Tablet Sports

Cowboys notes: Bryant a better player this year, Garrett says

After catching 92 passes for 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, there was every expectation that Dez Bryant would build on those numbers in 2013, especially after the final flourish, when he scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 109.8 receiving yards over the final eight games.

Bryant has been good in 2013, even great at times. But his numbers — 70 catches for 908 yards and 10 touchdowns — are less than was expected, even what Bryant targeted.

He openly talked about aiming for 20 touchdowns and 2,000 receiving yards before the season.

Bryant has only two touchdowns over the past five games and is coming off a Chicago Bears game in which he had only two catches for 12 yards.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, however, said not to let the numbers fool you. He said Bryant is a better player than last year, even if the numbers aren’t showing it.

“Better player, more capable of doing a lot of different things,” Garrett said Thursday. “He’s a mismatch player who’s hard for people to guard in one-on-one situations. We go to him a lot and he comes through. You can put him in different spots. He handles that well. He plays more consistently, both his technique, just playing it at the right level with his intensity throughout the ballgame.”

Austin watch

When the Cowboys talk about the potential explosiveness of the offense, much of that conversation assumes that Miles Austin will be a big part of the equation, as well as Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

Austin, a two-time Pro Bowler, has only 19 catches for 179 yards. After catching 10 passes for 72 yards in the season opener, he has nine catches combined in the 12 games since.

Austin has been bothered by a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for five games. But any hope of him regaining top form since his return three games ago have been unfulfilled.

Austin has four catches for 54 yards in the past three games combined. He has two drops during that span.

Garrett said that Austin is over his injury and maintains that he is not a declining player.

“He looks quick and fast and explosive to me when he’s playing, as close to 100 percent as you can be at this point,” Garrett said.

Garrett has no real explanation for Austin’s struggles.

“Just get him going, give him some opportunities,” Garrett said. “He has to make the plays on the other end of it.”

Lee update

Sean Lee injured his neck on the first play of Monday night’s game. He played 47 of the 72 snaps, leaving for good in the third quarter.

“It was just kind of bad luck the first play of the game,” the linebacker said Thursday. “I got hit directly in the head, right on top of the head, and busted up the neck pretty good.”

An MRI on Tuesday showed no structural damage. Lee has been limited in practice this week, but he expects to play Sunday against the Packers. He is experimenting with neck rolls this week.

Lee had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury. He has missed 15 of a possible 61 games in his career.