Let's just be honest, Dez Bryant had nowhere near the game against the Browns that we expected him to have.
Yes, the Cowboys won the game 35-10 and yes they are 7-1, but it was still somewhat troubling to read Bryant's final stat line.
1 catch for 19 yards.
Not exactly the type of day you'd expect out of your star wide receiver. Many around the Cowboys believe that Bryant's influence on the offense goes beyond a simple stat line, however. They say that Dez draws more attention from the defense, allowing other guys to work one on one or sometimes even be forgotten about. When this happens, you see Jason Witten go for over 100 yards like he did on Sunday.
I tend to agree with these statements, but I wanted to check the tape to see just how true they are.
On Jason Witten's first touchdown of the game, the proclaimed “Dez apologists” are correct. Bryant (bottom of the screen) draws man to man coverage, but the Browns also bring a safety over-top of him just in case. The rest of the defense appears to be in zone, but Cleveland made sure to account for Dez. It should be noted that the corner at the top of the screen follows Terrance Williams as well, but I am inclined to believe that was a mistake.
On the other side, newly traded for Jamie Collins is left to deal with Witten alone. This leads to a breakdown in coverage, and an easy touchdown for the veteran.
On Cole Beasley's touchdown later in the game we see Dez's influence once again.
The Cowboys stack Dez and Beasley, then Dez runs an in while Beasley runs an out. It is a relatively simple concept, but the Browns get confused pretty easily. Dez draws the attention of both the corner who is locked up on him, and the safety. This allows Beasley to work one on one in the red zone, which this season has been like stealing.
On this play the Cowboys decide to move Dez into the slot for a change. The Browns bring pressure and keep their two middle defenders in zone coverage. Dez does a nice job of getting over-top the linebackers, and finds a soft spot in that zone.
Dak Prescott, who has been good all year, just misses Dez here. Maybe he didn't want to take a chance over the middle of the field, so instead he goes to Williams in man coverage, but sails the ball out of the end zone.
This time the Browns adjust to Dez in the slot, and run man coverage. It is not truly a one on one situation however, as the Browns also designate a safety to follow Dez across the field. With Dez drawing two defenders, Witten is able to beat the linebacker easily across the field, and get in for the touchdown.
A few times, the Browns did just leave Dez one on one with their cornerback. Too often, he did not create enough space to give Dak the confidence to throw him the ball, or Dak just simply missed him.
On Dez's first and only catch of the game, he is locked up in man coverage with Joe Haden. Haden did a nice job all game on Bryant, but Dez wins here. Dak trusts that Dez can make a play, and delivers the ball right on time.
Dez is not an excellent route runner, but he has always been able to win those 50/50 balls when they came his way. So far, it is safe to say that Dak is less likely to take a chance on a throw like that than Tony Romo was. And it might be hurting Dez's stats, for what it's worth.
Dez is once again working against man coverage on this play, and once again he does win. He creates enough separation that had Dak had time to throw the ball, it would/should have gone to Bryant.
Instead, Dak is flushed out to his left, sees green grass in front of him and takes off for the first down. It was the right play to make, but Dez grades out as a winner on this snap as well.
In conclusion, everyone needs to stop worrying about Dez Bryant's stats. Against the Eagles he went for over 100 yards and a touchdown in a win, and people complained he was targeted too much. Against the Browns they complain he's not targeted enough after just one catch. To be honest, if it weren't for a missed pass interference call, Dez would have scored a touchdown Sunday as well.
Dez is still playing at a high level, and can still be trusted to make plays. The Cowboys are 7-1 and absolutely rolling through teams, and that is all that matters.