As the Cowboys ascended to the top of the NFC East standings this month, the national football media zeroed in the two rookies — Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott — leading a suddenly explosive offense. But several Eagles defenders said this week they can't forget about a more seasoned veteran in the midst of the hoopla surrounding Dallas' younger players.
Dez Bryant, a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, is set to return to the Cowboys' lineup this week after missing three games with a hairline fracture in his knee.
And that means the Eagles' secondary has a daunting task looming when they head to Dallas to play on Sunday Night Football.
Bryant earned a reputation as one of the NFL's best jump-ball receivers soon after he entered the league in 2010, and he's maintained that reputation despite slogging through injury troubles. The Eagles don't need to be reminded of Bryant's prowess — the 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout has totaled at least 99 receiving yards in four of his past five games against the Birds.
"He's a guy that they throw to even if he's covered," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Thursday. "He's very, very strong. I think that his ability to make a big play is something that — we talked about guys that move the chains — he can move the chains, but he can also make you pay for a touchdown."
Bryant's tendency to secure catches mid-air makes him hard to prepare for, cornerback Nolan Carroll said. Schemes and double teams are ineffective when a receiver like Bryant can snag passes with defenders draped over him and break tackles once he pulls the ball in.
"There's no one thing you can really do to defend him," Carroll said. "It's just coming in with different game plans and just going from there. He's a guy who is one of the top receivers in the league, and it's one of those things where you're going to have to come out every single snap and be physical."
The Cowboys had a bye last week, and Bryant returned to practice after the time off. It's unclear how much his injured knee will hamper his quickness or leaping ability, but regardless, his presence will capture the Eagles' attention.
Schwartz said Dallas is difficult to defend because they have a litany of offensive weapons. Prescott is a dual-threat quarterback, Elliott leads the league in rushing, receiver Cole Beasley's shiftiness makes him dynamic from the slot and tight end Jason Witten, according to Schwartz, will soon land in the Hall of Fame.
So, Bryant's return only adds to the challenges the Birds' defense will face at AT&T stadium in a game with first place in the NFC East at stake.
"They can spread you a lot of different ways, and oh, by the way, No. 88 [Bryant] is back," Schwartz said. "It's hard to cover all those guys. It's hard to scheme all those guys out. We're going to have to win some individual matchups."
Aaron Kasinitz | pennlive.com | October 28, 2016