Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley saw a sharp reduction in productivity last season leading many to think the 29-year old is on the decline. I believe that to be incorrect.
It wasn’t long ago Cole Beasley was the Dallas Cowboys’ leading receiver. The year was 2016 and the 5’8” product of SMU established himself as rookie Dak Prescott’s favorite target on the team. Beasley would go on to collect 75 receptions from the slot that year and was instrumental in the Cowboys’ 13 win season.
But last year something happened. Despite relatively good health, the man known as “Bease” could only corral 36 balls and found himself a bit player on the Cowboys’ struggling offense. It’s only natural to think Cole Beasley has lost a step. His age and slight stature say the time is nigh. But I suspect it’s something much different than that and Cole Beasley is far from done in the NFL…
Cole Beasley was exposed. Plain and simple. Opponents saw how Dak Prescott leaned on Bease in 2016 and they made a concentrated effort to cut that safety valve off at the bud.
In 2017, Beasley was bracketed, sat on, and otherwise eliminated in the passing game. Opponenets keyed on his out-breaking routes and planted defenders accordingly. Cole Beasley saw more second-man attention than Dez Bryant last season (Dez technically appeared to get more double-teams but Cole clearly commanded more attention).
The solution to Cole Beasley’s problem is to become unpredictable and make defenses pay for fixing in on a couple key routes.
The result was smaller windows, less separation and less impactful yards after the catch (YAC). Many will point to his stats and use them to support the argument he’s declining in ability. He went from 98 targets, 75 receptions, and 833 yards to 63 targets, 36 receptions, and 314 yards – the conclusion is understandable.
But raw stats, even advanced, are misleading if you ignore context and other variables. With the added defensive attention, it’s no wonder Cole Beasley struggled in 2017. His yards per separation went from 3.4 average yards of separation in 2016 to 2.4 YPS in 2017. Physical decline is not the reason behind this but rather added attention (and considerably more double-teams) are behind that.
It’s no wonder he suddenly became a hard target to hit. It’s no wonder his receptions, YAC, etc… all suffered. Teams took away those out-breaking patterns. They sat on the short routes and dared Bease to beat them deep.
And Bease never really did.
Was it the coach or the player who was exposed?
This is the question we all must be asking heading into training camp. Teams dared Cole Beasley to beat them on the deeper routes yet, very rarely, was Cole asked to run one. This may be because he’s incapable of running such a route, or it may be because the coaches were just unwilling to send him on those routes.
Brice Butler publically spoke out this winter when he stated Dallas coaches prefer to use their players in “specialist” roles. Brice always ran the deep routes. Dez ran either a slant or a go. And Bease always stayed shallow (usually out-breaking). The conclusion is it was simple for opponents to stop the passing attack because they were so darn predictable.
The solution to Cole Beasley’s problem is to become unpredictable and make defenses pay for fixing in on a couple key routes. Start beating them deep and in the middle and they’ll stop cheating to take away those out-patterns.
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Now is that the coaches fault for not sending him on those routes or is it Cole Beasley’s fault for not being able to run them?
That’s the real question at hand.
I can say this with certainty – in training camp last season, Cole Beasley looked unstoppable. He was always open. Granted the Cowboys defense didn’t do to him what his opponents did to eliminated him in 2017, but Bease never looked better.
That’s why I’m absolutely confident age and/or decline is not a factor in this.
Route diversity is the problem
Beasley’s routes were exposed and until the Cowboys can find a way to change this, he’ll continue to be exposed. It’s difficult to decide who to blame, at this point, but we know what’s to blame.
Cole Beasley ain’t done yet. His decline was about predictability more than inability. If he can prove to be a weapon deep and over the middle he should be able to lead the team in receptions again. If not, it’s time to replace him in the slot because Dak Prescott needs a weapon between the numbers now that Witten’s gone.