For ‘Boys To Make December Run, Dez Needs To Rediscover Old Tricks
Like a good, stout choker-chain, misinterpretation has followed Dez Bryant throughout his football career, yanking him back into the public spotlight with each false move. Despite what we may think, Dez always means well, even if he’s screaming at teammates on the sideline, berating reporters in the locker room, or invading an opponents pre-game huddle. Dez isn’t a madman, so I’m told, so much as he is a fierce competitor whose pride in his abilities is anything but figurative.
But, in what is a tale of the utmost simplicity, there can be no misinterpreting Dez’s performance so far in 2015. For the Cowboys’ newest $75 million receiver, it has been all too underwhelming, at times even disastrous. The Cowboys have lost eight of their past nine games and have fallen to the bottom of the NFC East standings not only because of inconsistent quarterback play, but a star wide receiver who knows no end to mishap and misplay.
That wasn’t supposed to be the script in 2015, nor can it continue to be if the Cowboys hope to work a late-season miracle and grab the NFC East crown. Even at 3-8 on the season, the Dallas Cowboys still have all their goals in front of them. They can’t reach any of them without Dez finding his way out of a personal funk that has been months in the making.
To be a Super Bowl contender in January, the Cowboys needed Bryant to be at his best. That’s why Jerry Jones avoided a holdout at the last minute in July and gave him a top-level salary. Bryant rewarded the front-office by arriving for training camp out of shape.
His poor conditioning led to a hamstring injury early in camp, that caused him to miss the entire preseason. Still out of shape after the long layoff, Bryant needed an IV to stave off dehydration after the Cowboys’ first series of the regular season against the Giants. Not long after returning to the field, Bryant broke his foot, an injury that sidelined him for the next five games.
To make a mid-season push to the playoffs with Matt Cassel at quarterback, the Cowboys needed Bryant to make the big plays. He failed in that regard as well. In his first game back off the injury list against Seattle, Bryant let a deep pass down the left sideline slip right through his fingers and fall harmlessly to the turf. The Cowboys lost 13-12.
Two weeks later in Tampa Bay, Bryant dropped a key third-down pass late in the game that would have given Dallas the opportunity to burn the remaining time up. Instead, the Cowboys punted, and Bryant watched from the sideline as Jameis Winston drove the Bucs down the field for a touchdown and a 10-6 advantage.
Bryant had a chance to redeem himself in the final minute when Cassel threw one up for him in the end-zone. But the frustrated wideout “lost focus” for a moment while battling with the defensive back for position. Rather than a Cowboys touchdown, the Bucs celebrated a walk-off interception in their own backyard.
On Thursday, Bryant received the ultimate form of holiday embarrassment. During warmups before Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day clash with unbeaten Carolina, Bryant began talking trash to Panthers top cornerback Josh Norman. The Dallas receiver then backed up his boasting with his worst game in more than a month (2 catches for 26 yards) as the Cowboys were blown out at home 33-14.
Now, with December upon us, the football gods have deemed it fitting that Bryant and the Cowboys be given one more primetime opportunity to prove themselves the cream of a very rotten crop in the NFC East. At 3-8 on the season, the Cowboys sit two games behind the 5-6 duo of Washington and New York.
Dez and the Cowboys are down to their final strike in 2015. To have any realistic chance at making the playoffs for a second consecutive year, they need to find a way to beat the Redskins on Monday Night Football. That means Dez needs to stop talking, and start making plays. He also needs to avoid using the crutch of a backup quarterback to explain away his ineffectiveness.
Bryant has made a living these past several years teaming-up with Tony Romo on broken plays. Cassel is hardly the same style of quarterback as Romo, nor should Bryant expect him to be. With a traditional pocket-passer behind center for the Cowboys, Bryant needs to channel his inner Playmaker and start beating defenders at the line of scrimmage. To complete the process that Michael Irvin made look so easy during the 1990’s, it’s also imperative that Bryant hang onto the ball when Cassel looks his way.
With a backup quarterback who is still getting accustomed to the playbook, and a defense that can’t force turnovers, the Cowboys can’t afford to exchange big plays for dropped passes. That is the exact formula which has dropped them to 29th in total offense and scoring, and 25th in yards-per-play.
Bryant has seen his receiving total increase with each trip to FedEx Field, from 56 yards as a rookie in 2010, to 99 yards and two touchdowns last December. Bryant would do well to continue that trend next Monday night, if only to amend for the many misfortunes which have made these first eleven games unbearable, unwatchable, and very nearly unforgivable.