Coming off a game in which Dez filled the role of both “hero” and “goat”, there’s no better time to look deeper into Dez. Is he a hero or a goat? Is he starting to put it all together or is he his same unreliable self? Is he underachieving or playing up to his abilities? Is he a star or just a guy? Is he something to build on or a mistake? Is he “the right kind of guy” or the wrong kind of guy? The answer: Yes
Dez Bryant is all of these things. Many of these labels are direct contrasts to one another but still perfectly fitting descriptions. The reason is because Dez Bryant himself is a direct contrast, walking enigma, oxymoron, and mascot of the Dallas Cowboys. He is the reason the Cowboys are what they are. Both he and the Cowboys are highly talented playmaker(s) one moment and a complete scatterbrain epic failure the next moment. To reference a previous story and explanation for these brutally embarrassing loses check out The Will To Win.
It essentially explains that becoming a winner is learned and earned. The Cowboys are collecting talent to win but haven’t learned to be winners yet. They are stuck on being losers. Close games like this are exactly the kind of games that can teach a team to win. It can turn the tide of a season in heartbeat. Unfortunately the Cowboys were unable to take that step and perform under intense pressure. Dez Bryant himself and the Cowboys as a team gave themselves opportunities. They performed well in some and performed poorly in others. At the end of the day they made too many mistakes and entrenched their status as Losers.
Dez specifically made some big plays. He caught his first two touchdown catches of the season. Without those catches the Cowboys aren’t even in the game. He caught 13 passes, his most in a single game in his professional career. Considering he was targeted unofficially 15 times, he proved to be a very reliable option for Romo…until of course…the end.
Despite all the success Dez was having throughout the game, the play ingrained in everyone’s mind was when he inexplicably dropped the game tying 2-point conversion in the final minute. This was clearly a case of tensing up in a very stressful situation. Dez typically displays phenomenal pass-catching technique. He makes it a point to always get his hands in the best position possible to make the catch. Many times, he will sacrifice his body to do so. He never hesitates to flail his body into the air (resulting in painful landings no doubt) to better position himself to make the catch.
For that two-point conversion he abandoned the technique he knows and loves. He tensed up. Instead of reaching out and grabbing the ball with his hands in their almost instinctive diamond position (palms out with index fingers touching and thumbs touching to form a diamond), he tried to catch and secure the ball with his body. He tried to use his hands to trap the ball against his body and when he couldn’t turn his torso enough on the perfectly thrown pass – it was too late. He didn’t have enough time to get his hands out in front and the ball sadly bounced off his shoulder.
He will tell you today- you catch with your hands not your body. Exceptions to this rule exist but are usually reserved for slant patterns across the middle of the field. Michael Irvin always said to only catch with your body on slants because of the level and immediacy of contact when crossing the middle is higher than anywhere else on the field. Dez was not running a slant. He was running a back shoulder comeback. All contact was minimal. He made that catch 100 times. The Cowboys needed him to make it 101 times.
Dez is the most physically gifted receiver the Cowboys have ever had. Repeat: Dez is the most physically gifted receiver the Cowboys have ever had. On top of that, he is head and shoulders above any defensive back in the league. When he ran the correct routes he even made Darrelle Revis look like his kid brother last year. He is a physical freak and more naturally talented than 99% of the NFL. He’s the top 1% of the NFL. That’s a bold statement to make about a third year player who only has two 100 yard games in his career. That’s what also makes him so disappointing. For someone so much more physically gifted than his competitors there should be no excuse not to dominate every game. Yes, he has limited college experience, leaving college early and serving almost a full season suspension.
His development was done no favors from the NFL when the lockout occurred last year. Besides practice missed by the lockout, he also missed a great deal of training camp, practice, and game time due to injuries over the years. These are all valid reasons for a player to develop more slowly but not valid excuses for Dez. While not all of these are directly in his control they all could have been dealt with and/or avoided by Dez. Let’s look at the list:
Limited College Experience:
All responsibility falls on Dez. While playing at OSU, Dez Bryant had a meal with Deion Sanders. By itself it’s not a catastrophic issue but when questioned by the NCAA he lied about it. The NCAA responded by suspending him the entire year. He could have returned for another year of college football but opted to enter the NFL draft instead. Maybe his family finances made it necessary to go pro – maybe not. The point is it was his decision. His suspension was on him and his early exit was on him.
To be clear, he couldn’t have done anything to stop the 2011 offseason lockout. But he certainly could have prepared himself much better. He came into the season in poor aerobic shape. He would dominate the first quarter in each game and then grow tired and becomes a non-factor for the last three quarters. He could have spent more time working out and been ready to contribute. He also misread defenses often and as a result, ran the wrong routes. Many plays have route options based on how the defenses are playing. If the safety is playing a certain way the original route may change to an alternate situational route. It’s up for the receiver and the QB to notice this and be on the same page without actually walking over to each other and verbalizing it. Tony Romo often saw it. Dez… not so much. Dez had all the time in the world to study but still came into the 2011 season mentally unprepared. He ran the wrong route in the Chicago game too, leading to tragic consequences.
It’s hard to blame injuries on the players but in this case again, Dez is different. Dez knows how physically superior he is to his peers. When he has the ball in his hands he refuses to relent to a “lesser-than” player. He will square up his competition, and either try to run them over or juke them out of their shoes. He usually tries both. Many times this leads to the defender clinging to his ankles while the remaining 10 defenders on the field tee-off on Dez. He takes entirely too many hits. Like Kenny Rogers says, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em”. Dez needs to learn when to fold ‘em. When he does he will spend far less time on the injury report and more time practicing and stabilizing his game.
We tolerate all of this because Dez is a true 1%er on the football field. We should “Occupy Dez’s Street” and demand he plays to his potential and on a consistent basis. He played great on Sunday just not consistent enough. One drop is one drop too many. One missed block (Note: he was a great run-blocker on Sunday too) is one too many. He needs to be the superstar we all know he can be. He can’s drop game-tying 2-point conversions.
This last game came on the heels of his second 100 yard game in his pro career. He has strung together two statistically good games in a row. Two games he contributed all game long instead of just the first quarter. What the stats do not show is his mental errors that led to incorrect route running, incompletions, and interceptions. He hurts as much as he helps. He really gets open all the time. He could absolutely dominate if he fixed a few more things. To who much is given, much is expected. It’s time for Dez to deliver what is expected.