Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett made it plain.
To discourage opponents from crowding the line of scrimmage to stop the run, as the Denver Broncos did in Sunday’s 42-17 blowout win, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense needs to make them pay for playing one-on-one coverage on the outside by making big plays in the passing game.
That’s getting down the field, or catching a slant, breaking a tackle and running 80 yards for a touchdown, according to Garrett.
The obvious choice on the Cowboys offense with those game-breaking talents is wide receiver Dez Bryant.
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And so far through two games, Bryant and quarterback Dak Prescott have more misses than hits. Bryant has been targeted 25 times and has nine catches.
Bryant had two catches on nine targets for 43 yards in the season opener against the New York Giants. Sunday in Denver, he had seven catches on 16 targets for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos, including a drop that led to an interception and a 103-yard return for a touchdown by Aqib Talib.
“I think it’s a combination,” Garrett said of the disconnect between Prescott and Bryant. “[Bryant] has certainly made some plays for us up to this point in the first couple games but we haven’t had some vertical throws down the field. Some of them were actually throwaways and a couple of them yesterday involved essentially being thrown behind him or out of bounds. But there have been some opportunities down the field that we haven’t hit on and we have to get better at.”
Prescott has not been able to consistently get the ball to Bryant for big plays the past two games against man coverage vs. elite cornerbacks, including Talib and Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Asked about Bryant’s play against the Broncos, Garrett was initially complimentary, but then got to the crux of the matter.
“I thought Dez did a lot of good things in the game, made some big plays, explosive plays, the touchdown catch, did some good things,” Garrett said. “Then at other times, we didn’t necessarily win the match-up when we threw the ball there.”
Bryant has to gain separation and win his battle on the outside for the offense to be successful when teams load up to stop running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ground game.
Prescott has to be accurate in throwing the ball in tight windows but the receivers have to win battles and make plays outside.
That’s Bryant more than anyone because he is team’s most explosive playmaker.