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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Lessons Learned: Defending Dez Bryant

By John Keim

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins know how Dez Bryant can hurt them. They know what he likes to do. The trick, once again, is making sure that what he does won’t beat them.

Bryant has done some damage in five games against the Redskins, with 27 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns. But he’s had just one huge game -- an eight-catch, 145-yard, two-touchdown effort last Thanksgiving.

Wilson
“He’s fast and physical. He’s a little more agile than Calvin [Johnson],” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said. “He can do it all.”

But it’s not as if he’s hurt the Redskins every game. The Redskins switched up looks against him in both games, using Cedric Griffin and Wilson against him in the first game and DeAngelo Hall in the second. Not every time did they play man coverage, either, with a mix of cover-three and some cover-two zones, among other looks.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he’s not sure how they’ll defend Bryant this time, but said, “DeAngelo thrives in these situations. Good players usually do.” Besides, Wilson is playing more in the slot on third downs and rookie David Amerson, who has the length, is still a bit raw for a full-time match-up versus Bryant.

Here’s what Wilson learned in his time going against Bryant:

1. Stay alert. When Tony Romo gets on the move and outside the pocket, Bryant becomes even more dangerous. That’s how he scored on an 85-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Washington on Thanksgiving. He started split left and ran a post against Josh Wilson. When Romo scooted the other way, Bryant took off as well, gaining separation for a catch and then 70-yard run. “You have to know, just like [Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] had an unfortunate play,” Wilson said. “He’ll slow down and lull you to sleep and if you let that happen he’ll catch you off guard and it will lead to a big play. He can take off and just start running at any point.

“He does the scramble play better than anybody.”

2. Try to jam him. The Redskins played physical against him last year. In the first game, Griffin and Wilson covered him more than anyone, with Hall aligned in the slot. Wilson would jam him at the line; sometimes he’d wait until Bryant ran a couple yards and then applied the jam. Hall was physical and played more for comebacks -- knowing he had the speed to recover if Bryant went past him. On one incompletion last year as Bryant plants for the comeback, Hall is less than a yard off him and broke up the pass. “You’ve got to take away the timing. Anytime him and Tony get in a rhythm they’re hard to stop. One thing about when you get in a guy’s face there are times when you’ll be successful, but there will be times when he makes plays. He’s a great player. I believe you have to get your hands on him to slow him down.”

3. Get some help. Wilson at times would play him inside, knowing it gave him position to stick with him to the outside and if Bryant somehow got to the inside, there was safety help. Other times the linebackers had to help. For example, in the second game Ryan Kerrigan when dropping into a zone, would be aware of Bryant. If he were running an inside route, Kerrigan would run at him before settling into his zone to take him away. “With great players you can’t do the same things all the time,” Wilson said.

4. Be aware of the back shoulder pass. Romo completed one of those to Bryant for a touchdown in the Thanksgiving Day game, putting it low and wide. Wilson, with good coverage, had no shot.  Hall defended one such pass attempt in the second game, waiting for Bryant to make his move off the line then being physical with him, throwing off the timing of the play. Romo threw too wide. “You have to try and play blind and hope you can get it,” Wilson said. “There’s no technique for that. It’s hard for anybody [when] they’ve been playing together for a while so they know each other. It’s a hard pass because you can’t pick it off. You can’t make a play on it other than just break it up. You can stop it by not letting him get in your blind spot or stay outside.”