How he beats you: In the second half of the season, Dez Bryant has been perhaps the NFL’s best wide receiver. He has gained 808 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in the last seven games, with at least one score in every contest. Bryant played the last two weeks with a broken left index finger, but in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Saints he still had the biggest statistical game of his career – nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns, both 58 yards.
The scores showed the extent of Bryant’s considerable and varied talent, a mix of violence and grace. The first touchdown came on a deep ball down the seam, a play on which the cornerback may as well have been a traffic cone. For the second he snatched a quick slant, broke an ankle tackle attempt by a cornerback, stiff-armed a safety and cruised across the goal line.
Because he can out-run safeties, out-muscle cornerbacks and out-leap any of them, Bryant may score anytime the Cowboys get him the ball. In Week 12, on Thanksgiving, he dusted safety Madieu Williams on an 85-yard touchdown, his longest play of the season.
“He’s a playmaker,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “In our football game, he made plays. We know that about him. I pulled him aside after the game to tell him, ‘Keep playing. Keep playing, keep fighting.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have given him that advice. I didn’t know I would have to see him again in this situation. I mean, the kid is playing great football right now. Miles [Austin] has been a little banged up, so Dez has been able to be that constant for those guys.”
After one play on Thanksgiving, Hall and Bryant exchanged words, facemask to facemask, and Hall swiped at Hall’s head with his right hand. Bryant accused Hall of trying to take out his legs, while Hall said he had only dived at a ballcarrier and hit Bryant low incidentally.
“It wasn’t even really that serious,” Hall said. “I pulled him aside after the game. Even prior to the end of the game, we ended up exchanging some things about a particular play. He thought maybe I went low. I was trying to hit the ball. We definitely have worked our issues out. I got a lot of respect for the kid. He’s a hell of a player.”
How to stop him: The Redskins’ best chance may be for an injury to derail Bryant. The week before he began his current rampage, the Atlanta Falcons held Bryant to one catch for 15 yards as he played through a hip injury he had suffered the previous week.
Bryant has played through a broken finger the past two weeks, but it certainly didn’t slow him last week. They will surely double team Bryant often, but otherwise Hall said it would only be detrimental to change his approach.
“You don’t approach him any different,” Hall said. “In this business, guys are going to make plays. He’s going to make a play, I’m going to make a play. It’s just about who makes the most plays. We’ll try to go out and limit the amount of big plays he makes and try to contain the rest of those guys. … He’s on a hell of a run right now, a hell of a streak. We’re going to definitely know where he always is when he lines up out there.”