Cowboys At Redskins: Look For A Dez Shift On O And A Rookie Shift On D

My 1-on-1 visit with Dez Bryant suggests an offensive shift for the Cowboys in Washington. Meanwhile, an injury suggests a Dallas defensive shift as well.

FRISCO - I asked Dez Bryant if he and Josh Norman are "frienemies.''

“You could say that,” Bryant said. “Pretty cool. We play for division teams. So of course he’s going to hold it down for his squad. I’m going to hold it down for mine. At the end of the game, we’re going to shake hands and talk about how we did in the game and go the other way.”

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Oh, the Cowboys are "going another way,'' alright.

Dallas, having gotten the ball to Bryant just once in last week's 20-19 loss to the Giants, has spent this week making adjustments to fix that. On the one hand, there is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan saying, "Certain players are open even when they're not. We're aware of Dez ability. We'll continue to work on that.''

But it's more than that.

In that Giants loss, we saw the diminutive Cole Beasley running a deep crossing route, a play destined to never, ever work. Meanwhile, most of Dez' routes were also deep (and not against as many double-teams as this coaching staff would like you to believe).

And it occurred to me then, watching live at AT&T Stadium: If Beas can run a "Dez route,'' why can't Dez run a "Beas route''? Why is all the underneath stuff, the take-what-they-give stuff, the Dak-on-a-leash stuff, designed for chain-movers like Beasley and Jason Witten? Why not shift Bryant into a role that allows him to run those routes, with the possible result being that the Beas/Witten 4-yard gain suddenly becomes a 24-yard gain?

"I'm not going to disagree with you,'' Dez told me this week, with grin.

I mean, this is doable, right?


Last Thanksgiving,  Norman was with the Panthers and Bryant -- not physically right following the broken foot  -- caught only one pass on him for 6 yards and finished the game with two catches for 26 yards.

Will this week in Washington be different?

First there is the issue of Norman's role with the Redskins. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he doesn't know if Norman will "travel'' with Dez, that is, cover him all over the field. Linehan thinks the answer is "yes.'' Bryant's belief?

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s going to get that opportunity Sunday,'' Dez said. "“I want the challenge just like he wants the challenge. It’s going to be fun game Sunday. Mutual respect from each other. We’re just going to go out there and put on a good game. It’s not about me or him. It’s about each other’s team.”

One of these teams is going to start 0-2 and be stuck with the fact that 88 percent of the time, 0-2 teams fail to make the playoffs. The Cowboys can help themselves by mimicking what Pittsburgh did to Washington in Week 1, as Antonio Brown was targeted 11 times (as opposed to Dez' eight) and ended with eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

“Well, it’s always fun to see another guy at that position have a hell of a game,'' Bryant said. "Kudos to AB. He’s one of the best in this league. I’m with the Cowboys and we have to stick to what our game plan is. Whatever that is, we’re going to try our best to execute it.”

Maybe the Redskins stick with what didn't work by keeping Norman (and his $75-mil contract) on one side and Bashaud Breeland on the other. If so, maybe the Cowboys will move Dez to position himself in front of the lesser player. But more importantly, the Cowboys will almost certainly not only move Bryant in formations but also alter his route tree so Dak Prescott doesn't have to sling it 20 yards to find him.

Short routes. Quick routes. Crossing routes. Screen passes. That can -- should -- be integrated into Dez' game this week.

Of course, even if Dallas solves its offensive issues (which include a Giants game in which Collins, Free and Witten blocked poorly, creating a Cowboys offense that in terms of explosiveness was largely none-dimensional), there is the issue of trying to slow the Washington passing game. The Redskins don't look like they're going to be able to run the football well, but QB Kirk Cousins is blessed with receiving weapons that seem primed to create nightmares for a Dallas secondary that isn't going to have a healthy Orlando Scandrick at its disposal. 

Scandrick hasn't been right all summer as he battles through a hamstring problem that caused him to leave the Giants game for a time (and also played a factor in him getting roasted for an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown). So rookie Anthony Brown might have to take up the slot-corner slack and Dallas' Nickel defense -- in which Byron Jones might be able to stick with tight end Jordan Reed while J.J. Wilcox might not be able to stick with anybody -- may come away from its visit to our Nation's Capital looking like a Basket of Deplorables.

I think Dallas is going to solve its "Dez problem'' by tailoring an underneath passing game that gets him involved. But in the end, Dallas' inability to match up a healthy secondary with Washington's bountiful receiving crew might be the root of a new problem.


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