The Dallas Cowboys have been toothless without Ezekiel Elliott. Why can’t Dak Prescott get a good connection going with Dez Bryant?
After the 2016 season, there was so much optimism surrounding the Dak Prescott to Dez Bryant connection. In their first 13 full games together, Prescott and Bryant connected 59 times for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. But this year, the two are struggling mightily to get on the same page. In 11 games this season, Bryant has just 53 receptions on 102 targets. He’s averaging just 10.9 yards per receptions and has only four touchdowns.
What is causing the inefficiency between the two? Is Bryant declining? Is he not creating enough separation? That seems to be the most common narrative as of late. However, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats have sort of debunked that myth. In 2016, Bryant averaged just 1.8 yards of separation per target, which was the second-fewest in the league.
But in 2017, Bryant is averaging 2.4 yards of separation per target, which is more than some of the other elite receivers in the league, such as Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and T.Y. Hilton. He is creating separation (on the routes he needs to) and he is the same explosive athlete that we saw in the playoffs in 2016. While leg injuries may have limited him some, his athleticism isn’t a problem. He’s more than capable of winning against No.1 cornerbacks in the NFL.
However, Bryant isn’t blameless. According to Pro Football Focus, Bryant has seven drops on 60 catchable passes this season. He has the fourth-most drops in the league this season and a drop rate of 11.67. In 2016, he had just two drops on 52 catchable passes. That is something that he needs to correct.
While people will focus on the drop number (which is fair), the more concerning number is the number of catchable targets. Prescott has thrown 42 passes this season to Bryant that have been deemed “uncatchable”, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s far too many. What’s causing the high number of uncatchable passes? It isn’t Bryant’s lack of separation in his route running, but it’s Dak Prescott’s inaccuracy.
The Los Angeles Chargers game was the perfect example of the disconnect going on between Prescott and Bryant. The Cowboys don’t do a lot to scheme Bryant open. For the most part, Bryant lines up on the outside every snap and runs the same type of routes. Often, Bryant will get criticized from the national media for not running “good” routes or having a limited route tree, but in his defense, that is just his role in the Cowboys’ offense.
Teams and defenders know the routes Bryant is going to run, but it’s up to Prescott and Bryant to execute well enough to beat the coverage. This forces Prescott to be highly accurate and throw with anticipation. Unfortunately, that can be his weakness at times.