The Dallas Cowboys can control the line of scrimmage and run the football.
That’s been the narrative surrounding Jason Garrett’s team this season—a physical style that wears down opposing defensive fronts until they pack it in for the day.
Think about DeMarco Murray, the zone running game and the ability of the Cowboys offensive line to establish tempo. That creates balance to the call sheet while catering to the skill set of Murray in the one and two-back stretch schemes.
But after seeing the Cowboys whip the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday to wrap up the NFC East title, let’s not forget about wide receiver Dez Bryant and his impact for this team as they prep for a possible postseason run.
I have no problem calling Bryant the most dangerous receiver in the NFL given his size, strength and body control to finish down the field. He’s a matchup nightmare outside of the numbers with the formation flexibility to align inside based on the game plan.
And Bryant continues to beat up on cornerbacks when opposing defenses are forced to bring a safety down to limit the Cowboys run game.
This creates one-on-one matchups for Bryant versus single-high looks to expose poor technique or take control of the route after he runs through the jam, stacks on top of the defensive back and finishes by playing the ball at the highest point.
Too physical, too strong, too talented.
That’s what I see when corners fail to slide the feet and struggle to get a piece of Bryant on the release as he accelerates to the ball in the vertical passing game.
The comeback, dig, deep curl or the red-zone fade? Bryant is going to display his strength, push off (which won’t be called) and create the separation needed to gain leverage on the play for quarterback Tony Romo.
This is the real problem for opposing defenses. Can they play Cover 2 to get a jam on Bryant (with a deep half safety over the top) while accounting for the Cowboys run game?
When the Cowboys bring their Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB) and Ace/12 (2WR-1RB-2TE) personnel onto the field, defenses that sit back in Cover 2 have to play the run with only a seven-man front.
In nickel situations, it’s even tougher for defenses, in my opinion, given the extremely soft box (six and seven-man fronts) that allows the Cowboys to run the one-back zone or one-back power versus two-deep.
Take a look at this example from the Sunday matchup versus the Colts with Regular/21 personnel on the field:
The Colts “roll” their safeties at the snap to create an eight-man box—exactly what I would do given the personnel on the field and the game situation. Play Cover 1 (man-free) or Cover 3 (three-deep, four-under) to bring that extra defender into the front.
However, that creates the matchup Romo wants outside of the numbers with cornerback Greg Toler aligned in a press-look versus Bryant. That should be an automatic check to run the fade:
I like the technique from Toler on the release (compared to some of the poor play I’ve seen versus Bryant recently). The Colts cornerback inches off (called a “taxi” technique) and stays square to put himself in a position to collide with or jam Bryant.
But even with Toler staying square (key for any defensive back), Bryant showcases his physicality and runs through the jam to stack on top of the receiver.
Plus, with the tight end working up the seam and Romo holding the free safety in the deep middle of the field (shoulders and eyes), this turns into a true one-on-one matchup outside of the numbers that Bryant can once again exploit:
With Toler now trailing the play (and starting to panic), Romo can put this ball up top and let Bryant climb the ladder to finish. Adjust and find the ball. That’s another aspect of Bryant’s game that makes him so tough to defend at the point of attack.
I love when teams are physical on offense at this point of the season because I still believe in the run game and its overall impact in the playoffs.
You want to establish the tempo? Then win up front and push people around.
And there is nothing more embarrassing as a defensive player than an offense consistently running the ball down your throat—even when you know it’s coming.
But Romo and the Cowboys aren’t just limited by the run game. Instead, they look like a complete offense heading into the postseason, one that brings real balance to the stadium.
More importantly, the Cowboys can create specific matchups for Bryant when defenses have to script a game plan to win on early down-and-distance situations before setting up their third-down packages.
There is no question Bryant will see tougher matchups in the playoffs (think Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson). But right now, the Cowboys wide receiver looks almost unstoppable at times for a team that can pound the ball on the ground or challenge the secondary over the top.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.