There is a lot of concern over the near-disappearance of Dez Bryant in the opening game of the season for the Cowboys. Although it was just one of several factors that wound up contributing to the loss, it looms large because Bryant is the biggest offensive weapon Dallas has had in the past decade. That is true in spite of the fact that he had a very poor year due to injury in 2015. His return was supposed to be one reason why the Cowboys could survive with Dak Prescott subbing for Tony Romo. But that did not materialize in week one. Now there are all kinds of discussions of how the team needs to put more effort into scheming Bryant back into the offense.
Well, that is all well and good, but there is more to it than sending in some different plays. Sometimes, the players involved have to do a better job of making things happen, and against the Giants, both Bryant and Prescott came up short. The real burden is on their shoulders to turn this around.
Remember that the bobbled touchdown by Bryant came on the second drive for the Cowboys. That is a play he has made many times before, and the team needed him to make it then. Yes, the ball was thrown where he had a contested catch, but that happens sometimes, and especially with a rookie quarterback. That is the kind of play Bryant is being paid like a top five receiver to make.
The coaches can scheme all they want to get better chances for Bryant, but he still has to do his part to get open. And similarly, Prescott has to see when he is open and get the ball to him. It is going to be a long time before the rookie is playing at anything like the level Romo can (when healthy), and given how good Romo is at reading and defeating defenses, he is likely to never get all the way there. But he has to make some progress rapidly if things are to improve. The quality of the quarterback does affect the ability of the receiver to perform. While a physical and crafty player like Bryant can compensate to some degree for the level of play behind center, he still is going to be much better when throws come to him at the right time and in the right place. It is like a bad golfer who goes out and drops a bundle on the best clubs on the market. It is not going to make nearly as much a difference for him as the same equipment does in the hands of a pro. That duffer may get another 20 yards on his drives, but that is mostly just going to put him further off the fairway.
In the first game, Prescott was clearly more accurate on the shorter throws, and that excludes a lot of what Bryant does best, which is stretch the defense. There are still some ways to get Bryant involved in short passes, screens, and crossing patterns, but Prescott was not as accurate as he could have been even there, often throwing high or just being off on the passes. The hope is that he will be better as he gets more experience, and the Washington game does look to be a bit less of a challenge than the Giants were. Not only did Washington get blasted by the Steelers offense on Monday night, it looks like keeping up with their offense will be much easier, given that Kirk Cousins only produced in garbage time and their running game was nearly nonexistent. And Prescott should face fewer second and third downs with unfavorable yardage situations, which in turn should make him more comfortable.
All that should combine to make it easier for Prescott and Bryant to connect this week. And they have to step up to make sure it happens. A quarterback and a receiver can feed off each other, as Prescott did with Cole Beasley and Jason Witten in his first outing. Now he needs to start building the rapport with Bryant and the rest of his weapons in the passing game. No matter how hard the coaches work to make things easier in that aspect, in the end it all comes down to the players producing. Sometimes they just have to make it work despite the best efforts of the defense. We have seen Bryant do it when he was catching passes from Romo, who is admittedly one of the best in the business when he is on his game. Now Prescott has to find his game, and that includes finding Bryant when the opportunities are there. If both of them can hold up their end, things will work out. But it will take both of them, make no mistake.