David Carr: Cooper trade helps, but doesn’t bring Cowboys into modern age

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) makes a catch against the Tennessee Titans during a 28-14 loss on Monday in Arlington, Texas.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) makes a catch against the Tennessee Titans during a 28-14 loss on Monday in Arlington, Texas. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Cowboys made one of the best trading deadline deals out there when acquiring Amari Cooper, but they didn’t really help themselves at all.

You get excited when you see them make a move like that and think about it practically, as an offensive guy, and how it would be a tremendous benefit to that run game with Ezekiel Elliott and to other guys like Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup.

David Carr

They have some tremendous weapons, and coming off a bye with those pieces in place like they did last week against Tennessee you’d just expect they would be ready, that they would have a plan in place to go out and be on the attack.

But they ran the same offense and it’s just so stagnant and so boring to watch, and that’s the frustrating part of it now when we’re in the era that we’re in with people pushing the envelope and really being creative on offense.

The Cowboys are just not there.

When you see them go into the three-wide receivers sets like they did at the end of that game and Prescott spreads the football out and they let him make decisions, let him utilize his legs a little bit, that’s when they’re at their best.

We saw a couple of plays early with Prescott, one in particular was the first pass that Cooper caught. That was shotgun, zone-read action to Elliott and everybody and the referees were buying that, and there was a one-on-one situation for Cooper. I thought they were going to roll. I thought, “OK, they took two weeks and they said, ‘What’s our strength? This is our strength and we’re going to utilize it.’”

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and the Cowboys’ offense could be much more efficient and effective if they were running a modern system, NFL Network analyst David Carr said. Eric Christian Smith ASSOCIATED PRESS

But then it disappeared. It was more under center and, “We’re going to run the ball on first and second down and we’re going to try to get it on third down.” That’s just not the way to play ball anymore. You have to get the first down on second down. You have to avoid third downs. That’s the trick. They’re just playing backward football right now.

The good coordinators around the league, they don’t even want to get to third down. They want to avoid third down. The best teams have less than 10 third-down opportunities in a game. They’re in single digits. They’re trying to get a first down on second down, not third down. They’re trying to push the ball up the field and put pressure on the defense. When a team sets up for third-and-short, that’s the worst possible scenario.

Even with the rules in favor of the offense, no team is good enough to consistently produce long drives and that’s what the Cowboys are asking those guys to do if they go run-run-pass and or run-quick pass-something on third down.

You have to be on the attack. You have to be aggressive. Play-action on first down is crucial, and the Cowboys don’t do nearly enough of that.

Elliott and the offensive line are tremendous, but I think they have to put Gallup and Cooper and Beasley out there on the field at the same time. They have to give Elliott and Prescott the opportunity to run some zone schemes, zone-read from the shotgun, and let Prescott see the field and spread it out. That’s their best bet and I didn’t see nearly enough of that against Tennessee until it was too late.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) celebrates his touchdown with running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) during the first half of a 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Ron Jenkins ASSOCIATED PRESS

That’s the Cowboys’ biggest issue – the approach that they take to running their offense. It’s old-school and there’s an expiration and it’s coming up soon, especially in this league.

If you’re the Dallas Cowboys you can’t waste the youth of the guys that you have on that side of the ball. They have to solve that issue and unfortunately I don’t know if it’s going to be something they can solve this year.

It’s going to be Jerry Jones’ call, but at this point they’re not going to be any better than where they are now. You’re going to hear it all week, “We just need some time with Amari, develop some timing …” It doesn’t take any time. If you have a good player, especially a guy who has the ability to separate like Cooper does, you should be able to make something happen pretty soon. You should be able to find ways to get him involved and move this offense into the next century.

I think they just have to at this point. In the NFL, it’s becoming a necessity.

Question of the week

From Elijah Rooney: We saw (49ers quarterback) Nick Mullens have an exceptional game, but do you think that his success is sustainable and not a fluke? Does he have the physical traits and football IQ to be an immediate commodity in a quarterback-crazed league, or does his value lay as a talented backup?

A couple of things stood out. One, how difficult that is to do that without getting any reps all year. But everything that I heard about this kid from a preparation standpoint was fantastic. He really saw that he had an opportunity and he made the most of it. I thought he played fantastic. You can tell a lot about a young quarterback when you see how they conduct themselves when they’re out there, and he was talking on the sideline and he was communicating with his guys. I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he went through his progressions.

Now, granted, the Raiders are going to turn out to be one of the worst defenses of all time. There’s that, so you have to pump the brakes a little bit on Nick being the next Steve Young or Joe Montana. But he showed good poise – they tried to bring some pressure right up the A gap and he stayed in there and made some good throws. Then you have Kyle Shanahan calling plays and he’s going to put you in good positions and find completions for you.

It was good to see, even though it was against my brother’s team. It’s always cool to see a quarterback who’s relatively unknown have success. I was happy for him, because it shows hard work pays off. I think it’s a great lesson for every player who has had an opportunity to go up there and play. You have to be prepared. You never know when it’s going to be your turn and he took advantage of it. It was cool to see.

David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.

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