Dez Bryant injury: Five players who must fill the void

Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley (11) returns a punt against Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys absorbed a major blow to their offense when star wide receiver Dez Bryant broke his foot in the Sunday Night Football matchup against the New York Giants.

Due to severity of the injury, Bryant is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.

While Bryant’s foot heals, the Cowboys are going to have to rely on other playmakers to help pick up the slack. This leaves quarterback Tony Romo and the following players who must step up in Bryant’s absence.

Terrance Williams

Williams was targeted eight times by Romo and he caught five passes for 60 yards in Sunday’s game. The third-year wideout tallied 621 yards and managed an impressive eight touchdowns last season must be prepared to assume Bryant’s No. 1 role.

Williams is certainly not Bryant, so he’ll need some backup from his other fellow receivers, the tight ends and potentially the running backs.

Cole Beasley

Beasley drew six targets and caught four passes for 49 yards on Sunday. Unfortunately, one his receptions ended badly when he got stripped by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and the fumble was returned for touchdown. Instead of stepping out of bounds, Beasley went for the extra yards when he attempted to turn upfield. That’s when he lost the ball.

This error by Beasley was very un-Bryant-like to say the least.

With Williams, Beasley, and Bryant going scoreless on Sunday, Romo’s three touchdown passes actually went to his tight ends.

Jason Witten

Witten was relied upon heavily in the passing game against the Giants, catching eight passes for a total of 60 yards and two touchdowns. It would appear that Romo’s trusted long-time teammate will play a major role in the interim while Bryant recovers.

Witten’s targets have decreased over the last couple of seasons due to Bryant’s huge presence. However, this looks to change over the next several weeks while Bryant sits out.

Like Witten says (via Jon Mochota of the Dallas Morning News):

“You never replace a guy like Dez, but it happens around the league. Guys have to step up.”

Witten won’t be the only tight end seeing more play action over the next weeks.

Gavin Escobar

Escobar hauled in a touchdown of his own in Sunday’s game along with catching both of his targets for a total of eight yards. The third-year tight end looks to be a red zone vulture (for you fantasy-minded folks) whom Romo will target once the ball gets into scoring territory.

While defenses could focus on smothering Witten in coverage in two tight end sets, Escobar should see a pick-up in targets during Bryant’s absence.

Beyond the Cowboys wide receivers and tight ends, Romo need his running backs to step up.

Lance Dunbar

Dunbar was the most handy pass-catcher of the Cowboys’ running backs in Sunday night’s game. He caught eight passes for a total of 70 yards, which was actually more than Bryant totaled in Sunday’s action. Bryant, who left in the fourth quarter, had five receptions on seven targets totaling only 48 yards.

In pointing out this fact, we can conclude that in this particular game, Bryant really didn’t contribute a whole lot to the Cowboys’ offensive with his 48 total yards and zero scores.

When Bryant departed the game late in the fourth quarter, Romo targeted Witten, Williams, Beasley and Dunbar often. The Cowboys completely dominated the field in those final drives, pulling off a last-minute win over the Giants. This, by itself, should be encouraging that the Cowboys could be just fine while Bryant is absent.

With that said, it may take four or five guys some weeks to produce what Bryant is capable of doing by himself.