Who’s ready for some Thanksgiving football? The rivalry between the Cowboys and Redskins is back, and two hungry teams with explosive offenses will go at it to decide the future of the NFC East.
For the Cowboys’ rookie-led offense, you’ve heard all about RB Ezekiel Elliott and QB Dak Prescott. There has also been plenty of talk about Dez Bryant – through some rough stretches and, more recently, dominant performances.
Bryant’s most clutch performance of the season came back in week 2, as the Cowboys won their first of nine straight (!!!) in Washington against these Redskins. As we’ll soon take a look at with some film, Scott Linehan helped his young QB with play calling that allowed Bryant to run wild for 7 catches and 102 yards.
I also studied Bryant’s most recent performance against Baltimore, where a similar game plan saw #88 haul in 6 passes for 80 yards and two decisive touchdowns.
The team with the most points wins today’s anything-can-happen NFC East showdown. I expect the winning point total to be a high one, and for Dez Bryant to have plenty to say about this.
Before you enjoy eating on Thanksgiving, let’s see how Dez Bryant has been able to eat opposing defenses:
This first clip is a perfect example of how dangerous Bryant can be as a weapon all over the field. Often used simply to get the Cowboys into favorable running formations, this play shows Bryant motioning across the field to line up on the inside of a trips set against DeAngelo Hall. With no safety help, and the Redskins linebackers scrambling to drop into the middle of the field, Jason Witten clears a path for Bryant to run free along with Cole Beasley exiting to the flat.
Prescott delivers a strike for an easy first down. We’ll need to see more of this in what projects to be a high-scoring affair later today.
Dez Bryant has a physical advantage against any defensive back he lines up against, and Dallas has been able to do a better job at consistently recognizing this and getting him his targets.
Working on an island against Breeland here, all Prescott has to do is make a simple read of the safety that jumps in front of Witten – and deliver a strike to Breeland where Bryant can catch it over a recovering Breeland.
When we get to the tape from the Raven’s game, we’ll see a lot more of this with Bryant capitalizing on single coverage.
As mentioned, Bryant is often used in the Cowboys’ offense to set up the rushing attack, leading to even better opportunities for him in the play-action game. As Prescott fakes the ball to Alfred Morris, who also had his best game with his new team here against the Redskins, Bryant’s defender gets caught looking into the backfield and loses just enough contact at the top of the route for Prescott to deliver another dime.
Above is another example of Bryant benefiting from pre-snap motion, as a creative design sees Ezekiel Elliott split far out wide from the backfield. All the rookie has to do is turn towards Prescott to fake a screen pass, and he draws a Redskins defender away from Bryant, who gets an easy 6 yards.
Thankfully, the “Dak Prescott cannot get the ball to Dez Bryant” narrative has died off ahead of Dallas’ second meeting with Washington, primarily because of what this combination was able to do back in week 2.
As the Redskins try to drop into coverage to slow down the Cowboys passing attack, a miscommunication allows Bryant to slip past a defender and once again control the middle of the field.
Dez Bryant Against the Ravens:
A combination of all of these elements that led to Bryant’s success in the first meeting against the Redskins were also on display in the Cowboys’ most recent win over the Ravens. Playing without top corner Jimmy Smith, Baltimore simply had no answers for affecting Prescott in the pocket, and ultimately stopping him from finding his top target.
One recurring pattern you should be noticing in all of these clips is that Bryant is thriving on in-breaking routes. Plenty of fans out there in Cowboys Nation have been quick to call out the lack of such routes being thrown to Dez, but I don’t see that being a problem the rest of the way out.
With Lance Dunbar lined up inside of him in the above clip, Bryant is Prescott’s second read – using his size and athleticism to create separation for a well-anticipated throw.
Of course, when Bryant fails to create ideal separation, he can always take advantage of single coverage by high pointing the football with some of the league’s best. That is exactly what he does here, on a throw that lacked some zip from Prescott, but still found a way into the strong hands of #88.
It is no secret that the Cowboys are built as a team around their offensive line. With that, Prescott has had the luxury of an incredibly clean pocket for most of his drop backs – something rookie quarterbacks rarely get to see. This allows him to comfortably scan the field while allowing Bryant to set up defenders – which he does here, coming up with another big reception.
Throw up the X:
We’ll conclude this Reel Talk by looking at Bryant’s two touchdowns against the Ravens. This first throw should fire up plenty of Cowboys fans, as Prescott finally connects with Bryant on his signature goal line fade for the score.
This second play is also not too bad to look at, as Bryant finds the painted rectangle on another in-breaking route, this time abusing single coverage off the slant.
I again expect this to be a very high-scoring game (our full Inside The Star Staff Predictions can be found here), and the only way the Cowboys will come out on top is with Dez Bryant establishing himself as the best wide receiver on the field. If he can dominate, the Cowboys offense as a whole will fire on all cylinders – keeping the ball out of Kirk Cousins’ hands.
For a Washington offense that loves to throw the ball deep to the likes of DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed, the best defense Dallas will have against this attack will be their own offense.
With all the credit in the world to Rod Marinelli, his secondary that will not feature Morris Claiborne or Barry Church (who made the play of the game in week 2 with his interception of Cousins) in this match up is best fit to be on the sidelines while the Redskins secondary searches for answers against Bryant.
You better practice throwing up the X at your Thanksgiving table, because when the lights come on and the Cowboys kick off, we’ll be seeing it a few times from Dez Bryant.