FRISCO, Texas – One of the most intriguing issues about the Cowboys' 2018 season was the search for answers in the passing game.
Suffice to say, after a third of the season, they're still looking.
The stats speak for themselves. The Cowboys are currently ranked 30th in the league in passing offense, averaging just 172 yards per game. Dak Prescott has yet to hit the 1,000-yard mark on the year, and his quarterback rating of 81.4 is 27th-best in the NFL. The Cowboys only have two receivers with 10 or more receptions, and they have yet to see a receiver top the 200-yard mark.
The Cowboys have known since the spring that opponents would sell out to slow down their highly-touted run game. But the inability to complement that ground attack with the pass has been surprising.
"I think we're a work in progress. Obviously we're struggling in the passing game," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "I think we're going to continue to see those types of looks because I think they're going to be stacking the line up. We're going to see a lot of eight-man boxes and they're going to make us throw the football."
To this point in the season, it's hard to find a steady scapegoat. The offensive line has struggled at times in pass protection, allowing 12 of its 15 sacks in the the team's three losses. Prescott has certainly had his struggles with accuracy. But it's hard not to cast an eye on the Cowboys' receivers, who through five weeks have not been able to produce a reliable option among them.
Having watched Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins go for 151 yards on nine receptions on Sunday night, that fact wasn't lost on Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
"First of all, a true No. 1 -- you saw one the other night and you see Julio Jones, you see players like that," Jones said. "In my mind, every team doesn't have a true No. 1 receiver when you put it in that class -- those guys that can absolutely change the ballgame with where they are. And that hasn't been our case for several years here that we've had a true No. 1, not a true No. 1. And those guys are -- would like to have one, would have liked to have had one, but we haven't."
That quote is bound to raise eyebrows, given that the Cowboys employed Dez Bryant on a five-year, $70 million contract until quite recently. Bryant earned that deal off the strength of a 1,320-yard, 16-touchdown campaign in 2014. But in his final three years with the Cowboys, he averaged 50 catches for 678 yards and six touchdowns before the team ultimately released him in April.
To hear it from the Cowboys, that's not quite cutting it to the same degree as someone like Houston's Hopkins or Atlanta's Julio Jones.
"If you look around the league, and I'm basically giving you my definition of a No. 1 receiver, it is Julio Jones. It is the guy we played the other night," Jones said. "Those are the guys. There are not but about a handful of those in the NFL."
For better or for worse, there's not a ton the Cowboys can do about their personnel right now. Team officials have shot down the idea of bringing Bryant back, and there's not much in the way of difference-making talent available in the middle of an NFL season.
"First of all, the decision-making area is not one that you can go out, even if you wanted to, and remake your team personnel wise," Jerry Jones said.
Instead, they'll soldier on. The Cowboys are confident that, by finding the right combinations and the right execution, they can improve their current situation. But at this point in the season, it's obvious there's plenty of work left to do.
"We still have guys, in their way, who can make the plays for us and we'll continue to work the passing game," Jones said. "Obviously we need to get better in the passing game."