Slowing Cowboys A Challenge For Sagging Secondary
Another remarkable performance by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant a week ago tempered the mood for the Redskins, who will face a challenge in stopping one of the league’s top receivers.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – Without a game of their own to dissect, several of the Redskins’ defensive backs sat in their corner of the locker room early Monday morning and discussed the Broncos’ wild 51-48 victory over the Cowboys from the night before.
Despite the loss, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished that game with a career-high 506 passing yards, including 141 to receiver Dez Bryant on just six catches.
That irritated Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall. He has faced Bryant five times over the past three seasons, giving him a keen eye on what it takes to slow down, if not stop, the receiver.
Yet nothing would bother Hall more than if Bryant had a similar performance tonight, when the Redskins (1-3) head to AT&T Stadium for the first of their two annual meetings against the Cowboys.
“I feel like he’s definitely one of the best receivers in the game,” Hall said. “Whenever I get a chance to go play against him – you know, when we’re on the field, it’s he hates me, I hate him.”
Bryant already has 423 receiving yards and six touchdown catches through five games for the Cowboys (2-3), who hold the early lead in the dreary NFC East. It’ll be up to Hall and the Redskins, whose defense allows the fifth-most passing yards in the league thus far, to prove the performance against the Broncos was wholly uncharacteristic.
“I think DeAngelo kind of thrives in these situations – Sunday night and the lights, all that,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Thursday. “Good players usually do.”
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Bryant, whom Haslett referred to as “a beast,” had varying levels of success in the Cowboys’ two games against Washington last season.
The Redskins won the first game, 38-31, on the road on Thanksgiving, when Bryant had eight catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns while matched up against Josh Wilson and nickelback Cedric Griffin.
Haslett didn’t want Bryant wreaking havoc in the teams’ second meeting with the division title on the line and turned to Hall, who was up for the challenge. He held Bryant to 71 yards on four catches, helping the Redskins clinch a playoff berth with a 28-18 home victory.
Whether Hall would draw the responsibility of covering Bryant again tonight was something Haslett was unwilling to divulge late in the week. But with Wilson assigned to cover the slot receiver during the Redskins’ first four games this season, and rookie David Amerson too inexperienced to handle Bryant, Hall appears to be the only choice.
“DeAngelo has good instincts and he’s got speed, so it’s a good combination,” Romo said. “Sometimes you have to try to use that against him a little bit, and we’ll try to do that this weekend, but he’s a good player.”
Although Romo won’t run the ball himself, he’s been able to extend plays and avoid pressure by moving the pocket. That has allowed Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, among other targets, to wear down defensive backs in one-on-one matchups or slip through zone coverage.
In the first game last year, Bryant slipped past Wilson and turned a 20-yard grab on a crossing route into an 85-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter. Romo was able to make that play despite being flushed out of the pocket and forcing a throw while running to his right, and Bryant made the catch partly because Wilson, who jammed him at the line of scrimmage, chose to lunge at the ball rather than stay on the receiver.
Those are the types of plays Hall insists the Redskins’ defense can’t allow if it hopes to contain the Cowboys’ passing game. Bryant is the type of beast Hall would like to slay.
“He’s a hell of a football player,” Hall said. “But you know, between the lines, it’s me against him. He’s trying to rip my head off. I’m trying to rip his off. This will definitely be a good game.”
➤ A version of this story appears in Sunday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.