IRVING, Texas – Staying in to block more is a reality Jason Witten accepts with the offensive line in its current state of flux. If that means more opportunities for Dez Bryant to showcase what he can do, Witten's fine with that.
Sunday's game against the Browns marked the first time since Week 6 that another Cowboys player had more catches than Witten. Bryant hauled in 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown for his second straight game with a score.
"I thought really that second half, taking the underneath throws and being right there where he's supposed to be and catching and getting the yards he can get, that was a big step," Witten said. "I think he's played really well these last few weeks and matured and handled that and really embraced that."
Bryant said last week he thought he might be able to play more freely than he had earlier in the year with his charges behind him, but Witten doesn't think that's the reason for Bryant's consecutive solid performances.
"I think he sees himself and says, 'Hey, I can be a really good football player,'" Witten said. "He's tough to stop. It's not just the big play over the top where you see him catch it, but all the other routes he had underneath, the seven, eight-yard catches the five steps and boom, 'I'm open.' That's the other part of being a receiver, obviously the phenomenal ability to go up and get it, but catching the ball on the short underneath stuff and being that type of threat, too, that he was last week."
Witten said Bryant has working diligently every day at practice, not just going out on the field, but going out with a purpose. He said Bryant understands he needs to be a go-to guy and he wants to be an elite player.
"Expectations are getting higher and higher for him," Witten said. "It's good to see him answer that the way he has. Obviously, he's going to be a big weapon for us this week."
Bryant's touchdown reception against the Browns occurred largely because of the attention on Witten. The safety over the top had to focus on the tight end's shorter route, leaving Bryant in a one-on-one on the outside.
The Cowboys have enough weapons that if a safety picks one player to focus on, that should leave an individual matchup for Witten, Bryant or Miles Austin. If Bryant continues to demonstrate a reliability factor, that could open things up for everyone in the passing game.
Going out on routes was more of a rarity for the tight end this week, as he stayed in to help a beleaguered offensive line. Witten admitted protection issues impacted his ability to be a threat in the passing game, particularly in the second half. He wouldn't be surprised if he stays in more to block again this week.
Witten said a variety of aspects will affect whether or not he'll stay in and block or go out for a pass, but right now, protecting Tony Romo is crucial.
"You stay the course," Witten said. "You never know when those opportunities are going to come. Just like Dez. You know, you stay ready. That's the thing that Tony just does such a good job of. 'Hey, you know I still see you.' You stay the course, and those things pop open. That's got to be our mindset – not worry about anybody else. Know that they're going to do their job and be ready when your number's called."