Before I begin, I want to commend Dez Bryant on his performance in Baltimore on Sunday. He played hungry and motivated. He made several key third down catches and was having his way with the corners for the majority of the football game.
Now, a 7.3 yards per catch average might not be indicative of a day where a receiver was having his way with the corners, but he was consistently beating press coverage and playing more physical than the corners that were assigned to him.
My initial thought when watching all of the game for a second time was, "How did Dez not have 200 yards in this game?" It was no fault of his own, but rather the fault of the offensive staff not capitalizing on what they have in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
Dez Bryant was brought into Dallas to be an explosive, down the field receiver who could take advantage of 1 on 1 coverage. That's what he was able to do consistently in college, making him the best receiver in the nation. As the Cowboys have begun to force-feed Dez into the position of number one receiver, they have taken that aspect out of his game. He's gone from being a 17 ypc threat in college to a 10 ypc shallow man in this offense. Dez Bryant was at his best with Jon Kitna who had an, "Aww what the hell, I'm a 38 year old backup, I'm chunkin' it deep" attitude. The Cowboys have taken this Andre Johnson-like, down the field talent and relegated him to underneath routes in what I call the "Dez Zone".
The Dez Zone is the area on the shallow left side of the field, where slants, comebacks, stops, and hitches are run. I'm not suggesting that Dez never sees routes in other places, but this is the overwhelming norm.
The offensive staff seems to believe that if they keep force feeding Dez the football on shallow routes underneath, he'll develop into the number one receiver that he was drafted to be. However, that's not what a number one is, and that's not what capitalizes on Dez's skill-set. A number one should be a guy who runs routes all over the field, can run all routes and can make catches over the middle. Of Dez's 34 catches, only five have come over the middle. If we were talking about Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin, that entire picture would be black.
I've assembled all of the targets to Dez from Sunday's game in Baltimore
Just watch how easily Dez is beating the press, 1 on 1 coverage that he was getting. With the running success that the Boys were having, the safeties were cheating towards the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game. If you watched the television broadcast, Brian Billick (who knows a bit about the Ravens defense) kept saying, "We're going to see a double move from Dez Bryant here soon." We never did. He stayed shallow and the Cowboys first round, down the field talent didn't get a single down-field target despite his constant beating of 1 on 1 coverage and the possibility of play action. Instead, the only down-field targets went to Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree.
That leads me to another thought; Do Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett even mention Miles Austin and Jason Witten in the gameplan anymore? They are so focused on getting the ball to Dez Bryant, that Miles Austin ends up with 2 catches and Jason Witten isn't targeted but twice in the first 55 minutes of the game. I missed the moment in time when Dez Bryant became this team's best option.
Miles Austin is a guy who needs to be a focal point in the gameplan each in every week. If he gets a few catches in the slot early, he can take over a game. Miles is a rhythm player and if he doesn't get looks till late in the game, he won't be as effective. If memory serves me correct, Miles had 0 targets in the slot. That is ridiculous. Instead, he got the down field targets that Dez should have had.
I assembled Miles Austin's targets for reference.
This cleverly photo-shopped image is to illustrate the way that the coaching staff is using these two high profile receivers. If you were asked to put together a scouting report on these receivers, it would look something like this:
- Great route runner
- good hands
- very quick
- clutch on third down
- plays with a low pad level
- Works very well in the slot
- technically and mentally sound
- Good size
- great strength
- very good down the field receiver
- lacks great route running
- elite at the point of the catch
- gets behind defenses
- technically and mentally inconsistent
The season stats should be flipped for these guys. Miles should lead the two in catches and Dez should have the 16.6 yards per catch average and team lead in touchdowns. It's time to put the brakes on the "Dez needs to be a number one right now" attitude and remember that you have the best route running 6'2" receiver in football on this team as well. Put the anointing oils away and let that role come to Dez when he's ready. Miles Austin as the pace-setter of the passing game and a continued improvement in the running game could have this offense right where it needs to be.