Dez Bryant continues to be a man without a team three weeks into the 2018 NFL season. The primary reason appears to be the narrative that his skill set rapidly declined after Dak Prescott took over the starting quarterback role for the Dallas Cowboys. That included Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones leveling some of the blame for Prescott’s struggles directly at the feet of Bryant, including the prediction that Prescott would have a breakout season this year, in part, because of Bryant’s absence.

So how has that prediction played out so far? It’s only two games in, but over the past two weeks Dallas put up 170 passing yards in a week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, and despite a dominant defensive effort and win in week two versus the New York Giants, managed only 160 passing yards.

73 of those yards came in the first 90 seconds of the game, including a 64-yard touchdown toss to Tavon Austin on the third play. Dallas would put up only 87 more passing yards the rest of the evening. In other words, in two full games, Dallas has put up about the same amount of passing yards FitzMagic produces in three quarters for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And even in the loss, the embattled Eli Manning, despite six sacks and constant pressure, put up 279 yards.

Defense looks Super Bowl caliber

Dallas looks to have one of the strongest defenses in the league, and with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, opposing defenses are likely to stack the box all season long. This should create opportunities all over the field in the passing game, but so far, that hasn’t translated into yards or many points.

Past Super Bowl teams like the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 2013 Baltimore Ravens have showcased the formula of winning Championships with a stout defense and solid running game absent a prolific passing attack. The Dallas Defense looks capable of following that blueprint, particularly when and if it gets David Irving and Randy Gregory back.

Had both of those guys been added to the mix on Sunday night, Eli Manning might just have followed Buffalo Bills safety Vontae Davis’ example and retired by halftime due to the additional beating he’d have taken.

However, for most teams, even with good defense and solid rushing ability, at some point in the playoffs, you run headlong into a team that also has a stout defense, but couples that with offensive firepower, and the NFC is stacked with several such teams in 2018.

Perhaps the team with the best defense in the NFC right now, the Minnesota Vikings, has a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who put up 425 passing yards on Sunday, and that was only good enough to tie Green Bay. As good as Elliott is, and as good as the Dallas Defense looks to be this season, at some point, if the Cowboys hope to have any chance to make and succeed in the playoffs, they will have to be able to throw the ball. So far, 2018 has been more of the same woes that plagued them in 2017. Except now, there is no Dez Bryant to blame (Dez Bryant is correct, he is a scapegoat for the Dallas Cowboys).

Dez Bryant is NFL leader in touchdowns since 2012

The good news for the Cowboys is that every other NFC East team lost this weekend, putting them on top of the division with one division win.

This gives them time to try to solve this issue. Part of finding a real solution, however, is working through the actual problem, and that means letting go of the narrative that Dez Bryant had anything to do with the Cowboys passing troubles. Now that we see the Cowboys offense without Dez, it is obvious. Yet the Cowboys are the reason that Bryant is without a team.

When Dez Bryant was last receiving passes from Tony Romo, he was a top 10 wide receiver in the NFL. Since 2012, and even with the decreased production with Dak Prescott, Bryant had more touchdown receptions than any other receiver in Football with 58, edging out Antonio Brown (57) and Jimmy Graham (53). Pair Bryant with a decent quarterback in a decent passing offense, and I believe it would be quickly apparent that the only thing Bryant lost was Tony Romo.

There are several good teams that could use Bryant. If Bryant needs to sign a league minimum contract to pair himself with a top quarterback so that he can dispel all doubts, then that is what he should do. He isn’t going to change minds sitting out. Bryant needs to get in a uniform, but not just any uniform (Dez Bryant should be in a New England Patriots jersey). Obviously, joining a struggling team, and particularly a team struggling in passing offense is just going to be jumping right back into a similar situation that lowered his perceived value, to begin with. A Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, or similar veteran quarterback would prove Bryant is still a top 10 receiving threat and red zone touchdown machine.

Where Dallas and Bryant go from here

Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys both need to get back to work. Dallas has the defense and running game to win. They don’t need to throw for 300 yards a game to be a contender, but they do need more than 200 yards a game passing if they are going to beat the better teams in the league and have any chance in the postseason. They made positive steps by getting Prescott out and running. This added dimension to the offense will force defenses to counter and will open up passing and rushing lanes further. Taking a few shots down the field will also force defenses off the line. Prescott doesn’t have to do a lot more than he’s doing now for the Cowboys to succeed, but he does have to do a little more.

That starts with killing the false narrative that the receiving corps was or is inadequate.

Dallas has a solid group of receivers, albeit unheralded. They are getting open. This group of receivers is also a good fit for what Prescott does well and is most comfortable with, a short passing game built on hitches, quick slants, and screens. Austin took one long pass to the house, but he has the ability to turn five-yard slants into 60-yard touchdowns too. Prescott just needs to trust his players and his arm and let the ball fly a little more frequently. If he can do that, then this is a Cowboys team that can make a serious run. If not, then Jason Garret will likely be headed for yet another 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 type season, watching the post-season from home yet again.

Either way, what we’ve seen so far, at the very least, vindicates Dez Bryant, who will be a steal for the team that finally picks him up this year and discovers he’s still one of the top receiving talents in the league.