IRVING, Texas – Over this next three weeks, Dez Bryant will need to average seven catches for roughly 158 yards per game to match his breakout totals of 2012.
It's a bit of a surprising fact, considering Bryant's big-play tendencies this season. With 10 touchdowns through 13 games, he may very well top his touchdown total of 12 from a year ago. But that also speaks to the up-and-down nature of his season.
For example: Bryant caught a touchdown last Monday against Chicago, but he also finished that game with a mere two catches for 12 yards. Despite that, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he thinks Bryant has progressed significantly since last season, when 879 of his yards and 10 of his 12 touchdowns came between Week 10 and Week 17.
"I think he's a better player now than he was last year -- better player, more capable of doing a lot of different things," Garrett said. "He's a mismatch player who's hard for people to guard in one-on-one situations."
That much is true. Bryant has shown in several spots – Kansas City, Denver, Detroit, New York – what he is capable of doing to defenses that don't match up.
"We go to him a lot and he comes through. You can put him in different spots. He handles that well," Garrett said. "He plays more consistently, both his technique, just playing it at the right level with his intensity throughout the ballgame."
That doesn't change the fact that Bryant has finished with fewer than 50 yards in five games this season, or his combined total of six targets in the losses to the Bears and Saints. Much like that Saints games before it, though, Garrett said the Bears game was more a problem of circumstance than production. The Cowboys' intention was to run the ball, and that fact combined with a low number of possessions limited the passing opportunities. [embedded_ad]
"I think one of the things that happened the other night in the ballgame is I think we had 42 or 43 plays with our starters in there, and I think we ran it 25 times. So there's not that many opportunities," Garrett said. "Now, if we ran it really poorly and we rushed for 1.8 a carry and you say 'Oh, what the heck are we doing.' But we were very effective running the football in those conditions."
Following the New Orleans loss, the Cowboys came out firing and targeted Bryant 16 times in the win against New York. It will be interesting to see if they take that approach against the Packers. But with that in mind, Garrett noted perhaps the biggest sign of Bryant's improvement: he's not worried about that.
"He's a much more mature player than he's been, and you get into those situations where he might not be as productive in terms of how many receptions," he said. "But you've got to evaluate how he's playing and he's been very good for us."