Wide receiver Dez Bryant comes into Cincinnati playing as the top of his game, proving why he earned first-round billing.
Along with Jason Witten undoubtedly frustrating the Bengals secondary (read, tight ends against the Cincinnati Bengals), the rise of Dez Bryant is finally starting to take shape in Dallas, which may cause frustrations for an otherwise average secondary when lacking the benefit of a pile-driving pass rush from their front-four. With four games remaining this year, Bryant has already established career-highs in receptions (71) and yards receiving (978) and it seems like he's making an insane highlight reception after insane highlight reception.
"This is the Dez Bryant we've been waiting for, making the big plays in clutch situations," said Dave Halprin with SB Nation's fantastic Blogging the Boys, covering the Dallas Cowboys. "Going into this year, we were hoping that he would become this kind of player, his first years were marred by struggles with route-running, learning the Cowboys complicated passing playbook and some injury."
Over the last three games against the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, Bryant is averaging 129.3 yards receiving with a combined 26 receptions -- including consecutive 145-yard performances in Week 11 and 12 (both a career high). Bryant enters Week 14 sporting an impressive four-game touchdown streak, scoring six dating back to Dallas' 38-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"At the beginning of this year, he suffered a small case of the dropsies which hurt his production, but he's overcome that now," said Halprin. "I think what's happened is the Cowboys simplified some of the option-routes that were leading to ms-communications with Romo. They're just allowing his him to use his natural ability to beat defenders instead of trying to out-scheme them."
Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer compared Bryant to former Cowboys great Michael Irvin.
"The way he can go get the football, his acceleration, his run after catch, his strength, you know Michael was great. He used to push guys off. Dez seems like he has great strength when running routes in press.
"He's made some unbelievable catches on back shoulder fades that (Tony) Romo has thrown to him. In the Redskins game, he caught that ball and ran about 65 yards. He turned on the jets on that one. I think he's a tremendous football player. They have a lot of talent there."
One of the players that will be assigned to Bryant is former Cowboys defensive back Terence Newman, who Halprin remembers fondly.
"(Newman) was a top quality corner for many years in Dallas. Good speed that allowed him to recover and make plays. Then in his final couple years he had constant leg/groin injuries that slowed him down. He had to play so far off receivers and couldn't recover as quickly and he was getting beat way too much. For years though, before that, he was the best secondary player we had."
The Bengals have their hands full on Sunday with Bryant, Jason Witten and Austin Miles with Tony Romo spreading the football. If Cincinnati's pass rush fails to disrupt Dallas' potent passing offense, the showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers may not even matter.