On Sunday the Dallas Cowboys will have their hands full, as they host the red-hot Green Bay Packers.
Dallas opened as a 4-point favorite, in part, because they beat Green Bay by two touchdowns at Lambeau Field. However, that October 16 victory might as well have been a decade ago. The Packers are a completely different team. Mainly because of Aaron Rodgers who followed the worst slump of his career with the hottest stretch of his career.
During Green Bay’s now 7-game winning streak, Rodgers has been playing so well that he has Hail Marys looking like a sure thing. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown an interception in so long that some are beginning to believe he may never throw one again. A far cry from the three turnovers (2 interceptions and a fumble) he had the last time he faced the Cowboys.
But as great as Rodgers, his offensive line and receivers have been, Green Bay still has a glaring weakness. They’re depleted at the cornerback position.
One thing that many have forgotten—and makes the week 6 win at Green Bay even more impressive—is the fact that Dez Bryant didn’t play. He sat out with a fractured knee.
To improve his team’s chances, Bryant will have to do what O’Dell Beckham Jr. failed to do against third and fourth string defensive backs: come up big and expose the Packers’ primary vulnerability. According to the International Business Times only eight teams surrendered a worse combined quarterback rating than the Dallas defense. If the Cowboys want to win, they may have to win in a pass-happy shootout.
However, Dez’s play has become about as unpredictable as the cable guy’s arrival time. After receiving more than 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns in three straight seasons (2012-14), Bryant emerged as one of the NFL’s premier receivers and was compensated accordingly. But consecutive seasons mired in injury and inconsistent play have sent him falling down the hierarchy.
Nobody is saying that Bryant has lost the top-tier abilities he once had, but it’s hard to put up big numbers when you’re hurt. It’s even harder to do so when you have a tendency to disappear in big games, and when not getting the ball early means disengaging in the offensive game plan and taking plays off.
In 2016 Bryant averaged less than four catches a game. At his peak (2012-14), he averaged almost six. And he’s had one reception or less in four games this season.
Jerry Jones is paying his star receiver amongst the ranks Julio Jones and A.J. Green. But lately, Bryant’s production better resembles that of Tyrell Williams or Pierre Gracon. On Sunday, in the playoffs, that has to change.
Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will be under enormous playoff pressure to match the firepower of Rodgers and company. To do so, they’ll need the help of crisp routes, sure hands and clutch 3rd down play; and they’ll need it from the 70 million dollar man, Dez Bryant.