During Cowboys training camp, when their receiver trio of CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks was turning heads every other afternoon, there was boundless optimism of another explosive offense in Dallas.

Through six games, it wasn’t the case. But the seventh, a 43-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams, provided hope — and a path towards a resurgent Cowboys passing attack.

The Cowboys are 5-2, and — with the help of a ballhawking defense – are one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams, averaging over 28 points per game. The numbers show just how far they have to go, though. Across six games, the Cowboys had just 11 offensive touchdowns. That average of 1.8 per game slotted them all the way down at 18th in the league, while most of the game’s best offenses averaged 2.5 or more per week. 

A big part of that was the oft-discussed red-zone efficiency. The Cowboys’ 39% conversion rate inside the opponent’s 20-yard line was an abysmal 27th in the NFL. Here’s guessing the lack of explosiveness doesn’t help, either. Dallas had only 28 completions of 16+ yards heading into this weekend’s game against the L.A. Rams, tied for 20th in the league. Even if you want to up the threshold for an explosive play to 20+ yards, the Cowboys’ 18 such completions ranked 19th.

Fortunately, the Cowboys may be on the path to improvement. Over Dallas’ last two games, CeeDee Lamb has been targeted 21 times, catching 19 of those throws for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Sometimes you just need to find your best guy — and that’s an idea that Lamb seems to subscribe to.

“I have to make it clear, I’m not stingy,” Lamb said before the matchup with the Rams. “I’m here to help. I don’t necessarily think you take anyone in the first round and not have them help the team, and that’s point-blank period.”

The guy’s got a point. Lamb has only managed more than five catches in a game three this season, and he’s only been targeted 10+ times twice. That would be fine if his supporting cast was thriving, but that hasn’t been the case.

Wide receiver tracking data released last week showed that Michael Gallup ranks 103rd out of 109 eligible receivers at key metrics like getting open, catch rate and yards after catch. Brandin Cooks wasn’t much better — but with that being said, his two most productive games are his last two, with eight total catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

Dak Prescott throws for 304 yards and four touchdowns in blowout win vs. Rams

Do the Cowboys’ issues with non-Lamb receiver productivity fall more on player execution, or the Cowboys’ scheme? In Cooks’ case in particular, it paints an interesting picture. Through seven weeks, the veteran speedster had run go routes on 42 of his 134 routes — a whopping 31% of his route tree. Despite that, he has been targeted on those routes just twice so far. That seems to suggest that his speed — so far, anyway — is being used primarily to clear some defenders out of the way for others.

That’s fine — provided the effort is helping others. But if Cooks’ role in the offense is going to be diminished, the key is that it results in more targets for Lamb. That was absolutely the case in the Week 8 win.

Perhaps the Cowboys’ opponents served as a muse in this case. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford isn’t shy about figuring out who his playmakers are and peppering them with passes. Rookie sensation Puka Nacua has almost double the targets of the next receiver on the Rams’ roster with 83. And though he has been healthy for just three games, Cooper Kupp is gaining ground with 17 catches on 28 targets. 

Throw in some basic math, and Stafford is giving his best players opportunities as often as 10-12 times per game. “He’s going to get on his first read, pre-determine it before the snap, and that guy is going to get the ball a high percentage of the time,” said NFL On FOX analyst Greg Olsen. “I think it’s actually a credit to Matthew, because it’s the ability to process the look pre-snap.”

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Dak Prescott has never been one to force the issue — and that’s largely a good thing. Despite what the narrative might say, Prescott’s career interception rate of 2% is among the best in the NFL for active quarterbacks. So while no one’s asking him to make ill-advised throws, the time has come for the Cowboys to simply trust their top option. 

If the preseason vision of a top-tier trio isn’t coming to fruition, leaning on one of the league’s best receivers isn’t a bad fall-back plan.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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