Even It Up: Dez Bryant Masters the Route Tree and Blossoms, Pt. 2

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Part two of the mini-series on Dez Bryant’s emergence looks at his expanded route-running repertoire after the Falcons loss in game eight. Part one is here

The turnaround, or rather the consistent expansion in Bryant’s repertoire began the week after the Falcons loss.  The Cowboys played the Eagles, and during the broadcast the NBC announcers mentioned that Cowboys coaches wanted to work on getting Bryant to add crossers like the zero route to his game:

Bryant ran one zero route late in the 3rd quarter, one play after Miles Austin had improvised with Tony Romo to create a first down:

Just like it’s drawn; Dez runs a shallow diagonal route and catches Romo’s throw at a depth of five yards.  Three plays later, Dez took it back down the field, beating Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a 9 route from the right side for a game-turning score:

Against Cleveland the following week, the Cowboys started their fourth quarter comeback on a drive which moved Bryant inside and out. Dez made some early catches on his favored hitch and 5-routes, but neither he nor any of his fellow receivers were regular targets, as Tony Romo was running for space against a Browns rush which sacked him seven times that day.

Trailing 13-3 late in the 3rd, Jason Garrett began mixing his routes for his X.  On the first play of the series, Bryant caught a slant route in front of Sheldon Brown for six yards.  On the very next play, Garrett called for a sluggo, a slant-and-go combination route, at Brown.  Having seen Bryant beat him inside on the previous play, Brown jumped on Dez’s initial move, leaving the sideline open for Bryant’s up-field release.  Dez got behind Brown and gained 30 yards on the play.

On the next play, Bryant switched sides of the field and beat left corner Buster Skrine on a hitch.  Five plays later, on a 1st-and-10 at the Cleveland 13, Bryant again lined up across from Brown and ran a second slant. Dez had worked Brown inside and out, leaving the corner off-balance.  The Browns played a zone, giving Bryant a clean lane for his inside break:

Bryant ran the route fearlessly, blowing past Brown and through two Cleveland safeties. Bryant’s eleven yard gain set up Felix Jones’ two yard scoring run.

This was a different receiver.  The hesitancy we saw against the Seahawks and Giants was gone.  Dez was willing and able to not only catch passes inside, but to punish defenders after making the catch.

On Dallas’ subsequent series, Garrett again sent Dez over the middle on a 1st-down slant.  This time, the Browns were in zone, and Romo’s quick pass sent Bryant directly into the arms of a linebacker, who held the receiver up so a defensive tackle could fly in and deck him.  The second collision knocked Bryant’s helmet off, but Dez nonchalantly picked it up and went about his business.   Four plays later, he again beat Sheldon Brown, this time on a stutter-and-go move up the left sideline.  Dez’s score put Dallas ahead for the first time in the game.

Garrett was working his X inside and outside, from the left and from the right, and the Browns could not get a book on him.

Three weeks later, in Cincinnati, Bryant was quiet early but again made his big plays in the 4th quarter, when Dallas erased a nine-point Bengals lead.  One play after Miles Austin set up Dallas at the Bengals 27, Garrett called a play that had Bryant run the old, trusty 4-route.  Dez was matched against Leon Hall, who was playing man coverage inside the receiver, with safety help over the top.

Bryant’s job was to get up the field, make his cut at 20 yards, wheel inside of Hall, and go get the football.  Compare his 4-route to the one from the beginning of the Giants’ loss:

Leon Hall is a quality NFL corner, but Bryant cut past him with ease, leaving the defender grasping at astroturf.  Bryant ran the route to perfection, getting his depth beyond the corner, cuttting sharply and explosively past Hall at the proper depth and driving towards the football.  This was an Aikman to Irvin staple, only here it’s Romo to Bryant for six.

Take note of the Bengals’ safety.  He started the play inside the numbers, but rolled outside, looking for Bryant to run another 9 route or out-breaking pattern.  When Dez cut inside, the safety was in no position to recover.

Two weeks ago, against New Orleans, Dez broke free for a career-best day.  Here are his attempts.

1st half
1.  on the left, a slant (2 route) for 12 yards
2.  on the right, a hook (6 route) for 10 yards
3.  on the right, a go route (9) for 58 yards and a touchdown
4.  on the left, a slant (2) for 8 yards
5.  on the left, a slant (2) for 58 yards and a touchdown
6.  on the left, a slant (2) incomplete

2nd half
7.  on the right, a fade (7 route) incomplete
8.  on the left, a deep-in (4 route) for 26 yards
9.  on the left, a hook (6 route) for 8 yards
10. on the left, a go route (9) for 41 yards
11.  on the left, a shallow cross (0 route) for 4 yards
12.  on the left, a slant (2) incomplete

Totals:  12 attempts, 9 completions, 225 yards, 2 touchdowns

A complete demolition of the Saints secondary.  Bryant lined up left and right and worked routes short, middle and deep.  He went inside and outside and torched both Saints cornerbacks.

In the season’s second half, Dez Bryant worked the full route tree with precision, and this made him a far less predictable and far more productive receiver.  Like Troy Vincent and many others before, Bryant had decided to go beyond his physical skills and to learn his craft.  Consequently, Dez was the one now doing the schooling.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com