Dez Bryant can play like an All Pro and he can play like a scrub - often in the same game.
Dez Bryant caught just two passes for 50 yards in the second half of the first four games he played in last season. Headlines like "Cowboys WR Dez Bryant disappears in second half again" became a common theme. And you know how it is, once a label like that gets attached to a player, it's hard to shake.
Even Jerry Jones reiterated that theme two weeks ago, when he suggested that conditioning may have played a part in Bryant's performance - or lack thereof - in the second half of games.
"When he would lose concentration in the last part of the game, I don’t know if that was because of conditioning. I suspect it could’ve been," Jones said, per John Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "That’s not to be critical, but I suspect that, whether the injury had anything to do with that or not, those are the things that we’re working on so he can be more impactful in the latter part of the game."
And at first glance, the stats seem to back up Bryant's supposed second half disappearing act: In the first half of games last season, Bryant notched 37 receptions for 558 yards and seven touchdowns, while his production dropped to 25 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of games.
But here at BTB, we're never satisfied with just a cursory glance at numbers, because that often leads to sloppy thinking and half-baked conclusions. So after the break, we look at Bryant's numbers in a little more detail.
Obviously, two receptions for 50 yards in Bryant's first four games is not impressive any way you look at it, and there's no denying that Bryant had a slow start into the season in second halves. But there's another thing those two receptions over four games do: They screw with your averages. Here's Bryant's production by half in the remaining games of the season:
|Dez Bryant, week 7-17, 2011|
What the chart above tells us is that after his first four games, Bryant averaged almost identical numbers in both halves. So does that put the "Dez Bryant disappears in second halves" meme to rest? The answer to that is a very straightforward ... yes and no.
On average, Bryant delivered the same performance in both halves from week 7 onwards. But as anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of statistics will tell you, averages can be very misleading. The effect averages can have on a set of data can be like the statistician who put his head in the oven and his feet in the refrigerator and said "Overall, the temperature here is pretty average."
A look at Bryant's 15 individual games last season shows that only twice did he have the same amount of receptions in both halves of a game: two receptions in both halves against the Redskins in week three and three in each half against the Giants in week 17. There are three more games in which his reception totals differed by only one reception, all other games differed by at least two receptions by half. Going simply by number of receptions, this is what Bryant's season looked like in both halves of games:
|Dex Bryant, Receptions by Week, 2011|
|1st Half||3||- -
|2nd Half||0||- -
In bold, I've marked the halves in which Bryant had the better performance. Usually, this is the half in which he had more receptions. In weeks 12 and 17 it's the half in which he had a better yard per catch rate. By that method, Bryant had a better first half in eight of his games last year, and a better second half in seven games.
The issue last year with Bryant, if we want to call it an issue, is not that he disappears in the second half of games, but rather that he doesn't consistently produce over an entire game. If you like your conclusions with a hint of negativity, you could argue that Bryant had a tendency to disappear for entire halves of games he played in. If you like your conclusions with a touch of positivity, you could argue that Bryant dominated one half of almost every game he played in.
The table below illustrates just how big the difference was between the two extremes. I've totaled Bryant's performance in the better halves he's had (marked in bold in the table above) and contrasted that performance with his performance in his worse halves. To get a better feel for the numbers, I've calculated the passer rating for passes thrown to Dez Bryant for each data set:
|Passer Rating to Dez Bryant, 2011|
When Dez Bryant is on, he is as dominant a wide receiver as you'll get. The passer rating to Bryant when he's 'on' is a phenomenal 146.0, which is quite close to the highest official passer rating of 158.3 that a quarterback can achieve. If Bryant in 2012 were to consistently play at the high level he showed in one half of each game last year, his season totals could approach 90+ receptions for 1.400+ yards and 16+ touchdowns. That's Bryant's potential.
And let's not forget that Bryant is still only 23 years old, was coming off a fractured ankle last season and didn't have an offseason, yet still played at an All Pro-equivalent level - in one half of many games he played in.
But when Bryant is off, he's really, truly and maddeningly off. It's hard to believe, but the passer rating to Bryant when he is 'off' is even worse than Brad Johnson's three-game stint as QB for the Cowboys in 2008, in which he accumulated a 52.6 passer. And being worse than Brad Johnson, that's something. Especially if you're worse than Brad Johnson in one half of every game.
So there you have it. With Bryant, it's less about conditioning or second half disappearances, it's all about consistency. He can and does play at an All Pro level, but can also play like a complete scrub. What drives you nuts is that you see both in almost every game. Somebody needs to find Bryant's 'On' switch - and remove the 'Off' switch.
Over to you, Coach Robinson.