Prescott, Elliott Are Special, but Dez Bryant Makes the Cowboys Truly Dangerous

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 20, 2016

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 20:   Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after catching a pass for a first down during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Since wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to form, the Dallas Cowboys are better than ever. 

The NFL is a pass-first league, and Bryant's effect on the entire offense cannot be overlooked. Whether or not a team features the league's best offensive line and leading rusher like the Cowboys, a complementary aerial attack is needed to balance the offense. 

Running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott exceeded every expectation placed on them this season. But Dallas is known for its triplets, and a crucial piece was missing through the first six weeks as Bryant dealt with injuries. 

Since the team's Week 7 bye, the seventh-year receiver has caught 17 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. 

Sunday's 27-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens showed exactly how effective Bryant's outside presence can be. His 80-yard, two-touchdown performance provided the spark the team needed when moving the ball early in the contest proved to be difficult. 

Not every team is going to bend to the will of Dallas' impressive front five. The Ravens owned the league's No. 1 defense coming into Sunday's action, having surrendered only 281.6 yards per game. 

Baltimore features a mountainous defensive interior with 679 pounds of defensive tackle in Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce. They're very difficult to move. Plus, Terrell Suggs can still get after the quarterback with the best of them. 

By the time the final whistle blew, Dallas had accumulated 417 offensive yards. 

At first, the Cowboys struggled with the stingy defense, as the Dallas Morning News' David Moore noted: 

David Moore @DavidMooreDMN

BAD OFFEFNSE ALERT: Cowboys have gone 4 consecutive possessions without scoring. First time that's happened in a game all season.

Once Bryant became more involved, the Dallas offense started to roll. 

The Oklahoma State product caught his first pass during the team's initial touchdown drive. His real value showed on the following series as the Cowboys attempted to come back from a 10-7 deficit with 1:37 remaining in the second quarter. 

Bryant caught two passes to get Dallas to midfield before the offense worked itself into field-goal position to tie the game at 10 apiece. The wide receiver became an important part of the Cowboys' initial second-half drive, too, per the Morning News' Kate Hairopoulos: 

Kate Hairopoulos @khairopoulos

Four of Bryant's five catches have come on Cowboys' last drive of first half and first of second. He has 67 yards and the touchdown.

What makes Bryant specialaside from the fact he's another option for Prescott—is he adds two elements to the offense. The 6'2", 220-pound target is a consistent mismatch and serves as a legitimate vertical threat. 

Let's take his first touchdown reception for example. NFL Network provided a look at the four-yard scoring play: 

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Well, if you're gonna go with 1-on-1 coverage... @DezBryant. Six. #DallasCowboys https://t.co/iOtb4RmtAV

Because teams are so concerned about Dallas' running game, one-on-one situations are created for the receivers. Defenses load up eight near the box even when the Cowboys show three-wide sets. Elliott's performance takes some of the burden off of Bryant and innumerably helps the receiver. 

"A lot," Bryant said when asked how much Elliott's presence helps, per the Morning News' Jon Machota. "Zeke the freak. He don't have that name for nothing. The man is a monster."

But it's important a receiver can take advantage of one-on-one looks when they present themselves. Bryant certainly can. 

He's far more physical than most wide receivers and excels using his body to shield defenders or come down with 50-50 balls. 

As Machota stated, teams will need to reassess their coverage responsibilities when they face the Cowboys: 

Jon Machota @jonmachota

Steelers and Ravens put single coverage on Dez Bryant. Teams will probably stop doing that

Bryant will make a defense pay every time a defensive coordinator thinks his secondary can match up without any help over the top.  

The Ravens never made the adjustment during Sunday's contest, since his second touchdown reception came against single coverage, as the NFL's Twitter feed illustrates: 


Dez Bryant. UNSTOPPABLE. #BALvsDAL https://t.co/kxvzgwsdAV

An argument can be made that Bryant continues to benefit from Elliott's and Prescott's success. In reality, all three form a symbiotic relationship. 

The Cowboys' top receiving threat has always been a difficult matchup throughout his career. In fact, he's among the league's top touchdown-makers, per ESPN Stats & Info: 

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Most receiving TD since the start of the 2010 season: Rob Gronkowski 68 Dez Bryant 63 (1 today) Calvin Johnson 62 https://t.co/SlwUuIBrIG

A second touchdown for a total of 64 can be added after his most recent display.

Eventually, defenses will be forced to adjust. The wide receiver averages 17.1 yards per catch. Prior to this weekend, he ranked sixth overall in the category. 

Bryant's ability to stretch a defense creates space for the running game and underneath passes by pulling safeties out of the box. As such, Elliott will see fewer loaded fronts. Tight end Jason Witten will have more space to operate over the middle. And Prescott can continue to capitalize as he has over the last two contests, per NFL Research: 

NFL Research @NFLResearch

Dak Prescott: 1st rookie in NFL history with 300+ passing yards, multiple passing TD, and 0 INT in back-to-back games @dak @dallascowboys

The play of those around the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver only makes him better even though his game hasn't changed. 

"I'm me," Bryant told Machota. "I am who I am. You got guys like Zeke, Dak, Cole (Beasley), (Terrance Williams), Brice (Butler), all those guys that keep you going and keep that monster edge in your brain. They do a good job of it. It makes you want to go out there and do your best." 

The 2014 All-Pro has played well this season despite overcoming injuries and a personal tragedy. 

First, he dealt with a hairline fracture in his knee that forced him to miss three games. He's still not 100 percent after being listed on this week's injury report with a back issue, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer. 

But all of that pales in comparison to Bryant losing his father prior to last week's Pittsburgh Steelers contest. 

"It's not only a football team, it's a family," he said Wednesday, per ESPN.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor. "It's something we've been building for a long time. I'm just excited to see when you got a guyI'm talking about myselfgoing through the situation I'm going through and those guys having my back and keeping me lifted."

This year's Cowboys squad is special on and off the field. Bryant's personal journey and professional success are a large part of both. 

Already in possession of the league's best record, the 9-1 Cowboys should continue to improve due to Elliott and Prescott's maturation and Bryant's dominance in a burgeoning passing game. As such, Dallas' offense became more balanced and difficult to contain even against the league's best defense. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.