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Friday, September 30, 2011
Ailing Cowboys receivers an issue

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Same story as this time last week on Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who didn't practice today and doesn't know if he'll play in Sunday's game because of the thigh bruise that's still bugging him from Week 1. And his running mate, Miles Austin, is going to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury even though he says he was tempted to give this one a shot:
"I would like to be out there," Austin said, "but we're just being pretty cautious about it and that way I'm full go for after."

The decision to rest Austin is a smart one. With the Cowboys on bye next week, he'll have three full weeks off and (they hope) be fully recovered in time for the Week 6 game at New England. They probably rushed Austin back from the hamstring too quickly the last time, which could be part of the reason he blew it out again at the end of his brilliant Week 2 performance in San Francisco. Better to have him 100 percent for the final 11 games than to bring him back at something less than that for one week and risk losing him for longer.

Bryant's a different issue. He clearly wasn't himself Monday night, though he did manage to get open against DeAngelo Hall for the big 30-yard catch on third-and 21 that swung the game in Dallas' favor. After the game, Bryant talked a lot about how Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo inspired him to get out there and play even though he wasn't 100 percent. Romo could conceivably inspire Bryant again, as he continues to play through a fractured rib, but even if he does it seems clear we won't see the physically dominant Bryant we saw early in the season opener against the Jets. Bryant's injury isn't a muscle pull, as Austin's is, so he probably doesn't risk making it worse by playing. But the advantage Bryant offers is his ability to create and win those physical mismatches against defensive backs. If he can't run full-speed, as he clearly can't, he becomes something close to a liability in the passing game.

So the Cowboys' decision has to be whether it's worth having Bryant out there, even just to try and scare the Detroit defense into covering him (i.e., "Sure, you don't think he's 100 percent. But do you want to risk it?"), or whether they're better off playing full-strength backup options like Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holley. Tough call, and it sounds as though it could go down to the wire again. Whatever happens, it's all setting Romo up for another hero act if he's able to outscore the Lions without his full complement of wide receivers.