Dez Bryant: More Bark Than Bite
Since coming into the league as a first-round draft pick in 2010, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has been a larger-than-life figure.
From 2012 through 2014, he enjoyed three fine years, with over 1,200 yards receiving in each season. He was also a standout at scoring touchdowns, with 12, 13, and 16 during that run.
In the two years since, however, he’s been beset with injuries, playing in just nine games in 2015, and missing three games in October in the season that just ended. Even taking injuries into account, the 28-year-old’s performance has been slipping.
Most notably, Bryant’s productivity is down. In 2015, he had 31 catches for 401 yards, but it took 74 throws to achieve those ordinary results. In 2016, his 50 catches out of 97 throws isn’t much better. His 2016 average of 61.2 yards per game is only 35th in the league, well below seventh-ranked Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, as well as Davante Adams (33rd).
In terms of bluster, Bryant has been surpassed by Odell Beckham, Jr. as perhaps the league’s biggest ego. Like Beckham, he can be up or down on any given week and is still capable of having a dominant performance. However, in his most recent seven games, his best effort was only 84 yards against the Vikings on December 1.
The Likely Matchup
Everyone is saying that the Packers will put cornerback LaDarius Gunter one-on-one on Bryant for most of the snaps on Sunday. Gunter did a satisfactory job when assigned to Beckham last week.
This matchup should favor Green Bay. Gunter has been the team’s top cornerback on the year. Though Bryant has good size at 6’2” and 220 pounds, Gunter is the same height and weighs a shade over 200 pounds.
Gunter’s speed should be sufficient to shadow Bryant, and without any safety help if need be. Bryant’s 40-yard dash time of 4.52 in 2010 was average back then and he has slowed some in the seven years since. He gets by now mostly by outfighting smaller defenders for catches.
Given this favorable matchup, Cole Beasley (52.1 yards per game, 58th in the NFL) and aging tight end Jason Witten (42.1, 83rd best) might well be more inviting targets for quarterback Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys, with remarkable rookie Prescott leading the way rather than Bryant’s past favorite, QB Tony Romo, do not possess nearly as dynamic a passing attack as they did over the last 10 years or so. They ranked only 23rd in passing yardage this season.
It just might be that the Packers’ pass defense will be a strength on Sunday, not the weak link it’s been for most of the regular season.