williams ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries (4.7 YPC). It was against Tampa Bay, Seattle and Dallas that Williams' numbers sank, and Carolina coaches should have anticipated as much given that those squads allow a combined 3.6 yards per carry. That's not even accounting for the fact that the 14 carries he received in those three games were a ridiculously small sample size.

Stewart only totaled 51 yards on 14 carries (3.6 YPC) against Seattle and Dallas, so he hasn't exactly blown away the competition at this point. In fact, Williams outdid Stewart in Stewart's two other games, totaling 118 yards (4.7 YPC) and two touchdowns against New Orleans and Atlanta while Stewart finished with 91 yards (4.3 YPC) and no touchdowns. In other words, if Rivera lost patience with Williams then he's liable to reduce Stewart's role in a similarly whimsical fashion. Stewart is worth no more than a flex investment.

5. Martellus Bennett is About to Go on Another Roll

Assuming his five-catch, 79-yard showing against the Redskins on Sunday didn't already signal the start of it, expect Martellus Bennett to begin another hot streak against the Cowboys on Sunday.

The shrewdness of the Giants' signing of Bennett was quite obvious during the season's first three weeks, as he snagged 185 yards and three touchdowns on 15 catches. He caught just five passes for 41 yards in the next three games, but his reemergence against the Redskins on Sunday made it clear that Bennett fell off only because of a hyperextended knee he played through. Now that he's at or near full health, with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks doing a nice job of distracting opposing safeties, Bennett is clearly back in the TE1 category.

Expect another nice showing from Bennett against the Cowboys on Sunday. Elite linebacker Sean Lee (toe) is likely done for the year, which will make things easier for Bennett in the middle of the field, and the Cowboys' lack of talent at safety should also make things easier for Bennett, who's more of an athletic mismatch than most realize. He caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown against his former team in Week 1.