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Spagnola: Focusing On This Offensive Picture

25 May 2023:  Michael Gallup (13)    
of the Dallas Cowboys during an OTA  practice at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.   Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys
25 May 2023: Michael Gallup (13) of the Dallas Cowboys during an OTA practice at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

FRISCO, Texas – This could have been one of those iconic Norman Rockwell moments, you know, a picture worth 1,000 words.

The scene was this: The Cowboys OTA practice, Thursday, out here at Ford Center. The special teams drills were taking place on the field. The quarterbacks had gone outside, along with the linemen and the majority of those not participating on teams. And there, along the sideline chilling were three veteran players, from left to right:

No. 88. No 3. No. 13. Lamb. Cooks. Gallup.


Struck me. Here is what is so right with the 2023 version of the Dallas Cowboys offense. Here is what was so missing in 2022, a triplet of talented wide receivers. And for those of you who remember, if I said it once, I said it a 1,000 times last year, the Cowboys for the entire season were one prolific wide receiver short, even though they desperately tried to plug that gap the final month of the regular season by bringing in veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had been semi-retired, not having played in a game since the end of the 2021 season with the Colts, instead having chosen to watch his kids play football instead of playing himself.

Take a moment. Let this sink in.

No. 88, CeeDee Lamb, Pro Bowl wide receiver who grabbed that No. 1 receiver mantle last year, leading the team with 107 receptions for 1,359 yards, nine touchdowns and five 100-yard games, giving him 10 in his first three seasons, trailing only Bob Hayes' 13 during that span in franchise history.

No. 13, Michael Gallup, who tried his darndest to be Michael Gallup of old coming off his 2021 season-ending torn ACL injury, you know, the one in 2019-20 combining for 125 catches, 1,950 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaging 15.6 yards a catch – in other words, Big Play Mike. Well, if these two OTA practices we've witnessed so far mean anything, the sixth-year receiver is back.

Don't just take my word for it, listen to the quarterback. Dak Prescott should know better than most: "Starting to come back into who Michael Gallup is. … He's getting his feet under him and he's going to be better."

And finally, No. 3, Brandin Cooks, an offseason trade acquisition and established nine-year veteran, with six 1,000-yard seasons in the last eight years, relegated to just 12 games in 2019 with the Rams in one of the sub-1,000 yards seasons (583) and only 13 games this past season with the quarterback-challenged Texans (699).

Again, from what we've seen so far, this guy is exactly what the Cowboys lacked a year ago. And again, don't just listen to me, let Lamb speak up: "Love his speed. … That's my boy. … He's a professional to a T."

Telling you, a budding new "Triplets."

A versatile, more confident Lamb. An accomplished, versatile veteran Cooks. A thoroughly rejuvenated Gallup, looking more like his old self.

And with Gallup being indoctrinated into the slot some, three receivers who can scoot and line up in all three receiver spots. Think that won't create headaches for defense.

Oh, one other thing.

"I said this is a fast group," Lamb interjected, but with deference to Amari Cooper. "Technically, in a sense, it could be one of the fastest groups I've been on. Love it, and the experience is there also."

So let this sink in. Adding these Triplets to last year's high-octane offense, one seemingly diminished this offseason by that 12-point effort in the 18-12 second-round playoff loss to San Francisco, along with the fact letting offensive coordinator Kellen Moore go and head coach Mike McCarthy taking over the offense and the play-calling instead, creating this perception for some the offense is under total repair.

Look, the Cowboys finished the season with the 11th ranked offense, and know they were among 10 of 14 playoff teams in the top 11, and three of those who weren't (Seahawks, Buccaneers, Ravens) lost in the first round. The Cowboys finished fourth in scoring, averaging 27.47 points a game, and that's missing Dak in the five games Cooper Rush started, the team averaging 21.4 in those games while still going 4-1.

In fact, the Cowboys scored at least 27 points in 10 of the first 12 games in Dak's return until the 12-spot in the 13th against San Francisco. And during that span, in two of the losses the Cowboys scored 28 in the overtime loss in Green Bay (31-28) and 34 in the overtime loss in Jacksonville (40-34), thanks to the unfortunate pass drop by Noah Brown bouncing into an interception return for a walk-off touchdown.

That being one of the 15 times Dak was intercepted, and in my books one of at least seven that should have been pinned on player drops and bad routes.

Again, don't take my word for it. Allow me to once again defer to Lamb.

"I feel like that was the biggest problem for us last year. We were never on, well, we were on the same page but not as often as we wanted," Lamb said. "There was a ton of brutal mistakes."

Can say that again.

As a quarterback must, and part of the reason they get paid the big bucks, Dak continually toes a fine line when it comes to those 15 interceptions in 11 regular-season games played. And by the way he didn't "lead" the league in interceptions as most say. He technically "tied" for the lead since Houston's Davis Mills also was intercepted 15 times. Hey, Josh Allen and Kirk Cousins each were intercepted 14 times, you know, though playing more games.

So, says Dak when talking about what must improve offensively this year, "When all 11 are on the same page and we understand the whole passing game, it's going to be cleaner. My decision making, my throws, these guys playmaking, catching them and running the ball, all that is going to be cleaner."

Consider some of this, too, with last year's offense that is, unbeknownst to most, not under total reconstruction. In Dak's first 10 games back from injury, up until Dallas scoring just six points in that season finale to Washington, the Cowboys averaged 35.1 points a game, and then added that 31 spot in the playoff win over Tampa Bay that by all rights should have been 35 if not for Brett Maher missing those four extra points.

Also this: The Cowboys over the 17 games finished fifth in third-down efficiency, converting 45.5-percent of the times. And get this when it came to third down conversions: In eight of the final 10 regular season games, the Cowboys converted at a whopping 53.3 percent, the other two 33.3 percent against the Packers and 22.2 percent against Washington, both losses. Other than that …

Again, what's that old saying, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and as Dak points out, "It's not like we're throwing away our playbook and starting over."

Or as Rush added with a wry smile when asked about this misconception floating around out there, so much fueled by the 12-point effort in the loss to the Niners and the 15 Dak interceptions, "It's not a complete overhaul, just tweaking it. We've been productive for two years in a row.

"You don't overhaul too much that's been working.

Nope, just clean it up. Polish it a little sheen. Throw in some fuel additives. Then, as Lamb says, "I'm ready to go."

And most of all, remember the feel-good snapshot. Has the makings of becoming a memorable 13-3-88 Classic.

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