Eagle Eye: Dez Bryant Is Back, And Dangerous

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When the Eagles lost to the Cowboys in Week 2, they faced Tony Romo, but not Dez Bryant.

This time around, the Birds will face Bryant but not Romo, which obviously lessens the potency of the quarterback-receiver one-two punch.

Still, Malcolm Jenkins and company would be unwise to underestimate the impact that Bryant can have on an offense, even when handicapped by a quarterback like Matt Cassel.

Bryant returned in Week 8 from a foot injury that cost him six games this season, and looked largely healthy against the Seahawks in Dallas’s 13-12 loss last weekend despite catching just two passes for 12 yards.

“Looking at it on TV, for the most part, when [Bryant] opened up, he looked like he could run and all,” Byron Maxwell said on Wednesday. “He looked 100 percent there.”

A healthy Bryant, even if he isn’t at 100 percent, is a dangerous weapon, and Eagles fans know it.

During his time with the Cowboys, Bryant has torched the Birds for 38 receptions, 671 yards and seven touchdowns in eight career meetings.

There isn’t much tape for the Eagles’ defensive backs to go on from Bryant in this year’s iteration of Dallas’s offense. Nolan Carroll said the team will refer to the two games he’s played this year, as well as previous years, in order to figure out how to defend him effectively.

Here are a few of the things they’ll be paying attention to, and remembering, on Sunday night.

1. Bryant is big, fast, and strong

Standing 6-feet, 2-inches and a sturdy 225 pounds, Bryant is a physical receiver.

“He’s just a big, physical guy,” Maxwell said. “When you’re running beside him, you can feel his power. You can feel how he’s galloping and everything.”

Bryant uses this to his advantage in a couple of different ways, starting with the way he can simply overpower cornerbacks on deep routes.

In this example from Week 12 last season, Bryant blows by Bradley Fletcher on a fly route after stutter-stepping in the beginning.

Fletcher doesn’t play the pass poorly, necessarily. He’s just a victim of a strong, talented wide receiver beings stronger and faster.

Bryant isn’t just an explosive deep threat, though. He also works well in short routes, because defenders don’t have a ton of time to react and get in good position to disrupt a pass.

Here, in Week 1 this season against the Giants, Bryant gets single coverage and a little bit of room off the line.

By cushioning Bryant, the New York cornerback is guarding against a deep, explosive pass, which in theory is smart.

But the space gives Bryant all the time and room he needs to cut in on a quick, short slant, which will go for positive yardage every time.

2. He’s dangerous if he gets space

On shorter routes, Bryant uses his size and strength more than his speed to get good positioning on smaller corners.

When he finds space, either by boxing cornerbacks out or by running sharp routes and using body language to trick corners, he’s supremely dangerous.

“The biggest thing,” Jenkins said, “is you have to have a body on him at all times.”

Last week, on one of Bryant’s two catches, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman failed to do so.

Here, Sherman is in single coverage over Bryant, who runs what at first appears to be another one of his quick slants.

Bryant starts fast and strong, and Sherman turns his body to counter what he expects to be a powerful route from the wideout. But Bryant turns on a dime, pivots, and slips Sherman’s coverage to the left.

It’s a simple route, but Bryant capitalizes on a talented cornerback over-compensating for the strength he expects Bryant to bring on the slant.

Now, look at this.

Interestingly enough, in this example from the Eagles’ Week 12 win over the Cowboys last season, Carroll faces Bryant on a very similar route and does an excellent job of keeping Bryant in check.

Rather than committing to the slant, Carroll keeps his body in position in case Bryant cuts back, which he does.

3. He attacks the ball in the air

Bryant is aggressive when the ball is thrown his way. With a less-than-confident quarterback in Cassel throwing the ball his way this weekend, this will have to be a huge part of Bryant’s game if the Cowboys expect any success in the passing game.

“He attacks the ball, man,” Carroll said. “When the ball’s in the air, he attacks it really well. He’s always thinking it’s his ball; he’s similar to how Brandon Marshall is, in that build and that mentality of really trying to fight you all the way through the down.”

Carroll experienced Bryant’s attacking style first-hand last season in the Eagles’ 33-10 win over Dallas in Week 12 last season.

Here, Carroll gives Bryant a big cushion off the line of scrimmage, and Bryant takes advantage of the space. He gives a few paces at top speed to indicate a fly pattern before turning and locating a jump ball from Romo.

Bryant leaps up in front of Carroll, who’s caught back-pedaling and flat-footed, unprepared for the quick throw and the impressive play from Bryant.

“You can’t just sit there and look back at it, because he’ll go up there and take it,” Carroll said.

As far as Maxwell’s concerned, Bryant’s ability to attack the ball at its high point isn’t going to be a problem this weekend.

“I do that too,” Maxwell said, flashing his trademark grin.

Still, he knows Bryant is an impressive athlete, Maxwell said, and one the Eagles should be wary of.

“You’ve just got to play your game [against Bryant], and bring your technique,” he said. “You’ve got to be really sound.”