Cowboys desperately need second receiving option to step up

When the Dallas Cowboys bid adieu to Amari Cooper last March, they did so without a clear replacement in mind. They hoped their No. 2 man, CeeDee Lamb, would elevate up to the top role, but they were still down a legitimate starting option.

Factoring in the loss of Cedrick Wilson and the recovery timeline of Michael Gallup, the Cowboys had to start the 2022 season without three of their top four receivers from the season prior. Their main replacement pieces, Jalen Tolbert and James Washington, would be asked to pick up the slack.

A task both failed to do.

With only one game left to play this season, Tolbert and Washington have combined for 12 yards on two receptions. They’ve been so ineffective on offense, Tolbert has only logged 89 total snaps on offense and Washington has been released altogether.

CeeDee Lamb or bust

Luckily for Dallas, Lamb has risen to the challenge of being the No. 1 receiver. The third-year product out of Oklahoma is on pace for 108 receptions and 1,389 yards this season. He’s been the lifeblood of the Cowboys passing attack and an irreplaceable part in Kellen Moore’s weekly game plan.

The issue at hand is the Cowboys have next to nothing alongside him and if he’s somehow neutralized or injured, there’s no legitimate Plan B in which to turn.

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Lamb carries a bigger load in EPA (expected points added) receiving production than all the other options combined. The Cowboys passing offense goes as Lamb goes, and that’s a very dangerous situation to be in as Dallas enters the postseason.

T.Y. Hilton offers hope

Noah Brown has maxed out his potential, Gallup has yet to remotely approach his pre-injury self, and even tight end Dalton Schultz is underwhelming with a 66.3 percent catch rate (down nearly 10 percent from 2021).

Nearly all hope for improvement lies in the ascension of Hilton, the late-season addition.

Since joining the Cowboys three weeks and two games ago, Hilton’s been slowly integrated. His workload went from 12 snaps against the Eagles to 22 snaps vs. the Titans. Head coach Mike McCarthy bluntly stated his intention to increase his snap count again in upcoming games. Hilton has digested the playbook in record time and has already become a trustworthy weapon for Prescott.

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Hilton’s speed and route-running ability make him Moore’s top threat after Lamb and Tony Pollard. With Hilton’s expanding role, he could be the complementary piece Dallas has been searching for all season.

Conclusion

The Dallas offense is relying heavily on Lamb to produce every week.  If a defense can neutralize Lamb, the Cowboys passing attack is neutralized. It’s for that reason Dallas cannot relax and must keep actively scheming their top threat open throughout each game.

Using Lamb in motion at the snap and lining him up in the slot are key in this endeavor. Lamb is running routes out of the slot at a career-high rate and he’s been top five in motion rate throughout the season. This has to continue for the Cowboys to survive as a passing offense.

Hilton’s emergence is critical because it lets Moore keep defenses honest. If a defense chooses to bracket Lamb, someone has to make them pay. Hilton has that ability.

Things cannot continue as they are because smart playoff defenses are going to do everything they can to neutralize Lamb and unless the Cowboys find a way to make them pay for it, those smart defenses will come out on top

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire