NEW ORLEANS – If a receiver has ever had a right to rant about his role in the offense, Dez Bryant did Sunday night.
It’s simply ridiculous for a receiver that talented to be targeted only twice in a game.
Bryant didn’t have a ball thrown his direction until an incomplete pass more than three minutes into the second half, when he beat double coverage deep and could have scored a touchdown if Tony Romo’s throw had been more toward the middle of the field. His only other opportunity came later in the third quarter, when he made a juggling catch for a 44-yard gain to set up a touchdown.
“I just do what’s asked,” said Bryant, who was adamant that his back felt “absolutely fine” after bothering him during the week. “That’s all I do. I can’t answer that.”
There are reasons why Bryant barely got the ball against the Saints, who he lit up last season for a career-best 224 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches. But there are no acceptable excuses. It’s a football felony for such a premier playmaker to be virtually ignored.
Give Rob Ryan credit for a scheme that convinced the Cowboys to play keep-away from their best offensive player. The Saints were so committed to containing Bryant that they double-teamed him like he was a gunner on the punt team – two defensive backs jamming him at the line of scrimmage – on one play.
“They doubled him the entire game, really,” Romo said.
Oh, and Romo wants the record to reflect that the protection played a role in Bryant being a highly publicized observer for most of Sunday night.
“Usually when you double, you’re doing to have to run some routes that are double move-ish,” Romo said. “They take a little more time to get open, so you have to have time to be able to do that. Things like that play a role.”
That kind of attention is a weekly reality for elite receivers. (Well, unless Monte Kiffin is the opposing defensive coordinator.) Good teams don’t just give up on trying to get the ball to their go-to guy. However, to hear coach Jason Garrett tell it, the Cowboys erred in not executing well enough to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
“We didn’t do a good enough job just finding the other guys and making them pay with the other guys who were isolated,” Garrett said. “We weren’t able to drive the ball the way that we wanted and we didn’t do a very good job on third down to sustain drives.”
That’s an understatement. The Cowboys were 0-for-9 on third down, the primary reason they ran only 43 offensive plays.
You reckon the Cowboys’ success rate on third down might have been a bit better if they ever threw to Bryant in those situations?
This was a collective failure by the Cowboys’ creative offensive brain trust. It’s on Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and Romo to figure out ways to feature Bryant no matter how much attention he’s given by the opposing defense.
Move him around. Send him in motion. Give him a chance to make some contested catches.
On Sunday night, the Cowboys just let their best weapon go to waste.