For my money, there isn't a better receiver in the NFL right now than Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. There simply isn't anything this guy can't do on a football field. He can catch the short passes and take them the distance, he can stretch the field with the deep ball, there might not be anybody better at going up to catch a jump ball and, unlike some top wideouts, he blocks his ass off in the run game.
With Cowboys head coach/offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's new-found emphasis on running, Bryant isn't seeing quite as many balls thrown his way. In fact, after five games Bryant is only averaging 11.8 yards per reception, which would represent the lowest of his career. You won't see Bryant moping around about his numbers, however, and nobody is more fired up than he is after running back DeMarco Murray breaks off another big run. When you see the energy, enthusiasm and passion that Byrant plays with every single play, it's hard not to love his game.
Even with the lower numbers you still see opponents trying all kinds of double-team coverages to prevent Dez from getting the ball. And yet he still finds a way to make an impact on every game. He might not catch 20 balls, but he maximizes his production with the throws that do come his way. Then there are the teams that are hard-headed, like the Houston Texans this past Sunday, who actually allow him to face singled up man-to-man coverage. Dude, that's just not even fair.
I understand why sometimes opposing defenses will just have to take the chance that one of their corners can cover Bryant all by themselves, because they need to commit a safety to the box to try to slow down the Cowboys run game. That is probably something you only want to do every now and then, though, not for the better part of the game. It is especially unwise to do so at crucial moments when the game hangs in the balance. That is a lesson the Texans learned the hard way.
Going into the fourth quarter, Bryant was having a pretty quiet day with five catches for 40 yards and no touchdowns. Murray had once again been the workhorse for the Cowboys. However, with the Cowboys clinging to a three-point lead at 10-7, it was time for Bryant to put on his cape.
Murray ran three straight times to get the Cowboys all the way down to the Texans' 2-yard line on their first full series of the fourth quarter. There was a little less than 10 minutes left in the game and the Cowboys came to the line with Murray, a tight end, and three receivers in the formation. One of those receivers, Dwayne Harris, initially lined up in the slot to the left with Dez outside of him. He then motioned across to the other side of the center and lined up directly behind the tight end, Jason Witten.
The problem for the Texans is that the corner who was lined up opposite Harris when he was aligned in the slot went with him when he motioned across. That showed that the Texans were in man-to-man coverage with seventh-round rookie cornerback Andre Hal lined up out there across from Bryant trying to cover him all by his damn self. It was over before the center even snapped the ball. Dez went right at Hal, then turned around and easily caught a back shoulder fade from Tony Romo for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up, 17-7.
Photo via Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Yeah, he pushed off. He always does.
Cry about it.
To their credit, the Texans did not quit and scored a field goal and a touchdown on consecutive drives to tie the game. Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey missed a 53-yard field goal as time expired, pushing the game into overtime. The Texans won the coin flip and elected to receive. Unfortunately for them, their momentum on offense did not quite carry over to the extra period and they ended up having to punt after getting all the way down to the Cowboys' 48-yard line.
The upside was the Texans could and did pin the Cowboys back deep in their own territory with a good punt. Dallas had to start the drive at their own 10-yard line. If the Texans could keep them pinned down back there and force a punt, there was a good chance they would get the ball back with great field position, only needing a field goal to win. They did give up one first down to the Cowboys, but after an incomplete pass and a stop of Murray for only a yard or so, the Texans had the Cowboys with a third-and-9 at their own 32-yard line. Still a good situation for the defense.
But see they were hard-headed, and you know what happens to hard-headed folks, right?
Instead of rushing four -- they have one of the best damn pass rushers football has ever seen in J.J. Watt -- and playing coverage, the Texans decided to blitz Romo. In theory, this sounds like an OK strategy. Watt had won some matchups, but had ultimately not been able to sack Romo all game. Romo also has a reputation, earned or not, for making big mistakes under pressure in crunch time. Here is where the theory goes left: With the blitz, you are once again going to have Dez Bryant singled up in coverage. You really want those problems?
OK, so this time they decided not to put the rookie seventh-rounder out there on Dez, instead electing to put their best corner on him -- Johnathan Joseph. Whoop-de-damn-do. Once the ball was snapped and Romo saw the safety that had been favoring Bryant's side of the field go to the middle, it didn't make a damn difference who was out there covering him. Romo just chucked that ball up in Dez's direction before falling down to avoid a vicious blow by Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, knowing that if it was in the vicinity Bryant would catch it.
That's exactly what Dez did, and in spectacular fashion.
Joseph was in good position, and truth be told, probably should have been called for pass interference because he never looked back at the ball and put his hands right in Bryant's face. None of that mattered. It never does.
Bryant jumped up over Joseph and reached over his head to make the catch, and after momentarily bobbling the ball, he secured it as he hit the ground with Joseph on top of him. He is just too big and too strong for one man to deny him on a jump ball. Just like that, 37 yards later Bryant had put his team in field goal range and in position to win the game.
Yeah, some receivers are taller and bigger. Some are definitely faster too. But if it's up to me, I would choose Dez Bryant over the rest of them every single time because I know he can make the same plays he made Sunday every single game, no matter who you put on him.