Aug 16, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass in the first quarter against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Dominque Franks (42) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Fifth-year veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant, also known as ‘Weapon X’, clearly remains the engine that drives the Dallas Cowboys offense. His brief performance during Dallas’ preseason opener at the venue formerly known as Cowboys Stadium offered unquestionable proof of that.
Big plays are nothing new to Bryant. He forged a prolific, if not controversial, career at Oklahoma State University making play after play after play. Bryant’s rare skill set immediately translated to the NFL as the 6’2” and 220-pound pass catcher quickly became the focal point of quarterback Tony Romo‘s passing attack beginning in 2010.
For all of the talk about the physical condition of Romo heading into the 2014 regular season, it’s important to remember exactly who helps to open up the entire field of play for Dallas’ franchise signal caller. Additional playmakers like tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Terrance Williams and running back DeMarco Murray all benefit from the added attention that Bryant forces from opposing secondaries.
Early in Dallas’ 37-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, Bryant showed why he’s such a vital cog in the Cowboys aerial assault.
After rookie first-round draft pick Zach Martin, the starting right guard, was called for holding on the first play from scrimmage, Murray was stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Following the repeated first down, new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan was facing an early 2nd and 20 just as the game was a minute old.
Romo’s subsequent 22 yard completion to Bryant illustrated perfect recognition and anticipation of the football on the part of both players. Having plenty of time to stand in the pocket, Romo was able to wait for Bryant’s inevitable separation in the Baltimore secondary. After the catch, Bryant was still able to break a few tackles which allowed him to lumber another nine yards in picking up a big first down to advance from deep inside Dallas territory.
Three plays later, Romo and Bryant almost connected again on a play that would resemble a touchdown connection later in the first half. Bryant, well covered on the play, went up over Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith and almost hauled in a juggling reception on the sideline that could have gone for at least 30 yards—Smith didn’t get up after the play and was done for the evening.
Bryant would move the chains on a six-yard reception on Dallas’ following possession before making his biggest and final statement of the evening.
On a 2nd and 8 from the Ravens 31 yard line, Romo again hung patiently in the pocket before tossing up a perfect side line jump ball to a leaping Bryant, who this time came down easily with the football inside the five yard line before falling into the end zone essentially untouched for the easy touchdown.
If there were any psychological victories to be had for the Dallas franchise during the Baltimore game, one had to be the Romo-to-Bryant touchdown hookup. The Cowboys figure to be completely in the hands of Romo as the ninth-year veteran tries to hold on to the throne following two back surgeries in the last year. In order to do that, Romo has to have Bryant on the field for every down possible.