Dallas Cowboys: Detailing Dez Bryant

It’s the Dez Bryant dilemma.

The Cowboys can’t trust him. He makes too many killer mistakes, like running a sloppy route that results in an interception or losing a fumble on a reckless punt return.

But the Cowboys can’t ignore his talent. He has such potential to make plays, like catching a couple of deep balls that counted and one that didn’t but would have capped a crazy comeback against the Giants. He’s one of few receivers in the NFL with the ability to make that amazing catch in the end zone, although it was overturned on review because his fingertips touched the end line.

Does the awesome outweigh the awful? The talent outweigh the trouble? The potential outweigh the problems?

The weekly Dez throw-by-throw:

5-yard gain: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 12 and runs a quick hook. Cornerback Corey Webster, who didn’t jam Bryant, made the tackle immediately, tossing Bryant out of bounds and shoving him in an apparent attempt to get under the skin of the emotional receiver. Bryant responded with a shove before an official got between them.

Interception: Lines up split left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 45 and runs what was supposed to be an intermediate crossing route. Bryant, who got past Webster’s jam with ease, rounded off the route instead of making the sharp cut that Tony Romo expected, ending up 20 yards downfield on a designed 15-yard route. That allowed safety Stevie Brown to break in front of Bryant to pick off the pass. “It was no miscommunication,” Bryant said. “It was more that as I tried to flatten my route out, I was kinda off-balance at the same time. The guy came down and made a great play.”

Incompletion: Lines up wide right on third-and-6 from the Dallas 46 and starts to run a shallow crossing route before seeing that the shotgun snap sailed over Romo’s head. Bryant turns upfield and runs up the right hashmarks for a few yards as Romo rolled right, then floated back to the middle of the field. Romo’s throw across his body came up short. Bryant could have helped out his quarterback by breaking toward the sideline to give him a much easier target.

55-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-1 from the Dallas 21 and runs a go route, getting wide open because of a coverage bust, as Webster appeared to be the only player in the Giants secondary not playing Cover 3. Webster thought it was Cover 2, allowing Bryant to run free, expecting a safety to be playing the deep half. A severely underthrown pass by Romo allowed Brown to come from the middle of the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on third-and-19 from the New York 33 and runs a corner route against good coverage from Webster. It appeared that Romo expected Bryant to run a 19-yard out route. Romo’s pass landed several yards away from Bryant.

30-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-2 from the Dallas 42 and runs a go route, beating Webster’s press man coverage. Bryant falls as he makes the catch with Webster trailing close behind.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on second-and-4 from the Dallas 28 and runs a comeback route against physical, press man coverage by Webster. Bryant, who was hand fighting with Webster, drops a ball thrown high and outside, away from the defender. He tried to cradle the ball instead of snatching it with his hands.

4-yard gain: Lines up wide left on third-and-4 from the Dallas 28 and runs the same route as the previous snap against press coverage by Webster. Bryant goes to the ground to catch a low throw by Romo and move the chains.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the New York 45 and runs a go route against man free coverage, with Webster playing press and Rolle in center field. Romo throws the ball in the window between the two defenders, but Bryant fails to make a leaping catch on the sideline for what would have been a 25-yard gain. He’s hit by Rolle a moment after the ball bounces off his hands. It would have been a difficult catch, but it’s one Bryant is capable of making.

16-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-10 from the Dallas 43 and runs an intermediate out against soft zone coverage in the final minute. Gets both feet in bounds as he catches the ball before Webster pushes him out.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on second-and-6 from the New York 37 and runs a vertical route, getting open in the end zone despite the Giants playing prevent defense. Bryant got Webster to hesitate with a double move, with the corner nibbling on the out fake, and safety Brown was a little late to help. Bryant make an amazing, leaping grab over both defenders for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown, landing hard on his hip. However, instant replay showed that Bryant’s fingertips landed on the end line before any other part of his body hit the ground. The most impressive catch of Bryant’s career will go down in history as simply a spectacular incompletion.
Dez Bryant didn’t have the breakout game a lot of people anticipated against a Buccaneers secondary that allowed 510 passing yards the previous week.

Bryant was a total nonfactor in the first half against the Bucs, which frustrated him enough to have a brief sideline confrontation with Tony Romo, who had his hands full avoiding hits from the Tampa Bay defensive line all day.

After the dust settled, Bryant had a much more productive second half, when Jason Garrett gave him opportunities to make plays in the middle of the field.

Nevertheless, after three weeks of the season, we’re still waiting for Bryant to record his first 100-yard game or score his first touchdown. Heck, he hasn’t even been targeted in the red zone yet.

Our weekly throw-by-throw look at Bryant’s six-catch, 62-yard performance against Tampa Bay:

9-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-13 from the Dallas 25 and runs a short in cut. He gets wide open by overpowering cornerback Aqib Talib, who got shoved out of the way when he tried to jam Bryant. He made slot corner Brandon McDonald miss after the catch.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on third-and-18 from the Dallas 31 and runs and sloppy stop-and-go. Doesn’t get open against Tampa Bay’s soft zone coverage, which has three deep safeties. Romo throws the ball out of bounds.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on second-and-10 from the Dallas 18 and runs a slant-and-go. That’s apparently not what Romo expected, as he throws the ball near the sideline.

2-yard loss: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 20 and runs a quick screen to start the two-minute drill. He’s tackled immediately by Talib, who was playing press coverage and beat Miles Austin’s block.

8-yard gain: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 48 and runs another quick screen a few plays later. It works much better with Talib, who made the tackle, playing off coverage.

18-yard gain: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 43 and runs a deep crossing route against man coverage. He gets enough separation to snatch the ball with no problem, but Talib tackles him immediately.

18-yard gain: Lines up wide right on second-and-5 from the Dallas 16 and runs another deep crossing route. Does a good job shielding Talib with his body and fighting for the ball.

11-yard gain: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 23 and runs a quick in cut. Breaks Talib’s tackle and drags safety Ahmad Black for about 5 extra yards before two other Bucs arrive to bring him down.

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 9

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
8:45
AM ET
Our weekly throw-by-throw look at Dez Bryant's development:

39-YARD GAIN: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 30, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a stop-and-go route down the sideline, getting separation when cornerback Brandon Browner bit on the hesitation just before the sticks. Tony Romo threw a perfect pass that Bryant caught moments before safety Kam Chancellor arrived. Browner lined up in press coverage but didn’t jam Bryant, giving the receiver a free release.

INCOMPLETE: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 12, Bryant lines up to the left of the I formation and runs an intermediate crossing route through zone coverage. Romo’s throw was well behind Bryant. It appeared to be a miscommunication, with Romo expecting Bryant to stop in a soft spot of the zone.

10-YARD GAIN: On third-and-6 from the Dallas 16, Bryant lines up in the right slot and runs a quick slant. It’s an easy pitch and catch with cornerback Roy Lewis, who made the tackle immediately after the catch, giving Bryant a big cushion.

23-YARD GAIN AND FUMBLE: On third-and-4 from the Seattle 24, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a slant against Browner, who plays press coverage but doesn’t jam Bryant. Bryant has a chance to score after Romo hits him in stride at the 12, but he fails to protect the ball while trying to stiff-arm safety Earl Thomas at the 1. Thomas makes the tackle, and the cornerback Richard Sherman delivers a hard hit from the other side to knock the ball loose. The Seahawks recover.

7-YARD GAIN: On second-and-10 from the Dallas 42, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a comeback route against Browner, who plays off coverage. Bryant catches the ball, fights off Browner and gets pushed out of bounds by a linebacker to stop the clock with 27 seconds remaining in the first half.

INCOMPLETE: On third-and-3 from the Dallas 49, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a fade route after appearing to have no clue what to do. Bryant, who was trying to signal to Romo before the snap, hesitated for a second after the ball was snap, ruining the timing of the play. Browner jammed him and maintained inside leverage. Bryant didn’t have a chance to make a play on the ball, killing the Cowboys’ two-minute drill.

INCOMPLETE: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 31, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a slant-and-go. Sherman doesn’t bite on the slant fake and blankets Bryant, almost intercepting the pass.

INCOMPLETE: On second-and-7 from the Seattle 24, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a comeback against off coverage by Sherman. Romo’s throw sails high and out of bounds.

INCOMPLETE: On third-and-7 from the Seattle 24, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a slant. He struggles to get off the jam by Browner and isn’t ready to catch a Romo bullet thrown a bit below the waist.

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 7

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
8:00
AM ET
Our weekly throw-by-throw look at the performance of Dez Bryant:

34-YARD GAIN: On second-and-21 from the Dallas 45, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a deep in cut. He catches the ball in stride at the St. Louis 37. He runs over safety Quintin Mikell and eludes cornerback Justin King at the 31 to gain an additional 10 yards.

INCOMPLETE: On first-and-goal from the St. Louis 4, Bryant lines up wide left and runs the fade route. He struggles to get off the jam by cornerback Al Harris and isn’t in position to make a play on the ball.

INCOMPLETE: On second-and-goal from the St. Louis 12, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a slant. He beats cornerback Josh Gordy at the line of scrimmage to get wide open but drops a perfect pass from Tony Romo. It should have been an easy touchdown. Bryant complained that Gordy hit him in the mouth, but it was an inexcusable drop.

INCOMPLETE: On third-and-goal from the St. Louis 12, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a fade against Harris. He has trouble getting off the jam but should have caught a pass thrown intentionally behind him. He dropped a should-be touchdown for the second consecutive play.

13-YARD GAIN: On third-and-10 from the Dallas 12, Bryant lines up wide left and runs an in cut. He catches the ball two yards in front of the sticks, turns upfield and lowers his shoulder to get the first down.

13-YARD GAIN: On second-and-10 from the Dallas 38, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a WR screen. He makes a safety miss and runs through an arm tackle by a cornerback before a linebacker chases him down.

10-YARD GAIN: On second-and-8 from the St. Louis 28, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a comeback route with Harris playing off coverage. He makes a diving catch on a low throw for the first down.

20-YARD TOUCHDOWN: On third-and-10 from the St. Louis 20, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a fade against press coverage by Gordy. He gets a step and catches a perfectly thrown pass by Romo in the end zone.

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 3

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
9:02
AM ET
Dez Bryant’s development will be one of the more interesting, important storylines for the Cowboys this season, so we will track it on a throw-by-throw basis the Wednesday after each game.

10-YARD GAIN: On second-and-6 from the Cowboys 24, Bryant lines up wide left with DeAngelo Hall playing six yards off him and runs a smoke route. Bryant cuts inside Hall after making the catch and drags Hall for the eight yards. Hall needs help from OLB Brian Orakpo to take down Bryant.

3-YARD GAIN: On second-and-9 from the Redskins 20, Bryant lines up wide left with Kevin Ogletree as the slot and runs a quick screen, taking two steps upfield and coming back toward the ball. Bryant runs tentatively into Ogletree’s back and is tackled after a 3-yard gain by London Fletcher, who beat Phil Costa’s block.

20-YARD GAIN: On third-and-9 from the Cowboys 20, Bryant lines up wide left with Hall giving him a cushion and runs a 15-yard curl, with Tony Romo delivering the pass to his outside shoulder and away from the defender as Bryant turns around. Bryant catches the ball cleanly and fights for five extra yards after Hall hits him.

30-YARD GAIN: On third-and-21 from the Cowboys 30, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a smoke route with an all-out blitz coming and Hall playing soft man coverage, then freelances as Romo scrambles toward his right. After Romo points downfield, Bryant takes off and bends his route inside when Hall turns his hips toward the sideline. Romo lofts the pass toward the middle of the field. Bryant catches it in stride a couple of yards short of the sticks and turns upfield for the first down. He gains 10 yards after the catch, plus Hall is flagged for 15 more for grabbing Bryant’s facemask as he drags him down. The play sets up the game-winning field goal.

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 1

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
8:00
AM ET
Dez Bryant’s development will be one of the more interesting, important storylines for the Cowboys this season, so we will track it on a throw-by-throw basis the Wednesday after each game.

42-YARD GAIN: On second-and-6 from the Dallas 41, Bryant lined up as the second of three receivers split to the right of the formation and got mismatched with inside linebacker David Harris. He got wide open on a slant, catching the ball near the sticks and turning a short throw into a big play. Bryant ran away from strong safety Eric Smith and juked free safety Jim Leonhard in the middle of the field as he sprinted to the left side. He spun off a downfield tackle attempt by cornerback Antonio Cromartie before Smith finally tackled him in the red zone.

3-YARD TOUCHDOWN: On third-and-goal from the New York 3, Bryant lined up wide left and ran a fade route. He made a spectacular, acrobatic catch over Cromartie on a ball that Tony Romo intentionally threw high and behind Bryant. It was a textbook back-shoulder fade for a touchdown, a perfect way to take advantage of Bryant’s strength and leaping ability.

26-YARD GAIN: On third-and-8 from the Dallas 48, he lined up wide right against Darrelle Revis and ran a streak route up the sideline after beating the jam. Romo recognized safety help coming over the top and threw to Bryant’s back shoulder. Bryant made a leaping catch near the sideline, the only play he made against the All-Pro cornerback.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-10 from the New York 16, Bryant lined up wide right with Cromartie giving him an 8-yard cushion. With the blitz coming, Bryant took a couple of steps and cut inside. Romo’s quick throw sailed high with Cromartie closing on Bryant.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-7 from the Dallas 47, Bryant lined up wide right against Revis, who blitzed. Bryant responded by running what was probably the sloppiest route run in the NFL all week. He turned toward Romo after two yards and started backpedaling diagonally and toward the first-down marker. Romo’s throw was behind Bryant, but he got his hands on the ball and failed to make the catch with cornerback Donald Strickland closing. Romo gave Bryant instructions immediately after the play.

INCOMPLETION: On third-and-22 from the Dallas 41, he lined up wide left against Revis and limped through a slant/corner route. Bryant, who was bothered by cramps and a bruised quad, never got any separation. Romo tried to force the downfield throw anyway. Bryant batted it down to prevent the pick.

INTERCEPTION: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 41, he lined up wide right and jogged upfield with Revis in trail position and a safety over the top. Bryant said he ran this route as instructed – and Romo backed the statement – but Bryant never made a cut or any play on the ball. It was an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by Revis to set up the game-winning field goal.

INCOMPLETION: On first-and-10 from the Dallas 34, Romo threw the ball out of bounds after recovering a shotgun snap that surprised him and bounced off his chest. It was officially recorded as a target for Bryant because he was the closest receiver.

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