ARLINGTON, Texas – Through four preseason games, we've seen different combinations of offensive linemen. We've seen four different tailbacks, including three getting extensive work with the starters.
At this point, the jury remains out when it comes to the running game.
We've seen some good. We've some bad. We've seen a lot that is just too early to call.
But if Saturday's "dress rehearsal" game with the Bengals is any indication, it seems like the Cowboys might have a three-letter solution to any running game inconsistencies.
Obviously the Cowboys are going to need a solid running game to be efficient. But maybe they don't have to be great. They can leave that up to Dez Bryant.
If we know anything after four exhibition games, it's that Bryant is indeed ready for this season. And he's not just ready to compete; he's ready to dominate. He's ready to take that next level, from a player considered one of the NFL's up-and-coming star receivers, to possibly being mentioned in the same breath as studs like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and anyone else you wanna call the best in the game.
Bryant has been in beast-mode since the second half of last year. We saw it through training camp, the first three exhibition games and definitely in Saturday's 24-18 win over the Bengals at newly named AT&T Stadium.
Depending on how you look at it, his stat line might not look that impressive. Six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown is pretty good for a game. It's great for one half. But it was more than just numbers to me. How Dez just took over that first-half drive is something we're starting to see a lot of here in the preseason after certainly seeing it in the final eight games of last year.
In the first touchdown drive, which started in the first quarter and ended in the early second, Bryant caught five passes in the 12-play possession. His 12-yard catch on second-and-9 put the Cowboys in Bengals territory. The real question mark then for me, and for a lot of people, was how the team would run the ball down in the red zone.
Because of Dez, they didn't have to.
Bryant had consecutive 15-yard catches to put the ball inside the 20. He then had a 6-yard catch from the 11. And after a no-gain rush by Phillip Tanner from the 5, the Cowboys went back to the air. And they went back to Dez.
Romo's back-shoulder fade to Bryant is a route they've scored a few touchdowns on the last two years. It appears to be another bread-and-butter play this year as Bryant hauled in the 5-yard grab for the touchdown – the first from the starters this preseason.
Dez just out-beasted every defender in his way during that drive.
I'm starting to wonder about my own personal theory when it comes to the kind of season Dez can have. When it first came out that he was eyeing a 2,000-yard season, I immediately scoffed at the notion. And not because Dez isn't talented enough to get there. I've just said all along that if he's getting that many yards, it doesn't really work within the entire flow of the offense.
This offense gets the ball to Miles Austin, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray, too. Now they've got a third-round pick at receiver in Terrance Williams who will get some touches as well. If Dez is getting 2,000 yards, or even in the 1,500 range, it probably doesn't mean the offense is that successful. And it also means the Cowboys are behind a lot and having to throw all game.
We saw a few games like that last year and it helped pad Dez's numbers.
Quick, think about Detroit's passing game last year. Yeah, Calvin Johnson had all the stats, but the Lions weren't exactly spreading the ball around to anyone else. No other player had 60 catches and the next-highest total for a receiver was just 33.
So that was the initial thought. Dez can have a great year without gaudy numbers.
Well …. hmm. Maybe he can have both. Maybe he can be the star of this show and the offense can survive just fine.
I'm not going to say Dez can be your red-zone threat every time but … it might be worth a try every time. Just like most teams, when the get a first-and-goal from the 7, they'll always run the ball at least once. Well, maybe that's how the Cowboys can use Dez. All first-and-goal possessions will involve Dez one way or another.
And really, even if teams start to have that pegged, it still doesn't matter.
OK, so the Rams know Dez will get a look here. That's fine. Stopping him is another story. The Bengals' cornerback knew the ball was going to him in the end zone, but it could be a fade to the corner or a back-shoulder. What about a slant? [embedded_ad]
I mean, everyone that faces Minnesota knows Adrian Peterson will get the ball, but they can't stop him. Teams can't stop Calvin Johnson either, just like they couldn't stop Randy Moss or Jerry Rice.
Did I really just go there with Dez? Maybe it's time for that.
"He's unbelievable," Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said of Bryant after the Bengals game. "Just look at what happened tonight. Dez took over. He makes plays and it opens it up for Miles. It opened it up for the running game. He can dominate a game."
Even with six catches total, including five on one drive, Dez dominated this one. He might just be ready to dominate all of them.