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Reel Talk: Why Dez Bryant Needs To Be The Best WR On The Field Against Washington

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Reel Talk: Why Dez Bryant Needs To Be The Best WR On The Field Against Washington

Who's ready for some Thanksgiving football? The rivalry between the Cowboys and Redskins is back, and two hungry teams with explosive offenses will go at it to decide the future of the NFC East.

For the Cowboys' rookie-led offense, you've heard all about RB Ezekiel Elliott and QB Dak Prescott. There has also been plenty of talk about Dez Bryant - through some rough stretches and, more recently, dominant performances.

Bryant's most clutch performance of the season came back in week 2, as the Cowboys won their first of nine straight (!!!) in Washington against these Redskins. As we'll soon take a look at with some film, Scott Linehan helped his young QB with play calling that allowed Bryant to run wild for 7 catches and 102 yards.

I also studied Bryant's most recent performance against Baltimore, where a similar game plan saw #88 haul in 6 passes for 80 yards and two decisive touchdowns.

The team with the most points wins today's anything-can-happen NFC East showdown. I expect the winning point total to be a high one, and for Dez Bryant to have plenty to say about this.

Before you enjoy eating on Thanksgiving, let's see how Dez Bryant has been able to eat opposing defenses:

 

This first clip is a perfect example of how dangerous Bryant can be as a weapon all over the field. Often used simply to get the Cowboys into favorable running formations, this play shows Bryant motioning across the field to line up on the inside of a trips set against DeAngelo Hall. With no safety help, and the Redskins linebackers scrambling to drop into the middle of the field, Jason Witten clears a path for Bryant to run free along with Cole Beasley exiting to the flat.

Prescott delivers a strike for an easy first down. We'll need to see more of this in what projects to be a high-scoring affair later today.

 

Dez Bryant has a physical advantage against any defensive back he lines up against, and Dallas has been able to do a better job at consistently recognizing this and getting him his targets.

Working on an island against Breeland here, all Prescott has to do is make a simple read of the safety that jumps in front of Witten - and deliver a strike to Breeland where Bryant can catch it over a recovering Breeland.

When we get to the tape from the Raven's game, we'll see a lot more of this with Bryant capitalizing on single coverage.

 

As mentioned, Bryant is often used in the Cowboys' offense to set up the rushing attack, leading to even better opportunities for him in the play-action game. As Prescott fakes the ball to Alfred Morris, who also had his best game with his new team here against the Redskins, Bryant's defender gets caught looking into the backfield and loses just enough contact at the top of the route for Prescott to deliver another dime.

 

 

Above is another example of Bryant benefiting from pre-snap motion, as a creative design sees Ezekiel Elliott split far out wide from the backfield. All the rookie has to do is turn towards Prescott to fake a screen pass, and he draws a Redskins defender away from Bryant, who gets an easy 6 yards.

 

 

Thankfully, the "Dak Prescott cannot get the ball to Dez Bryant" narrative has died off ahead of Dallas' second meeting with Washington, primarily because of what this combination was able to do back in week 2.

As the Redskins try to drop into coverage to slow down the Cowboys passing attack, a miscommunication allows Bryant to slip past a defender and once again control the middle of the field.

Dez Bryant Against the Ravens:

A combination of all of these elements that led to Bryant's success in the first meeting against the Redskins were also on display in the Cowboys' most recent win over the Ravens. Playing without top corner Jimmy Smith, Baltimore simply had no answers for affecting Prescott in the pocket, and ultimately stopping him from finding his top target.

 

One recurring pattern you should be noticing in all of these clips is that Bryant is thriving on in-breaking routes. Plenty of fans out there in Cowboys Nation have been quick to call out the lack of such routes being thrown to Dez, but I don't see that being a problem the rest of the way out.

With Lance Dunbar lined up inside of him in the above clip, Bryant is Prescott's second read - using his size and athleticism to create separation for a well-anticipated throw.

 

Of course, when Bryant fails to create ideal separation, he can always take advantage of single coverage by high pointing the football with some of the league's best. That is exactly what he does here, on a throw that lacked some zip from Prescott, but still found a way into the strong hands of #88.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Welcome to defending the DAL offense 2 Rules: 1. You're not going to get to our quarterback 2. You're not going to be able to cover 88 https://t.co/cFBsEzo1iO

It is no secret that the Cowboys are built as a team around their offensive line. With that, Prescott has had the luxury of an incredibly clean pocket for most of his drop backs - something rookie quarterbacks rarely get to see. This allows him to comfortably scan the field while allowing Bryant to set up defenders - which he does here, coming up with another big reception.

Throw up the X:

We'll conclude this Reel Talk by looking at Bryant's two touchdowns against the Ravens. This first throw should fire up plenty of Cowboys fans, as Prescott finally connects with Bryant on his signature goal line fade for the score.

 

This second play is also not too bad to look at, as Bryant finds the painted rectangle on another in-breaking route, this time abusing single coverage off the slant.

 


I again expect this to be a very high-scoring game (our full Inside The Star Staff Predictions can be found here), and the only way the Cowboys will come out on top is with Dez Bryant establishing himself as the best wide receiver on the field. If he can dominate, the Cowboys offense as a whole will fire on all cylinders - keeping the ball out of Kirk Cousins' hands.

For a Washington offense that loves to throw the ball deep to the likes of DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed, the best defense Dallas will have against this attack will be their own offense.

With all the credit in the world to Rod Marinelli, his secondary that will not feature Morris Claiborne or Barry Church (who made the play of the game in week 2 with his interception of Cousins) in this match up is best fit to be on the sidelines while the Redskins secondary searches for answers against Bryant.

You better practice throwing up the X at your Thanksgiving table, because when the lights come on and the Cowboys kick off, we'll be seeing it a few times from Dez Bryant.

Happy Thanksgiving, Cowboys Nation! Let me know what you think of this article by leaving a comment below, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com with any feedback! Enjoy the game!

Tell us what you think about "Reel Talk: Why Dez Bryant Needs To Be The Best WR On The Field Against Washington" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now

Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.

After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.

https://twitter.com/dallascowboys/status/1085291591399546880?s=21

The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.

Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.

But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.

Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.

The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.

Tell me what you think about "Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick

Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.

After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire

While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.

It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.

Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.

That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.

But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.

Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.



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For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way

John Williams

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Playoff Scenarios Aim Towards Seahawks vs Cowboys in Wild Card

In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.

This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.

A few Rams Passing Game Notes

  • The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
  • The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
  • The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
  • The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
  • They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
  • The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.

Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.

On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.

The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.

NFL Research on Twitter

Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak

No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.

The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.

This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.



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