A loss in the season opener brings a lot of questions and speculation about the Dallas Cowboys. The fact that the defeat at the hands of the New York Giants was so agonizingly close just makes it worse. There are a lot of hot button issues this week, but one of the most sizzling is what happened to Dez Bryant?
As Jim Scott discussed, there were three times during the game when Bryant failed to make plays that could easily have altered the outcome. He has come through on similar occasions many times in the past. But he also was targeted only five times in the entire contest, out of 45 passes thrown by Dak Prescott.
So what was going on? There are a variety of things that could have contributed.
First, this was the first game since the season opener last year where he was fully healthy, and despite his often brilliant work in training camp, he may still have been knocking off some of the rust. The Cowboys are very
cautious deliberate with their starters in preseason. Given how much the team has invested in him, this is not something that they expect from a player regarded as one of the best in the league at his position, but that doesn’t change the fact he just did not seem as good as we are accustomed to seeing. This is one thing that could well sort itself out, hopefully very quickly. He has had a game to get back into stride, and now he needs to return to what we have seen in the past against Washington.
Second was the fact he was working with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback. While Prescott had a very credible debut, he is still a long way from being at the level of Tony Romo, who has been the passer for the vast majority of Bryant’s catches and touchdowns in his career. Until Romo returns, the reality is that Prescott is not going to be as capable of reading and exploiting defenses as number 9. One trait of the Cowboys offense is that most of Dez’s receptions in the past have been on plays that take a bit to develop. Prescott is more likely to go with a first or second read, and that means he will not get to Bryant on a lot of plays, even when Bryant is open. And as was seen on the bobbled pass that was nearly a touchdown, Prescott is also not quite as quick in committing to the right throw. Had that ball been delivered a couple of steps earlier, Bryant would likely have had an easy catch and score. Prescott was also just not as accurate on longer throws, only completing two of ten passes that would be considered long. Hopefully he will improve there, and it will also come quickly.
The coaching is closely related to having Prescott taking snaps rather than Romo. It certainly appeared that the staff was trying to make things easier for the rookie, which led to all those short, fairly safe completions to Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. Bryant can be quite deadly in similar routes, and it would be wise to run him on more of those as Prescott’s first read. Get the ball in his hands on a shallow crossing pattern, and he has the ability to turn it into a long gain many times. Whatever routes he runs, he certainly needs to be targeted more often. He is the highest paid, most effective receiver on the team, and he needs to be utilized as such.
Finally, the Giants spent a boatload of money to improve their defense in the offseason as well as some draft picks, and the initial results indicate that they may have done so, particularly their run defense. Based on Monday’s game, Washington may not be nearly as much of a challenge when Dallas has the ball. The run game clearly was not what the Cowboys were hoping for, as evidenced by the high number of passes Prescott had to attempt. That has a deleterious effect on the passing game. If Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris can get rolling, it will begin to open up more opportunities in the passing game, including for Bryant.
All these are areas that Dallas can improve in, and just getting better in one or two of them may be enough to make a significant difference in the effectiveness of Bryant. That is one of the challenges the players and coaches face this week. Hopefully, we are going to see a much better stat line for Bryant, as well as others. If not, this will remain a very hot item next week.