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Cowboys News: Is Dez Bryant no longer an elite receiver?

All the latest Cowboys headlines conveniently summarized for your reading pleasure.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Inconvenient truth: Dallas lacks an elite receiver - Bucky Brooks,
No Cowboys fan wants to admit it, but Dez Bryant is no longer a top-notch WR1, Bucky Brooks explains.

Studying the All-22 Coaches Film, I see that Bryant primarily runs three routes from an out-wide alignment: slants, go-routes and digs/crossers. He uses his superior strength and length to push off or separate from defenders at the top of routes. Bryant's lack of polish on intermediate routes prevents him from being an integral part of the passing game, particularly when opponents employ press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

This coincides with the information I received from our Next Gen Stats team here at NFL Media. The Cowboys' WR1 averaged just 1.82 yards of separation at the target in 2016, which was well below the NFL average of 2.70 yards. Through the first two weeks of this season, Bryant's separation number has dipped to 1.68 yards at the target, compared to the league average of 2.88. With Bryant struggling to come down with tight-window targets (targets with less than 1 yard of separation from the defender) in 2017 -- the Cowboys receiver has only hauled in one of nine tight-window targets -- it is becoming tougher for Dallas to feed its WR1.

With all that said, Bryant still has value to the Cowboys as a complementary player. He is still capable of winning 50-50 balls on the perimeter, an ability that strikes fear into defenders.

"He's still a jump-ball God out here," Talib said earlier this week, via the Dallas Morning News. "If you throw him the ball, he's probably going to come down with it nine times out of 10. He's a real good receiver, and just playing him in the past, that ain't going to help you."

The Cowboys can help their No. 1 receiver regain some of his effectiveness in the passing game by being more creative with his deployment in formations. Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can use more motions and stack formations to help Dez escape press coverage at the line of scrimmage. In addition, Dallas can incorporate some pre-snap shifts into the game plan to keep defensive coordinators guessing about Bryant's whereabouts on every play. Careful scripting can mask Dez's loss of explosiveness as a playmaker. And overall, creative play design could help the Cowboys transition their longtime No. 1 receiver into a more effective complementary role in the passing game.

Why Dez Bryant can still be considered among NFL's elite WRs after slow start - Jon Machota, SportsDay
Slow start, shmo start, writes Machota.

No receiver has faced tougher matchups the first three weeks of the season. Yes, that includes this week's defender, Patrick Peterson.

Peterson is considered by many to be the top cornerback in the game. He's expected to shadow Bryant all night. Jenkins and Aqib Talib basically did the same the last two weeks. Peterson has made the Pro Bowl all six seasons he's been in the NFL. Talib was first-team All-Pro last season. Jenkins made second-team.

"That's what I got to deal with and that's what I love," Bryant said. "That's what I want to deal with. That's how it's got to be.

"They are all good corners. Just like I'm a good wide receiver."

The Cowboys' success depends greatly on Bryant and Prescott getting on the same page. Elliott and the running game need them to click to pull defenders out of the box.

That hasn't happened yet, but it doesn't remove Bryant from the ranks of the game's elite at his position.

Ed Werder breaks down why Dez Bryant, Dak Prescott haven't been more productive - Staff, SportsDay
When it comes to headline-grabbing names like Bryant and Prescott, there is never ever a shortage of opinions. Here's Ed Werder's, shared in a recent radio interview.

Here's what I see - I think Dez is a guy who, at this point in his career, doesn't separate from defenders, especially the top-level guys like Janoris Jenkins, Aqib Tablib, probably like Patrick Peterson. So, he doesn't get a lot of separation. There are no easy throws. And Dak inherently doesn't put the ball in jeopardy. So, he doesn't ever see Dez as really being open.

When he defines open, it's not what Dez shows him. The defender is always in very close proximity, and quite honestly, he doesn't run a real great route tree. He runs very few routes. I think they've got to move him around, and I think they've got to run him across the field. I think he's effective running slants. I don't know why they don't use him more in that capacity.

To me, that's it. Dak is not a QB who is going to force throws, and Dez is a guy who does not create a lot of separation between himself and the defenders - at least when he is playing the elite guys like we're seeing at the early part of this season.

Cowboys defense can improve with the help of their offense - Todd Archer, ESPN
It worked in 2014 and 2016, why shouldn't it work again this year? What will help the defense most is a functioning offense, Archer writes.

The Cowboys have seen the formula work that way in 2014 and last season.

In the season opener against the Giants, the Cowboys controlled the ball for 34 minutes, 14 seconds. They ran 18 more plays than New York. Last season, the Cowboys held the ball for an average of 30:14. The more the offense stays on the field, the more the defense can’t be exposed.

A year ago the Cowboys scored touchdowns on 38 of 57 red-zone drives. By scoring touchdowns, especially early, the opposing offense has to change its philosophy, helping the defense when they become one-dimensional. Through two games this season, the Cowboys have scored just two touchdowns on seven red-zone possessions.

The returns of Damontre Moore and David Irving and the growth of the young secondary players will help the defense, but if the offense performs better, then the defense will be better.

Biggest Week 3 NFL questions, stats and predictions - Alden Gonzalez, ESPN
Interesting comparison from the folks at ESPN, who look at last year's 1-1 start and this year's 1-1 start and the role Ezekiel Elliott played in both.

Elliott ran for only 51 yards in his first game of 2016, then fumbled twice in his second. Then, well, he went nuts, and it helped quarterback Dak Prescott turn in an equally impressive rookie season. Prescott needs more of the same now.

All Eyes On CB & WR Depth Heading Into Cowboys' Trip To Arizona - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
Looks like the Cowboys’ WR & CB depth may be tested on Monday in Phoenix.

With the Cowboys completing their final practice on Saturday, it was confirmed that they’ll be without two cornerbacks for this Week 3 game. Nolan Carroll was ruled out by the concussion he suffered in Denver last week, and Chidobe Awuzie was confirmed out with his hamstring injury.

On the opposite side, wide receiver looks like a question mark for Monday. Terrance Williams returned to practice on Saturday after sitting out Friday, but he was listed as questionable.

Brice Butler is also questionable with an ankle injury he suffered during practice.

Cowboys secondary will be without Chidobe Awuzie, Nolan Carroll vs. Cardinals - Drew Davison, Star-Telegram
The Cowboys will be shorthanded in the secondary against the Cardinals on Monday night.

The Cowboys will be without cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) and Nolan Carroll (concussion) for Monday night’s game vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

The good news for the Cowboys is that Orlando Scandrick is expected to return after missing the Denver game with a fracture in his left hand. Scandrick was limited in practice Thursday and Friday, and was a full participant on Saturday.

The Cowboys will also have cornerback Bene’ Benwikere active for the game. Benwikere will be making his Cowboys debut after being acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“He’s done a nice job, obviously coming in here late without training camp and learning the basis of our defense and he’s been catching up a little bit,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But he’s a smart guy, you can tell he’s played a lot of football and is a good athlete.”

Anthony Hitchens’ rehab is ‘moving faster than expected’ - Drew Davison, Star-Telegram
The “moving faster than expected” quote in the title is nowhere to be found in this article, but it seems that Hitchens is making progress in his injury rehab regardless.

Anthony Hitchens doesn’t have a timetable for when he may return to game action. At least not one he cares to share publicly.

But the Dallas Cowboys linebacker is making progress. He stretched and did early work with the team this week in practice for the first time before doing his rehab on the side.

“It feels good to be back out there with the team and warming up,” Hitchens said. “It feels like it’s been forever, but it really hasn’t.”

“I still don’t have a timetable,” Hitchens said, smiling. “I’m not even supposed to speak on that. That’s what my trainer said. So all I can say is I’m getting better and hopefully it’s soon.”

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