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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: September 13, 4:32 PM ET
Dez Bryant too good to be a decoy

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Amid all of the hype and the predictions of 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and most valuable player awards, it would've been so easy for Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant to turn petulant after Week 1.

Surely he expected to catch more than four passes for 22 yards, with a long of seven. Who knows how many fantasy teams Bryant took down in flames?

Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant got plenty of attention from the Giants, something the receiver had better get used to.

Instead, Bryant took it as a sign of respect that the New York Giants deemed him worthy of so much attention. They shaded a safety or linebacker Bryant's way 18 times. A couple of times, the Giants even used a linebacker, a cornerback and a safety to contain him.

Hey, this is what happens when you gain nearly 900 yards receiving and score 10 touchdowns in the last eight games of 2012.

Besides, Bryant knows it's when -- not if -- the huge performances occur. There's no need to trip.

"That's the world he's going to live in for the rest of his career," coach Jason Garrett said of Bryant being double-covered. "The really good players have to understand that. They just have to keep fighting through it.

"I thought from an emotional standpoint, he handled it well. He kept battling. He kept trying to give Tony [Romo] chances to throw him the football. We tried to do a couple of things to give him a chance to get free and get away from those guys."

Romo targeted Bryant eight times, which is fine. The Giants just didn't give him much space to operate.

Garrett That's the world he's going to live in for the rest of his career. The really good players have to understand that. They just have to keep fighting through it.

-- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
on teams focusing on Dez Bryant

None of that should surprise anyone.

The Giants, like many teams will do this season, decided they weren't going to let Bryant beat them.

The most difficult battle any playcaller wages is between taking what the defense gives the offense and taking what the playcaller wants.

Garrett prefers to attack the defense in a variety of ways. Bill Callahan must adhere to this philosophy, which is why receiver Miles Austin caught 10 passes for 72 yards, tight end Jason Witten caught eight passes for 70 yards and running back DeMarco Murray caught eight passes for 39 yards.

This isn't Detroit or Houston, where quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Schaub, respectively, are going to force the ball to Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson because other viable options don't exist, or at least hadn't heading into Week 1.

Romo's BFF is Witten, and Austin has had two seasons with more than 1,000 yards.

"You have to make sure you keep getting him the ball," Garrett said of Bryant. "At the same time, you don't want to get so bogged down trying to get one guy the ball. We have other guys who can catch the ball and do positive things for us.

"Dez is certainly a featured guy in our offense, but when he gets a lot of attention, you have to be able to go to other guys and be effective with it."

This is where Garrett and Callahan must prove their worth as offensive minds.

Bryant, who is dealing with a mildly sprained left foot, is too good to regularly be a big-time decoy, even though he played a role in Witten's 15-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 13-3 lead. The safety lingered with Bryant so long that he couldn't help the linebacker with Witten.

Philosophically, Garrett's offense has never contained much motion, and we shouldn't expect Callahan to use it either since this is Garrett's offense. Other teams use motion or put their star receivers in the slot to create favorable matchups. The Cowboys don't really do that with Bryant -- and they didn't do it with him last season. Besides, Austin spends most of his time in the slot because Garrett doesn't want him consistently fighting through press coverage.

Just so you know, the Cowboys put Bryant in motion twice and used him in the slot six times against the Giants. But it's not like Callahan didn't try to get Bryant going. He did it with formations.

On first down from the Dallas 7 after recovering a Giants fumble, the Cowboys lined up with two tight ends and one back. Romo faked a run to Murray, but cornerback Corey Webster covered Bryant tightly, forcing an incompletion. Later in the first quarter, Callahan tried the sneaky approach again on third-and-1 from the Dallas 29. This time, Romo's play-action pass resulted in a seven-yard gain on a slant to Bryant, who couldn't break a tackle.

At halftime, Bryant had two catches for 13 yards, which simply isn't good enough.

Three plays into the third quarter, Bryant missed his best opportunity for a big play. On third-and-7, Bryant beat double coverage by selling the post hard and then breaking it to the corner. Romo moved up into the pocket but received late pressure and couldn't step into the throw, resulting in an underthrown incompletion.

In a season where Bryant is the epicenter of every defensive coordinator's game plan, missed opportunities must be rare.

The best receivers want and need the ball. Let's see if Callahan solves the riddle this week against Kansas City.