Mac Engel

Cowboys’ Dez Bryant has to be better than he’s been this season

rmallison@star-telegram.com

It’s a special day when Randy Galloway feels the need to step out of retirement to ask the following: “Is anybody going to rip Dez?”

He asked, and I should have.

While no one should ever question Dez Bryant’s loyalty to his team or effort in a game, he must be better. He has to be better than he was in the loss against the New York Giants, and in what limited opportunities he has he must make that play.

Dak Prescott was not good against the Giants, but his receivers — namely Dez — helped him not in the least.

There is no good way around this: When Dez Bryant is neither the leading nor the second-leading receiver on your team, even if he missed three games because of injury, something is amiss.

Whatever the explanations, excuses or reasons, Dez Bryant is capable of more and he must consistently affect the game more than he is doing.

Right now, he’s not the player he was in 2014, nor is he among the highest echelon of NFL receivers. He’s not Julio Jones. He’s not Antonio Brown. He’s not A.J. Green. He’s not Odell Beckham Jr.

He’s certainly not as good as the guy for the Bucs, Mike Evans, who previously made a career by turning Johnny Manziel into Johnny Football in College Station.

Jason Garrett says Dez is healthy, although the player did miss Thursday’s practice with back issues. Dez also was uncharacteristically absent from chatting with us media scum this week.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Bryant has been better than his numbers. Let us hope.

Dez’s 38 catches are good for the 95th most in the NFL, one spot ahead of somebody named Chris Thompson, who reportedly plays for the Redskins.

“Dez did miss some time in there,” Linehan said.

True — Bryant missed three games in October with a knee.

He’s had three games over 100 yards receiving. He’s also had three games with one catch.

Now here are the three reasons for this sporadic absenteeism.

1.) He’s being doubled-team.

Defenses would put their best cover corner on Bryant and roll a safety in his direction. While Dez routinely sees the best cover corner, he doesn’t see a second defender much these days.

One Cowboys scout told me: “They are not doubling him very much.”

Or, lately, at all.

Against the New York Giants last Sunday, Giants corner Janoris Jenkins was left alone to chase Dez. It obviously worked — Dez made one catch for 10 yards, and then fumbled it to secure the win for New York.

2.) Dez is not getting open as much.

Compared to 2012, ’13 and ’14 — when he caught 92, 93 and 88 passes, respectively — the same scout noted to me Dez has simply struggled to gain separation the way he did in the past.

Could this be because of the broken foot he suffered in Week 1 to start 2015? Or perhaps because the knee injury he suffered this season? Or the soreness with his back?

“Physically he looks really good,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been productive for us given the opportunities he’s had. I do think he’s been as healthy as he’s been in the last month or so.”

Everyone on/off the record says Dez is healthy, but he should not have lost a step already. He’s only 28.

3.) He misses Tony Romo.

Bryant is the one player who misses Romo more than any other.

As a veteran, Romo was unafraid of throwing to Dez in dangerous parts of the field because he trusted eight-eight would just go and get it. Dez does have the ability of out-muscling and out-athleting most defenders.

A rookie quarterback is not going to be quite as confident to throw it to those places, which explains why Cole Beasley leads the team in receptions, targets, and yards. He trails Dez in one category, touchdowns — six to five.

Dak Prescott does not want to make mistakes, and finding Beasley underneath is a safer throw than to try for Dez on the outside.

Anecdotally, that explanation makes the most sense.

The statistics, however, do not support that nice theory. This season, Dak targets Dez on average 8.1 times per game, virtually the same number he had in 2014 and 2012, when he posted 1,300-yard seasons when Romo was playing.

Whatever the reason or excuse, we know there is more in Dez Bryant than what he has done this season.

He has three games remaining in the season and however long in the playoffs to do it.

He has to do more.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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