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Cowboys must find way to get Cole Beasley involved in offense

FRISCO, Texas -- Through four games, the most-asked question regarding the Dallas Cowboys' passing game is about the Dak Prescott-to-Dez Bryant connection.

Bryant has 16 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but he has been targeted 40 times. On a few occasions it hasn't looked as if he and Prescott have been on the same page.

But a more pressing question about the state of the Cowboys' passing game might be: Where's WR Cole Beasley?

Through the first four games, Beasley has 11 catches for 86 yards on 20 targets.

In the first four games last season, Beasley had 23 catches for 279 yards on his way to career highs in receptions (a team-high 75) and yards (833), and he matched his career high in touchdowns (five).

"You hear it from other coaches: 'This is going to be something we've got to be mindful of,'" offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "So they put top players on [Beasley]."

It was evident early last season that Prescott liked throwing to Beasley. He won early on his routes, so Prescott did not have to hold on to the ball. Coupled with the success of the running game, the Cowboys were able to convert on half of their third-down tries in the first four weeks in 2016 in large part because of Beasley and TE Jason Witten working underneath.

In the season opener, the New York Giants put Eli Apple on Beasley. In Week 2, the Denver Broncos put Chris Harris Jr. on him. Two weeks ago, against the Arizona Cardinals, Beasley had to deal with Tyrann Mathieu.

"I think, for the most part, they're clogging the inside of the field. It's kind of obvious," Prescott said. "If Beasley isn't getting his catches, they are putting more bodies on the inside. They are double-covering him. You saw the last game. The safety runs out the middle of the field just to go double-team Beasley. So when you have the year he had ... you are going to draw that attraction."

The attention paid to Beasley and Witten, who leads the Cowboys with 19 receptions, has not made life easier for Bryant and the Cowboys' other outside receivers. In the past two weeks, Witten has seen his production slip to just one catch in each game.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of Beasley's slow start is his lack of playing time. In the first two games, he played 109 of 145 offensive plays. In the past two games, he has played only 56 of 118 snaps.

"I don't think anything has been altered deliberately. Sometimes games go a certain way," coach Jason Garrett said. "You want to use certain personnel groups at different times, maybe not in those situations he would play quite as much."

The Cowboys' passing game worked best last season when it was Beasley- and Witten-centric. Defenses have figured that out, and the Cowboys have to adjust.

"Bease gets a lot of attention, as we know," Garrett said. "He's someone who has caught a lot of balls for us in critical situations, so I think teams recognize that.

"We just got to keep working on finding ways to get him opportunities, and he needs to keep working on ways to deal with some of that attention that he's getting. One of the ways that you can combat that is you have success with the other guys. Some of those third-down situations where he's getting a lot of attention, it opens up opportunities for other guys. ... We certainly want to get him involved. When he's involved, we're a better offense."